Photo by Mandi Donohue
Melanie Whittaker and Larry Miller will offer different tastings daily at the Brix Wine Bar.

By Mandi Donohue

Owners of the Brix Wine Bar, opening this weekend in Winthrop, hope to share their passion for all things wine, to introduce area residents to the endless variety of wine flavors and to make wine-tasting a relaxed experience.

“One of the things we’ve been talking about is that we want this to be fairly laid back,” said co-owner Melanie Whittaker. “For us, it’s all about having fun.”

Whittaker is partnering with Larry Miller and her son, Gentry Miller, to run the 24-seat tasting bar, at 229 Riverside the heart of downtown Winthrop. They will pour from a rotating tasting menu of 20 to 24 bottles daily, drawing from some 300 bottles kept in stock. Guests can enjoy a glass or bottle on site, paired with small nosh plates, or buy a bottle to go.

The bar’s mission is to let people experience new tastes without feeling shy or intimidated. When a guest is stuck on a Washington wine or popular varietal like cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay, she’ll encourage them to try something a bit different: “What about an albarino? How about vermentino?” Whittaker said. “And then seeing them say ‘Wow, this is so good!’  That really excites me.”

Originally from Eugene, Oregon, Melanie Whittaker grew up in a farm family that also was involved in the wine and spirits industries. She came to the Methow Valley for a ski race in the early 1990s and “fell in love with the place.”  She and her then-husband moved here to raise their children, Sophie and Gentry.

The Brix Wine Bar is in downtown Winthrop.

After teaching yoga for many years in the valley, Whittaker decided to pursue an education in oenology, the study of wine, and viticulture, the study of grape cultivation. She took classes at The Culinary Institute of America in Napa, California, where she also worked in the vineyards.

Working at the Wine Shed in Winthrop, with owner with Dave Swenson, “even moreso made me want to be involved in wine somehow,” she said. She eventually earned her credentials as a Certified Wine Specialist (CWS) through the Society of Wine Educators.

Last September, she and Gentry Whittaker traveled through Burgundy, France, where they visited world-renowned wineries such Clos de Vougeot. “To go into a cave where there are wines that are hundreds of years old, it was really amazing,” she said.

She decided it was time to turn her passion into a business, and felt a wine bar would fill a niche in the Methow Valley. The Wine Shed has a larger inventory but sells mostly retail, with only occasional tastings. Tasting rooms like Lost River feature their own label wines. In Twisp, the Glover Street Market hosts tastings on Saturday afternoons, featuring a wide variety of wines that also are available for retail purchase.

“Here, we will have small plates to pair with the wines,” Whittaker said. “Not only will we do tastings at the bar but we’ll serve wine by the glass or bottle. We have a small retail area as well.” The bar also will serve non-alcoholic drinks and some beers.

Washington is second only to California among wine-producing states, and is the fastest growing wine region in the country. Whittaker is talking with a few regional wineries in Chelan and Walla Walla about the possibility of carrying their wines in the future, and having their winemakers come to the Brix for special tasting events.

Brix Wine Bar will be open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and closed either Monday or Tuesday. It may expand to include a back patio next summer.