Tom hedges, hedges family estate
BY LESLIE KELLY 
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If Tom Hedges had his way, Red Mountain would be mentioned in the same sentence as Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne when people talked reverently about the best wine growing regions in the world.

Yes, that’s a pretty lofty goal for an AVA that was not much but sagebrush 40-some years ago. But if anybody can move that discussion forward with gusto, it’s the tenacious Hedges.

The Richland native (“I was born and raised 15 minutes from Red Mountain” ) sort of fell into the wine business.

After earning a masters in international business, he was hired by a company called Castle and Cooke Foods. He and his wife, Anne-Marie Liegeois lived in Vancouver, then Phoenix, Philadelphia and Buenos Aires before ending up in New Brunswick, Canada. “Eight hours north of Boston,” he said, pointing out the remote location.

During that time, he made all sorts of international connections and when he moved back to the Northwest, his networking skills led to an adventure in exporting wine to Taiwan in the mid-1980s. “I signed up Cakebread, Phelps, Mondavi Heitz, but those producers proved to be too expensive,” he said. “The first Washington state wine we shipped was a pink Riesling from Staton Hills. They loved it.”

He made in-roads in Tahiti, too, until the French government created a law banning imports that weren’t French, and finally, found a huge untapped market in Sweden. At that point, somebody advised him to put his name on the bulk red wine he was shipping to that country and Hedges Cellars was born.

It was a fateful meeting that brought Hedges to Red Mountain and the next chapter in his ever-interesting tale. “It was my 20th High School reunion in 1989 at the Tower Inn in Richland and I ran into Fred Artz. At the time, Fred was vineyard manager at Klipsun Vineyards, on Red Mountain, and he invited me to visit Red Mountain the next morning. There was this 50-acre parcel for sale, Fred said and it would be perfect for growing Bordeaux varieties, which we were buying on contract for our Cabernet-Merlot blend. With much financial struggle, we bought the property and planted it in 1990.”

At the beginning of the new millennium, Hedges was instrumental in securing Red Mountain’s American Viticultural Area designation, one of his proudest accomplishments.

“It is special because it is truly a different terroir from surrounding areas, almost 100 percent wine grapes, and is small and easy to understand. Not to mention, you can ‘see’ and ‘feel’ the entire AVA when you are there, being only 4,000 acres or so. And, the grapes are mostly Bordeaux varieties and Syrah, so the wines are easier to understand being mostly “big reds”. And there is a certain Red Mountain style, tannic, powerful, very age-worthy.”

In the early days, Paul Thomas was an important mentor. “He helped me get a foothold in the Swedish market, with our original Hedges Cabernet-Merlot. And he introduced me to Brian Carter, who soon thereafter became independent, and consulted on our first wine, and for about 10 years. Back then, we made the wine at several places: Covey Run, Hyatt, then settling on Washington Hills in Sunnyside until building our own place at our Red Mountain vineyard in 1995,” Hedges said.

As the Hedges Family Estate planted its roots in that area, the operation grew to include Tom’s brother, Pete, the general manager since 1996 and head of winemaking since 2002, and the couples’ two adult children, Christophe and Sarah. “They’ve renewed our purpose to succeed,” Hedges said. “They are both working at Hedges, and are getting along, which is very satisfying!”

The journey has had its bumps.

“Getting financing at the beginning was very, very difficult.

At one point, in tears, I parked near Lake Washington in Kirkland and sat there with a phone book. I started calling banks. The industry was not considered too stable and financing was hard back then. I phoned First Interstate Bank, got a guy on the phone who went to the same international business school I did in Arizona, and he figured out a way to loan us money!” Hedges recalled.

When it comes to enjoying some well-deserved down time, Hedges returns to a childhood obsession: Things that go fast.

“My dad helped me build a go-kart when I was about 10, and it was cars and motorcycles from then on. I bought my first Porsche 911 in 1973, and have owned six since. Vintage racing and rallying are serious hobbies,” he said. 
 

                

 Hedges Family Portrait

© 2012 Washington Wine Commission

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