When you walk into Renegade Room by MonteScarlatto, don’t expect a stuffy atmosphere where people take themselves too seriously. “It’s not supposed to be ‘whisper time,’ it’s called Renegade for a reason – you’re supposed to have fun,” said owner and founder Joel Mackay.

Upscale and chic, Renegade Room rebels against the norm of traditional wine tasting. Yes, it’s a winery, but it’s also a bar and restaurant with fine food, curated local craft beer, “wine on tap,” and even pink and red wine slushies – a favorite summer treat for riders of the Spokane Party Trolley.

Located directly across from the Historic Davenport at 822 West Sprague Avenue in downtown Spokane, Renegade Room is the second home of MonteScarlatto Estate Winery in Washington’s Red Mountain Appellation, offering 100% estate-grown wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Barbera, Merlot, Malbec, Carménère and Petite Verdot.

Joel describes his wine as “old-world style and taste,” which he credits to their lack of machinery. “Most of our machinery is our shoulders and arms and legs,” he said.

When it comes to how Joel got into wine making, everyone expects a romantic story, but in reality, it was a practical decision.

In 1994, he purchased a broken-down house on 18.5 acres of property in Benton City. Joel’s dream was to plant cherry trees and sell the fruit, but he quickly discovered he had no irrigation water and a well that didn’t produce more than a gallon-and-a-half a minute. By the time Joel got the well put in and the house refurbished in 2006, his property was inside a squiggly line designated as the Red Mountain AVA (American Viticultural Area). Just like that, cherry trees were no longer an option, so he decided to transform the land into a vineyard.

When Joel began planting grape vines in 2007, he went into it almost completely blind. Having grown up on a row crop farm north of Pasco, he knew a lot about irrigation and hard work – but nothing about wine making! He did a little digging (literally and figuratively), talking to other vineyard owners and hiring a consultant and assistant wine maker to help him learn the art of wine making. During the first five years, Joel felt like he was just writing checks, but in 2012, his efforts paid off and he produced his first bottle of King Cutter’s Cab.

Joel prides himself on the uniqueness of each of his wines. “When you go to wineries, a lot of the wine tastes the same no matter what varietal it is. Because I’m the farmer, I want people to taste the fruit that came out of my field,” he shared. “I don’t do a lot of voodoo. I let the Cab Sav taste like Cab Sav. I let Malbec taste like Malbec.”

Their flagship wine is Dawn’s Bikini Barbera, named in honor of Joel’s late fiancé, Dawn, who lost her battle with cancer in 2012. Dawn helped plant, prune and tie this unique Italian varietal … always wearing a bikini! Joel would tease her about it, saying he was going to put her likeness on the bottle. Before she passed away, Dawn gave her blessing, but warned Joel that if she didn’t look good she’d come back and haunt him!

Having opened its doors in August 2018, Renegade Room was just gaining traction when COVID-19 hit. Suddenly, the things that made downtown such a magical location – the venues, guests at the Davenport, and people who would stop in after work – all went away, leaving Joel with overhead but no customers for months.

Fortunately, he saw an extreme uptick in wine club memberships, and people are finally starting to come back to enjoy food and wine in person.

Renegade Room is open Thursday–Saturday until 8 pm and by appointment for groups and special events. There’s lots of space to social distance and no wait times. Reservations are only required for Taste Thursday events, where they introduce new dishes and wine pairings. As life returns to normal post-COVID, Joel hopes to expand their hours and bring back live music.

Just like the wine, you’ll find it’s the people that make Renegade Room so special. As Joel puts it: “When you enjoy the people, the wine always tastes better.”