Wine industry loses pioneers, attains milestones in 2009

By Andy Perdue, Herald staff writer January 4, 2010 

In the world of Northwest wine, it was a sad year, as the industry lost no fewer than five pioneers.

It also was a year of moving forward with new appellations. The harvest, which started a bit early, came to a sudden halt because of weather. And as the year closed, the world's largest wine publication recognized a Washington wine as the best in the world.

1. Northwest pioneers pass away

In 2009, the Northwest wine industry lost five longtime and influential winemakers. David Lake died Oct. 5 at his home in Issaquah. Lake, a Master of Wine, was the longtime winemaker for Columbia Winery before retiring in 2005.

In July, Richard Sommer died. Sommer launched the modern Oregon wine industry when he planted pinot noir near Roseburg, Ore., in 1961.

Cal Knudsen, an early Oregon wine figure, died in April. He planted Pinot Noir in the early '70s and was part of Knudsen Erath before launching Argyle Winery.

In January, longtime Walla Walla winemaker Mike Paul died. He was the owner/winemaker of Patrick M. Paul, one of the first wineries in the Walla Walla Valley.

And Gary Andrus, who started Archery Summit in Oregon and Pine Ridge in the Napa Valley, died in February. He pushed Oregon to new heights for wine quality and price.

2. Columbia Crest on top of the world

In November, Wine Spectator unveiled the No. 1 wine on its top 100 list: Columbia Crest's 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. This was the first time a Washington wine had topped the annual list for the world's most influential wine magazine. In 2006, the Quilceda Creek Vintners 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon reached No. 2.

3. Hard frost cuts short Washington, B.C. harvests

A sudden and unprecedented cold snap Oct. 10 essentially ended the growing season for Washington and British Columbia grape growers. In the Yakima Valley, temperatures dropped into the low 20s, frosting vineyards. No vines were left unscathed in the Walla Walla Valley.

Wade Wolfe of Thurston Wolfe Winery in Prosser said the only frost close to this magnitude occurred in 1978 and was much later in the month. North of the border, the same cold snap caused similar damage in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley. The weather forced wineries to rush the grapes in from the vineyards, essentially compacting harvest by two to three weeks.

4. B.C. riesling tops 10th annual platinum judging

A riesling by JoieFarms of Naramata, British Columbia, topped Wine Press Northwest's Platinum Judging. The Okanagan Valley winery's A Noble Blend white wine finished No. 2 out of the 450 gold medal-winning wines from Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho. Also, Barnard Griffin of Richland won five Platinum medals in the best-of-the-best competition.

5. Riesling top grape in Washington

In January, a USDA report revealed that riesling had overtaken chardonnay as Washington's No. 1 wine grape. In 2008, growers harvested 28,500 tons of riesling, compared with 28,000 tons of chardonnay. cabernet sauvignon was No. 3 with 26,100 tons, and merlot was No. 4 with 25,400 tons.

6. Lake Chelan AVA approved

In April, the federal government approved Lake Chelan as Washington's 11th American Viticultural Area. The 24,040-acre region surrounds the southern end of Lake Chelan, which is in the northwestern corner of the vast Columbia Valley. With more than 15 wineries and about 250 acres of vineyards, all planted since 1998, the region is on a fast track to becoming one of the state's top wine destinations.

7. Oregon winery sues former winemaker

Domaine Serene, a winery in Oregon's Dundee Hills, sued longtime former winemaker Tony Rynders in September, accusing him of stealing company secrets, including how to make a white wine from red wine grapes. Rynders, who is now the winemaker for a winery in Suncadia, said the techniques were standard in the wine industry. The suit was settled in December, with Rynders agreeing not to make a white pinot noir for at least three years.

8. Snipes Mountain AVA approved

In January, Washington's 10th American Viticultural Area, or appellation, was approved. At 4,145 acres in size, the hill near Sunnyside is the state's second-smallest appellation (after Red Mountain). It also is the oldest wine grape-growing region in Washington, as William Bridgman planted Muscat of Alexandria there in 1917.

9. Woodinville expansion

Just about every week this year, a winery announced it was opening a second tasting room in Woodinville. Chateau Ste. Michelle was the first winery to move to the Seattle suburb across Lake Washington when it relocated there in 1976. Today, at least 50 wineries call Woodinville home -- or at least a second home -- taking advantage of the 3.3 million people who live in the greater Seattle area and the millions more who visit the region on an annual basis.

10. Oregon Wine Tasting Room shuts down

In June, the Oregon Wine Tasting Room near McMinnville shut down after 29 years in business. The Oregon Wine Tasting Room was the brainchild of Myron Redford, owner and winemaker for Amity Vineyards in Amity, Ore. He wanted to create a business that would serve and promote Oregon wines, regardless of the producer. It was a revolutionary idea when it opened it Memorial Day weekend 1980. The closure did not affect Amity Vineyards' tasting room.

-- Andy Perdue is editor of Wine Press Northwest, a quarterly consumer wine magazine owned by the Tri-City Herald.

Tri-City Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service