Groundbreakers: Celebrating 25 years of washington wine
We are honored to have some of our most celebrated industry veterans share their stories with us to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Washington State Wine Commission. Established by the legislature in 1987, the Commission provides a marketing platform to raise positive awareness of the Washington State wine industry and generate greater demand for its wines. The work done by the Commission would not be possible without the vision and leadership provided by the people featured in these essays. New profiles will be posted each month.
Balcom & Moe
Maury Balcom was instrumental in forming the Washington State Wine Commission in 1987, helping to write the legislation and lobby lawmakers to pass the bill.
Jim Holmes helped Scott Williams plant the first vineyard on Red Mountain in 1975. He know operates his own vineyard called Ciel du Cheval, which produces some of the most sought after red grapes in the state.
Quilceda Creek was founded in 1978 by Alex Golitzin with help from his uncle, legendary winemaker André Tchelistcheff. View Full Profile
Barnard Griffin Winery
In 1983, Rob and his wife, Deborah Barnard, started Barnard Griffin as a side project while Rob worked at Preston Wines and Hogue Cellars. Daughters Elise and Megan now work full-time at the winery alongside their dad. View Full Profile
Ron Irvine first got into the wine industry by opening Pike & Western Wine Shop in 1975. In 1997, he published The Wine Project, a book on the history of winemaking in the state. Now he is the owner and winemaker at Vashon Winery. View Full Profile
L'Ecole No 41
L'Ecole No 41 is housed in a historic Frenchtown schoolhouse in Lowden, Washington - just west of Walla Walla. The winery was originially founded by Marty's in-laws, Jean and Baker Ferguson in the 1970s.
Gary and Nancy Figgins started Leonetti Cellars, the first winery in Walla Walla, in 1977. His children, Chris and Amy, have taken over day-to-day operations of the winery but Gary is still involved in the winery and supporting wine education in Washington state with annual scholorships to the Walla Walla Community College enology program.
Patricia Gelles and her husband David helped plant grapes at neighbooring Ciel du Cheval and Kiona Vineyards before deciding to plant their own in the 1980s. Klipsun Vineyards are well known for great Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, among other Bordeaux varietals.
After working in California vineyards at the beginning of his career, Doug Gore was recruited by then Chateau Ste. Michelle winemaker Kay Simon in 1982 to move to Prosser and help with winegrowing. Gore now works as executive vice president of vineyard operations, overseeing the extensive vineyards owned and contracted by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.
Wade Wolfe crushed his first grapes for Thurston Wolfe winery in 1987, after working at Chateau Ste. Michelle and as a consultant in the vineyards for many wineries. Thurston Wolfe now produes 6,000 cases of wine a year, including some "under-the-radar" varietals such as Zinfandel, Lemberger, and Orange Muscat.
As CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates Baseler has been dedicated to giving back to the Washington State wine industry through his involvement with the Auction of Washington Wines and Washington State University's Wine Science Center.
Mike worked at Chateau Ste. Michelle for 10 years before his wife Carolyn encouraged him to start his own project. Now his sons Andrew and Donny help make the wine at their state-of-the-art winery in Woodinville.
Rick Small opened Woodward Canyon, the 2nd winery in Walla Walla in 1981 after planting wine grapes on his father's farm. Rick and his wife Darcey's latest project is operating a small farm store set up to sell summer produce from Woodward Canyon’s ever-expanding garden.
Bill's agricultural roots go back to western Oklahoma, where he began farming at 18. He moved to the Columbia Valley in 1957 to become a tree fruit farmer. Badger Mountain and Powers winery was started in 1988.
Bob Betz began his wine career in 1975 at Chateau Ste. Michelle and began his own winery, Betz Family Winery, in 1997. He is honored to be serving as a Chair of the Auction of Washington Wines this year. He and his wife Cathy have attended every AWW since its inception 25 years ago.
Kay and Clay established Chinook Wines in 1983. They met while she was an assistant winemaker and he was a vineyard manager, both at Chateau Ste. Michelle. Seattle chef and restaurateur Tom Douglas is one of their biggest fans.
Mike Conway started out as the first winemaker at Hogue Cellars but left in 1984 to commit fully to Latah Creek, striving to be "the best small family winery in the state." Now, his daughter Natalie is part of the winemaking team.
Norm McKibben moved to Walla Walla in 1985 to "retire" when he entered the apple business, which serendipitously led him to the wine grape business. Now Norm is an owner or partner in some of the most renowned vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley.