Love and Wine Flow Freely at Warm Springs Inn

Lois Castelli-Leff
Posted on May 18, 2016, 2:54 pm
11 mins

Each year around Mother’s Day, my mother and father would work together planting their flower and vegetable gardens. My mother taught me that when creating a garden, it’s important to make the arrangement pleasing to the eye. I remember helping to dig the rows very straight and neat and packing the soil to keep the plants upright. My parents believe in consuming a healthy share of fresh vegetables, and so they planted everything from string beans and zucchini to green peppers and cucumbers. My sister and I were in charge of picking the tomatoes and fresh basil for our dinner’s salad, and the scent of the ripe fruit and basil would always linger on my fingers after picking. For me, that smell will always evoke the joyful feeling of summer.

My parents still stand side by side in their galley style kitchen, preparing meal after meal with an abundance of love that goes into every bite. Over their lifetime, many friends and family encouraged them to open a restaurant, but they always insisted that owning and running a restaurant is a business that requires total sacrifice. It takes a special type of person to dedicate their life to sustaining a successful restaurant business day in and day out, year after year.

But there are people around the world who will, and we thank God for them! I have witnessed this type of dedication in Julie and Ludger Szmania, owners of Warm Springs Inn & Winery, a cozy bed and breakfast nestled two and a half hours east of the city in Wenatchee, Wash.

Julie and Ludger Szmania.

Before Warm Springs, Ludger held positions with renowned properties such as the Hilton International and the Four Seasons Hotel, where he mastered his skill in creating mouth-watering cuisine. Julie brought her expertise in business, and in 1990, they opened their first restaurant. Using the family name, Szmania’s was an exquisite gourmet destination in Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood. It was considered by countless people to be the heart of our village—a special place that evolved over the years from a 40 seat capacity restaurant to 110, including an inviting lounge, open kitchen, private dining rooms, and a lovely outdoor patio with seating.

The first time my husband and I had the pleasure to visit their elegant restaurant, we were celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary and had our two-month-old baby boy with us. Julie came right over to our table and asked to hold Matthew so that we could enjoy our dinner together—and that was just the first of countless times that we would dine at their warm and welcoming restaurant.

Julie has always been a keen resource for launching initiatives and a staunch supporter of the community. She held fashion shows for a local designer to help get her children’s clothing line off the ground. She also held etiquette classes for the neighborhood teenage boys and girls and even planned the sendoff for our Parish Priest. Time and time again they donated auction items for the local schools, the most coveted auction item being the opportunity to work alongside Ludger in the SZMANIA’S kitchen.

After over twenty years of pouring their love into Szmania’s, Ludger and Julie wanted to fulfill a new dream, and they made the difficult decision to completely change their lifestyle. How many of us have thought about doing just that? The couple sold their beloved restaurant in Seattle and purchased a ten-acre country estate along the Wenatchee River, where they brought their love, talent and exceptional service to their new bed and breakfast, The Warm Springs Inn. The name alone brings me a warm feeling in my heart! Picture a stately mansion surrounded by acres of lawn and manicured gardens, warm sun, and the scent of orchard blossoms alongside the peaceful river.

It was their love of nature that led Julie and Ludger to purchase a 20-acre, 1908 homestead farm. Once they started planting things, the couple realized they were embarking on a whole new adventure. They knew that this region would be perfect for growing grapes, and so hoped to turn the land into a vineyard. Over the years, Ludger had carefully cultivated friendships with winemakers and their educators to learn about the craft. “After taking a short seminar on wine making, he began digging and planting. After all,” Julie smiles, “Ludger knows what he likes, and no challenge is too daunting.”

Creating any fresh crop requires much more than meets the eye, as any seasoned gardener will tell you. Before entering the army, my father worked in the highly specialized business of orchid growing. His responsibilities included repotting and watering the plants. He learned that there is a precise science involved, and he taught me that each exotic variety could take years to grow after being potted. Whenever I visit my parents, I’m amazed at the number of times they can get their orchids to re-bloom.

Ludger Szmania in Vineyard-2

Ludger Szmania in his Vineyard.

Winemaking is an art, a science and an expensive undertaking all at once. A fresh crop begins with clearing, planting, irrigating, pruning and picking. For Julie and Ludger, initiating a vineyard required much labor and the installation of an irrigation system. Also, it soon became clear that they’d need to build a nine-foot fence around the entire vineyard because local deer and elk were helping themselves to the grapes.

There are four distinct seasons in Cashmere, Washington, and in 2014, they learned too quickly how an early freeze could wreak havoc on an entire crop. Imagine using thousands of milk cartons to incubate the roots of each plant, where each row of grapes is equivalent to a football field long! They had 1,100 grapevines to, as Julie described it to me, “nourish and baby along.”

The Szmania’s have passed their entrepreneurial passion onto their sons, Victor, Ethan, and Lucas, who make great contributions to the family business. They are truly a multi-generational operation.

In the last few years, The Szmania’s hard work has paid off and they are now enjoying the fruits of their labor: They’ve succeeded in making their own private label wines! It’s been about eight years since they planted their first crop of grapes. On their first harvest in 2011, they bottled three types of wine: Sangiovese, Merlot, and Syrah. The following year they harvested three tons of grapes combined, which helped to create a Field blend, and those 29 rows made up a delicious red, their “Chianti” style wine.

Having won North Central Washington Gold and Silver Medals, any fine establishment would want to serve these new estate wines from the Brender Canyon Vineyards. The newly released Innfrared (2013) and Clusterphobia (2014) are fantastic, according to rave reviews from guests at their first Riverfront Dinner.

Brender Canyon Vineyards

The fruits of their labor.

The names reflect the wine, but also the clever and jovial nature of the Szmania family. They describe Clusterphobia as follows: “This richly-flavored estate blend of Sangiovese and Merlot grapes has a bit of Tempranillo juice and a touch of Cab Franc to add to the depth of a juicy plum and black cherry essence.  The buttery hint of crème brulee adds to the obsessive zest of this red field blend.” As for Innfrared: “This smooth, elegant medium-bodied wine has been blended with estate Sangiovese and Portteus Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s lighter with hints of NW blackberry and black currant and lovely floral aromas. Very drinkable alone or with food.”

The first of the Riverfront Dinner Series was held this earth day (April 22) and was prepared with all fresh ingredients from local farmers, ranchers, and orchardists, featuring Farm-To-Table Scrumptious Cuisine.

Upcoming Dates for the Riverfront Dinner Series are as follows:

July 15th: Farm-to-Fisher
August 12th: Vineyard-to-Table
September 16th: Orchard-to-Table
October 14th: Rancher-to-Table Oktoberfest

The Warm Springs Inn can help anyone create a wonderful life lasting experience. It’s the perfect venue for celebrations of all sizes, weddings up to 300 guests, private banquets, retreats and group entertainment. There are six elegant suites and a plethora of adventures that Julie and Ludger can arrange for their guests.

“Our goal is to entice old friends and restaurant customers to come visit while making satisfied customers into future ‘regulars’ at Warm Springs Inn and Winery.” -Julie and Ludger Szmania

For a magical experience and for more information, please email: julie@warmspringsinn.com, or call the Warm Springs Inn and Winery, at 509-662-LOVE.

Lois Castelli-Leff
Lois Castelli-Leff is a Long Island transplant, 28 years in Seattle. She has a degree in fashion merchandising from FIT and BA in textiles and merchandising from SUNY at Oneonta. Her work experience includes fashion sales and styling at Macy's NYC and Nordstrom. She held regional sales executive position at both Perry Ellis and Anne Klein and has an extensive background in showroom sales, trade shows and fashion show production. Her community service includes serving as an art docent through the Frye Art Museum and speech coach at Our Lady of Fatima, choreographer for the Magnolia Theatre, and is a member of the Katie McKay Circle. Lois founded her business, Senti, in 2010 producing glass crosses. She has three beautiful children and a dog, Baci.

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