Women of Washington Wine: Poppie Mantone of Syncline Wine Cellars

By Kori ~ March 22nd, 2010.

Today’s post is part of a series featuring the Women of Washington Wine. In an industry once dominated by men, more and more women are joining the ranks as winery owners, vineyard owners, and winemakers. Being a woman myself, I am fascinated by these women and what they have done and continue to do. Through this series, I hope to introduce you to some of the brightest female faces in the Washington wine industry.

Syncline Wine Cellars, founded by James and Poppie Mantone in 1999, is located in southern Washington in the Columbia Gorge AVA. James and Poppie met during the 1997 harvest at LaVelle Vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Shortly thereafter, they married, moved to Washington, and pursued the dream of owning their own winery. The Mantones specialize in Rhone varietals including Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Counoise, Carignan, Roussanne, and Viognier. Syncline’s annual production is just under 3,000 cases. The winery gets its name from the nearby 300-foot cliffs rising out of the Columbia River into the surrounding mountains known as the “Coyote Wall Syncline.”

Recently, Poppie was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions for me and our Wine Peeps readers.

Highlights from Q&A with Poppie Mantone:

How did you first get involved in the wine business?
After falling hard for a lovely bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir (Burgundy was my first love), I headed west in search of a Northwest vineyard that might hire me to “experience the romance.” Here I am 14 years later, still head over heels.

What were the steps that led to where you are now?
Strong determination on my part, plus many instances of great timing. James and I met after we were already in the industry working for other wineries and vineyards. Several years working very well together led us to think, “What about our own label for WA Rhone varietals?” One move led to another and with each vintage the business has matured and transformed. We have found ourselves to be deeply satisfied with farming.

Has being a woman been an advantage or a disadvantage in your wine journey?
When I’m out there working the market, or picking up fruit from the vineyards (yes, I agree with Ashley [Ashley Trout of Flying Trout Wines], it’s great to get the bins all loaded up for you by the farm boys) it’s quite an advantage. But beyond that, it’s really more about who you are, not what your gender is. You must be the kind of person who: is flexible with high tolerance for constant change and the unexpected, can wear many hats, and is not afraid to put yourself out there and go for what you want.

What advice do you have for a woman wanting to get involved in the wine business today?
Go for it. Figure out how the skills you have can benefit an already existing winery; or if you have well rounded years of wine making, growing and selling experience, it may be time to start your own label.

What are your thoughts about the Washington wine industry, in general?
We are such a young industry. There is so much to learn about vineyard potential all over the state. We have just scratched the surface for getting the word out to the rest of the world about Washington wines.

In recent years the Washington wine industry has grown at a rapid rate. Do you expect that trend to continue?
As long as demand from wine drinkers keeps increasing, yes. The Washington wine industry has grown, though most of the new wineries have tiny production. It’s easy to sell a few hundred cases of anything. If/when all the new wineries continue to increase production, very skillful marketing will be the key to success. The total volume of all wine produced in Washington is still a drop in the bucket compared to most other wine regions of the world. Washington wines are such a great value for consumers. I believe we can continue to grow sustainably if our land prices, wine prices, and irrigation rights stay reasonable.

How do you and your husband, James, divide the duties at the winery?
That is constantly evolving. As our business has changed, grown, and babies born, we have both gravitated to what we each do best. If one of us is getting stuck on something, we switch roles. Most of what we do is collaborative. We’re lucky that after all these years, we still love working with each other best.

As the mother of a young girl, how do you maintain a healthy work/life balance?
That has been the biggest challenge of all…and we have another one on the way. I must be crazy. Loving what I do is the only way to balance this lifestyle. We live and work on the farm, my office is in our home, the winery and vineyard are in the backyard. It’s such an advantage that I can raise my children without putting them in daycare (and I get to go to work in my slippers). They grow up with us, helping on the farm. Ava, now 6 years old, loves to be home; whether it’s simply running around playing (she calls it her “big backyard”) or helping in the laboratory, picking grapes with us at harvest, taking care of the garden, orchard or chickens, sticking labels on boxes at bottling, chatting up tasting room customers, the list goes on. She thinks it’s all a blast. We make a point of taking quality time off together. Big vacations throughout the year, away from the farm, are a must. We also make sure we do not lose sight of non-wine related things we love to do on a regular basis like biking, skiing, kiteboarding, and dance. Also, I think we live in one of the most amazing locations in the world. The climate, beauty, and community here are ideal for us. No matter where we travel, it’s always exciting to come home.

What is your vision for the future of Syncline Wine Cellars?
In all of our business decisions, we hold up the vision of a small family farm that will carry on for generations. Everything we build on this land or for our brand has a higher purpose in this model. We nurture our surroundings so that the health and sustainability of this business keeps steady through the years. I want to keep doing this until I’m too old to get out of bed.

Many thanks to Poppie for sharing her story and thoughts with us. I wish her all the best and will be following her work and Syncline Wine Cellars with great interest, and I hope that you will too.

(Photos from Syncline Wine Cellars)

Filed under: American Wine, Interview, Washington State Wine, Women of Washington Wine

Reader's Comments

  1. Becky Snyder | March 22nd, 2010 at 8:12 am

    Love it! Kori thanks for another great article! Poppy we love your wines and always recommend Syncline when we’re talking about Rhone in Washington. I really look forward to visiting you guys sometime!

  2. Chris | March 22nd, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Another great interview in this series, Kori.

  3. Rick | March 25th, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    Hello Kori

    Another excellent article about, Women of Washington Wine!

    Poppie Mantone is another classy women like Sherrill Miller from EB Foote winery. Poppie like her husband James are intelligent, non-pretentious people. A strong message from Poppie, “strong determination” is ecentual in their trade. And waring so many hat does make it fun.

    Poppie also stated, “very skillful marketing will be the key to success”, is so important now with so much wine on the shelves. Her entire story lets you know how much work it takes to run a winery,growing the grapes and marking.

    They came to the Olympia Wine League tasting event about four years ago. They were unbelievable discussing how they make their wines, manage the vineyard and consulting with growers and winemakers. After twenty minutes of discussion I just shook my head realizing how brilliant they both are. And personable!

    Nice work again Kori,


  4. Kori | April 1st, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    Becky, Chris, and Rick,
    So glad that you enjoyed this interview and this series. Poppie is another wonderful ambassador of Washington wine. Thanks for reading. Cheers!