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Donedei Wines - Being the Best

by Christina Kelly, July 2006

Being the Best - From Athlete to Winemaker, Donedei Wines Hit a Home Run

Carolyn Lakewold went from playing professional fast pitch softball, to teaching English at the community college level to winemaking, all with the precision of an athlete - the timing, the nuances and the determination it takes to be the best at what you do.

"That's exactly what I want to do - be the best - make the best Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the state," said Lakewold, 44, originally from Spokane, WA. "Like anything else I do, I don't want to strive to be ordinary. I want to be the best."

The petite athlete and avid fly-fisher woman is well on the road to hitting her mark in the Northwest wine industry. Rather than make a plethora of wines just out of the starting gate, Lakewold has steely-eyed her target and focused on two varietals - Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. She shrugged off the idea of starting with a white wine while making her reds (to generate money, since white wines takes less time to get to the market). She has even avoided the temptation to branch out to the popular Syrahs produced in Washington State, or other varietals, despite the fact that she is an enthusiast for other grapes.

But her training as a fast pitch player and coach steered helped to focus, focus, and focus - and in this case, the wine will come and it will be good. She hangs on to the wine longer than many winemakers, just now releasing her 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Both wines are loaded with the depth that comes when you hand craft and nurture a wine.

Lakewold attended Eastern Washington University (in Cheney, WA) to play varsity softball. But her internal magnet steered her to Olympia, where she finished her degree at The Evergreen State College in Olympia (she smiles when reminded that "Greeners - as they are called, have the mascot of a Goeyduck - a giant bivalve).

During that time, Lakewold played professional fast pitch ball, commuting from Olympia to Canada. Still struggling to figure out how she wanted to make her mark in life, Lakewold studied for a Masters degree in English at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma and began teaching English as a Second Language at South Puget Sound Community College, where she also coached softball and basketball for women.

It was at this pivotal time in her life when she met her life partner, Fred Goldberg, a partner in the Foss Tug Company in Seattle. Lakewold had been teaching at the community college level for about 12 years and said she was feeling "burned out."

"Wine was always a lifetime passion, but I never had time to pursue it," Lakewold said. "I decided to take a year off and see where it would lead me."

She and Goldberg headed to the south of France, where they rented a place to spend the summer. As it turned out, they have continued to retreat to southern France ever since.

"Fred always said to me that I talked so much about wine that I should consider doing something about it," Lakewold recalled. "I remember coming back one year and calling Doug McCrea (who made wine in her area), and offered to become a cellar rat."

For two years, Lakewold worked for McCrea, learning everything she could from the skilled "Master of Syrah." Surprisingly, when she decided to open her own winery, she chose not to make a Syrah, but rather used the skills she learned from McCrea to produce Bordeaux-style blends.

She never went back to teaching English.

In 1997, she and Fred, who had become her companion and champion, planted a couple acres of Pinot Noir in the Olympia area - mostly for show, but as a reminder that they were going into the wine business. Lakewold knew she had found her path to making a difference in the world. She was going to make wine, and not just any wine - wine with an attitude - a competitive spirit - to be the best.

In 1998, she and Fred built the winery, and make wine in 1999, with a commercial release of 2001. During that time, Lakewold hooked up with Bob Andrake, another winemaker in the Olympia region. Andrake began winemaking a few years before Lakewold, and was able to share equipment with the fledging winemaker.

"I was suspicious at first, because she never drank martinis, and never had more than a glass or two of wine," laughed Andrake, who makes terrific, muscular wines from Washington vineyards. "She needed a sounding board and we both realized that if one of us breaks down, the other could help. It's been a good relationship."

Although Andrake says he and Lakewold make their wines in similar ways, the wines are very different from each other. One is reminded of the feminine persuasion with Donedei wines - capable of throwing a fast pitch to make a batter dizzy, but quickly able to change into a knock-out summer halter dress complete with sizzling pumps. Andrake's wines are muscular bruisers with loads of layers and complexity - you almost want to touch the flexed arm muscle just to see what it feels like. Yet, underneath the brawn, there is a poet yearning to be heard.

Andrake swears the yeasts used in winemaking take on a life of their own in each winery, creating a distinctive change in the wines. Otherwise, he says, both his and Lakewold's wines would be more similar in style. Lakewold raises her eyebrows and smiles at the yeast theory.

Between McCrea and Andrake, the new winemaker realized she would have to hustle to get the life blood of winemaking - great fruit. Through her associations with both winemakers and her tenacity to be the best, Lakewold hustled for the prime vineyard fruit from Red Mountain, Elephant Mountain, Ceil du Cheval, Alder Ridge and Taptiel vineyards. She calls it her triangle theory - her latest releases are from Red Mountain, Elephant Mountain and Alder Ridge vineyards. It also protects her from putting all her hopes in one vineyard in case of a freeze (like in Walla Walla in 2004).

Gibbons Lane or Donedei?

When Lakewold decided to make wines, she didn't have a name in mind and sent in her forms to the state calling it "Gibbons Lane," which is the location of her home and future winery. But the name neither inspired her, nor did it reflect her philosophy of winemaking. A few years back, when she and Fred took their annual trek to France, the couple heard the term "Donedei," meaning "gift of God," and it struck her that wine was truly a gift from God.

"We were staying at an old olive farm at the time and asked someone what the name of the cottage meant," Lakewold recalled. "It reflected what we thought. We already had our winery name - Gibbons Lane Winery, so we took the name Donedei for our labels."

The Donedei wines are inspired. They have the mark of pampering. The 2002 Merlot has plenty of weight, but the tannins have softened with the extra bottle time. It is mouth-coating stuff with black fruit flavors and hints of dark chocolate. The 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon is full-bodied, with black cherry, plum and cassis fruit and subtle hints of toasted oak and espresso beans. Both these wines are drinking fabulously well, but can still take cellaring since they are structured and crafted so skillfully.

About the Author:

Christina Kelly spent more than 20 years as a journalist for West Coast newspapers, covering everything from business to education to the environment. During that same time, she also discovered the joy of wine and food pairing and set out on a journey to learn more.

Six years ago, Christina began writing about wine and left daily journalism to pursue her passion. She has been Avalon's Staff Writer and Wine Columnist since 2000, covering the Northwest wine industry. She is also the Wine Columnist for Seattle Magazine and continues writing about wine for newspapers and magazines.

One of the most knowledgeable writers on Northwest wines, Christina provides insight into the wine industry, conversations with and profiles on Northwest winemakers, tasting notes and funny/touching stories that embrace a glass of wine. In a field crowded with many choices of wine, Christina provides the information consumers can rely on. Don't miss her columns and articles - it's a must read for the wine enthusiast.

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