A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and our two friends decided to head over to Woodinville for a wine weekend. It was one of those dreary and rainy February days in the Northwest but I was super excited to try out some wine! While we had a few tasting appointments at some local wineries, we randomly decided to visit Prohibition Cellars, and I am forever thankful for that random act of visiting.
Prohibition Cellars is located in the Woodinville Warehouse District and walking in, you almost feel like you took a step back in time. The name says it all as you take in the beautiful wine displays as the back drop. With a touch of modern with the outdoor seating area and a throwback to the speakeasys of yesteryear with a hidden door that leads into the production area – the venue is one of the coolest I have ever visited.
The wines are divine and with names like Untouchables, Scarface Syrah and Hatchet – I almost want to put on a flapper dress and visit again! At the time of our visit, COVID-restrictions only allowed for outdoor seating. Even with the cold weather and rain, heating lamps and the wine tasting kept us warm along with conversations with the winemaker, Sandor Faludi and his wife Sabrina. Sabrina took us through our wine tasting and told us a little about the history of how this very American-centric wine came from Hungarian roots. By the end of our time at Prohibition, I asked Sabrina if I could interview both her and Sandor for my readers!
Tell us about you! Where are you from, what was life like growing up?
I was born and raised in Hungary, in the middle of a wine region, where almost all families had a few rows of grapes and everyone made their own wine. My grandfather was a winemaker and viticulturist with his own vineyard. He even helped develop a few clones (one of my favorite things to watch and learn!). So, I grew up watching him and many of my family friends and neighbors make wine. When harvest time came around, we all helped each other during harvest and to make the wine.
What brought you to Washington State?
The wine! We lived in California after getting my enology degree in Hungary, and I knew I wanted to start my own winery, but I also knew that I wasn’t a millionaire, so California was not an option where I could start my winery. I started thinking about other places and I was really excited when I bought my first Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon (at Total Wine) and discovered that Washington can make really exceptional wines too. I began buying more and more Washington wines and made plans to do a road trip to discover even more Washington wines. I saw a big opportunity in Washington. We eventually did our road trip in May 2016. We visited Walla Walla, Red Mountain, and Woodinville. We got so excited that we moved here 3 months later and started our winery 2 months later in our garage.
What made you interested in becoming a winemaker and opening Prohibition Cellars?
I guess it was something that was always in me. I remember before starting high school, my 8th grade teacher asked us “Where do you see yourself in 50 years?” My answer was that I saw myself as a winemaker. That is not where I started though. I took a lot of detours before becoming a winemaker. Now I am (an almost full-time) winemaker and I love everything about it: the atmosphere, the wine making, the hospitality, and the people. Interestingly enough, so many of the things I’ve learned on those detours, I’ve been able to use in starting my own winery.
Walk us through the process of how you start working with a vineyard and why you choose particular vineyards to work with?
After we moved to Washington, we began tasting lots of wine. When I like a wine, I always check which wine region it is from and which vineyard. I discovered my favorite wines come only from a few regions like Red Mountain and a few select vineyards. Once I know which vineyard I like, I go visit the vineyard, and talk to the vineyard manager and try to source the grapes from there. Being a small production winery, it is a little bit easier to get high-quality grapes because I only need a small quantity, so I am fortunate to be able to work with some of the best vineyards. Now we only source from the best vineyards in Washington.
Walk us through the inspiration and the story behind some of your iconic labels, like Untouchables, Scarface Syrah and Hatchet?
We decided to make a special label every year for our favorite wine and put a famous person on the label who was connected to Prohibition. On our first special label in 2017 was Carrie A. Nation, who was a big activist (during the temperance movement) against alcohol and alcoholism. I really like her story, how she attacked pubs with her hatchet, was arrested, and kept going at it anyway. In 2018, I couldn’t decide if I thought the Syrah was more special or the Red Blend, so I decided to have two special labels that year based on the famous archnemesis of Prohibition: Eliot Ness, leader of the Untouchables, and Al Capone, the famous gangster he eventually arrested, also known a Scarface. I thought it would be fun to have them stare down, looking at each other from their own wine bottles, so that’s what we did. I love the way it turned out!
What can a customer expect when they join your Alcatraz or Al Capone Wine Clubs?
I think our wine clubs are really special. We don’t just want to share our wines, we also want to share our stories, our culture, and our food, and have all our club members part with a fun experience. During our club release parties, I try to cook whenever I can, but whenever I’m not behind the grill or cauldron, I focus on developing relationships with our club members, treating them like family. We have two clubs: the Alcatraz, which is our mixed club, where we release 4 bottles 3 times a year, and the Al Capone club, which is our reds-only club made up of only our highest-end reds, where we release 6 bottles 2 times a year. Of course, members get a 15-20% on all the wines and complimentary tastings for up to 4 people. Beyond that, we also have a great venue (with a secret door!) that we can give at a discounted rate to all our club members.
For you personally, how is Washington wine unique and different than wine from other parts of the country and world?
After we moved here, I discovered a lot of similarities to the wine region where I grew up in Hungary. Actually, Washington wine regions are in exactly the same latitude (between 46-47 degrees). But of course, there are still differences. The soil and the climate here are just perfect for growing grapes, and certain varietals show a unique face like nowhere else in the world (like Syrah, Merlot, Cab franc, and Viognier). The climate in Eastern Washington is really reliable with its 300+ sunny days a year. It is windy, so diseases don’t attack the grapes easily. Also, usually there is no early frost or rain during picking season. We are also very fortunate to have extremely knowledgeable vineyard managers here in Washington too.
With 2020 behind us, what are you looking forward to in 2021?
I really miss having a full tasting room, big release parties, live music, and being able to meet people without a mask hiding my face. We really love to host people, and I look forward to hosting more people this year with fewer (or better yet, no!) inhibitions. I also look forward to releasing our first Merlot and Sparkling and expanding our tasting room and production area this year too!
19501 144th Ave NE Suite F-900
Woodinville, WA 98072