Down the Rabbit Hole

Mari Womack

Posted on January 20, 2020

“Not all Damsels are in distress” declares the website of Damsel Cellars in Woodinville, Washington. “In fact, our Damsel has things pretty well in hand.”

Observing owner and winemaker Mari Womack, no one would argue. Mari first began working in Woodinville tasting rooms and production cellars in 2010, soon advancing to become assistant winemaker at Darby Winery and ultimately launching her own brand. Since, her Rhône-style wines, sourced from some of the most coveted vines in Washington State, have consistently won the praise of critics and a loyal fans alike: Jeb Dunnuck hails them as “seamless” and “seriously good”, while James Suckling has called them “succulent” and “stylish”. Don’t take their word for it, though–try Damsel Cellars wines for yourself.

What first turned you on to wine? When did you know it might become a career?

I started working in restaurants in my early 20s and was exposed to great food and some delicious wine. I didn’t start thinking about wine as a career until much later. I had years of restaurant experience and a degree in landscape design and horticulture, so I understood a few of the building blocks of wine, but had no idea I’d go this far down the rabbit hole.

Once I saw what was happening on the production side of the wine industry, I simply knew at my core that I had to have my own winery. I really ‘lived’ into becoming a winemaker. Each step I took in pursuit of wine knowledge led me further down the road and connected me with a wonderful community of people that helped along the way.

Who have been some of your strongest influences?

The most important influences were my parents. Specifically, they instilled in me a curiosity to investigate and try anything I was passionate about in this world and they modeled and encouraged a strong work ethic. There is tremendous value in hard work. I may not be the smartest or most talented winemaker yet, but you can bet I’m going to work as hard as I can to get there.

What have been some of your greatest challenges working in the business? …and what about its greatest rewards?

The greatest challenge I’ve faced is learning to have patience. Wine takes time and it’s dynamic, changing over time. People who know me, know I don’t sit still for long. Patience is not one of my strengths and I’m constantly having to reminding myself to let the wine be … let it evolve. My greatest rewards have come when I’ve been patient and trusted in my choices and execution to find I’ve created a wine that is true to the Damsel style and ultimately, delicious.

For those unfamiliar with Washington State Syrah, can you tell us why this is such a special place for this varietal?

Washington has a great climate for Syrah with hot days and cool nights, the Syrah has not only achieves great ripeness, but also maintains acidity. It’s a hardy varietal and can handle temperatures over 100 degrees while also surviving in the cold winter temperatures.

What does Mari Womack drink at the end of a long day? … and what is your “desert-island wine”?

I’m a sucker for Rhône varietals. I love a medium-bodied, Grenache-dominant Rhône blend. It’s perfect for sipping and pairs easily with food, so no matter what’s available on the island, I couldn’t go wrong with a Southern Rhône blend!