Planning a winery-hopping weekend? There’s no need to go over the Cascade Mountains or even leave Whidbey Island. A half-dozen acclaimed wineries can be found right here. Among them is Holmes Harbor Cellars, a small, family-owned winery with a big reputation for quality.
Greg and Theresa Martinez founded Holmes Harbor in 2005, producing their first vintage in 2006. Rather than start small and grow slowly, the couple made a big splash by bottling 550 cases their first year - an almost unheard of quantity for a startup!
One reason they could go big was a willingness to invest heavily in the very best winemaking equipment and confidence in their ability to use it. When it comes to winemaking, the couple’s professional backgrounds compliment each other perfectly.
Greg is a pilot and a self-described musician and poet. After serving as a Naval aviator, he went on to fly passenger jets for major airlines. This afforded him the chance to visit the great wine regions of Italy, France, Spain and Australia, stoking a growing passion for wines. Furloughed after the tragic events of 9/11, he used the downtime to educate himself in wine production, earning a degree in enology from the highly-respected program at the University of California, Davis.
The couple met while attending college at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. Greg played in a rockabilly band, Theresa was a down-to-earth sciences major. It was love at first sight, and the couple has been together for more than 20 years.
Theresa’s career as a biochemist led to work at a pharmaceutical company, and most of her career has been spent in research and development.
One day while Greg was studying for a wine making test, Theresa took a look and said, “This is protein science. I do this every day!” When they decided to start a winery, Theresa became the staff scientist responsible for analyzing alcohol content, residual sugar, pH levels and so on throughout the fermentation process.
“We like to say our wines are a perfect balance of art and science,” says Greg.
At Holmes Harbor, the focus has always been on excellence. This is evident in relationships the Martinez family has formed with their grape growers.
“We have contracts with just six vineyards. I don’t look around or shop prices. I have relationships with people who are the very best (growers) in the state,” he said.
As a result, Holmes Harbor Cellars consistently produces premium, award-winning wines. They enter their best products in the San Francisco International Wine Competition, the largest and most respected international contest in North America. They also compete in the Seattle Wine Awards, Washington State’s most distinguished wine competition. Their honors include gold medals in San Francisco for their 2007 and ’08 Cabernets and a double gold in Seattle for their 2008 Petite Verdot. The latter award sent wine connoisseurs on both coasts in a frenzy to buy cases. “Unfortunately, we only bottled 38 cases, and half were already promised to our wine club,” said Greg.
If you go to visit, you’ll find wines to fit almost any taste. Current releases include six whites and 10 reds on the Holmes Harbor Cellars and Teregre labels. (Teregre is a mashup of the couple’s first names). Prices range from $15 for a 2009 Gewurztraminer to $45 for a 2009 Petit Verdot . Most of the whites, however, come in around $20, while the reds fetch prices between $30 and $40. The winery produces about 1,500 cases a year; four of every five bottles leaves in the hands of a tasting room guest.
For information, visit the Holmes Harbor Cellars website, http://holmesharborcellars.com.