PROSSER -- One of Washington's largest and oldest wineries is making a change at the top.
Co Dinn, longtime winemaker for Hogue Cellars in Prosser, announced he is leaving the half-million-case producer. His last day was Thursday.
Hogue Cellars named Greg Winter as its new director of winemaking Friday evening. Winter is head winemaker at Valley of the Moon winery in Glen Ellen, Calif.
Dinn will launch a small consulting and custom-winemaking business and perhaps start his own brand.
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"Everybody has lots of things they want to do in their life and career," Dinn said. "One of the things I wanted to do eventually was to go into business for myself. I wanted to do it while I still have lots of energy and time.
"There's going to be a growing need for smaller custom winemaking in the Yakima Valley," he said.
He plans to build a base of moderately small clients who want the expertise of someone with nearly a quarter-century of winemaking experience.
Dinn said he began talking to Hogue about leaving almost four months ago. Leaving now gives Hogue Cellars time to transition to finding a new director of winemaking. It also affords Dinn the opportunity to begin securing grape contracts before harvest begins in less than 10 weeks.
Dinn, 52, grew up in Texas and earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Texas in Austin. After working in the oil and gas business in Oklahoma, he decided to move west and take up winemaking.
His first job was working harvest at Sterling Vineyards in Napa Valley in 1989. In 1990, he began earning a master's degree at the University of California-Davis while continuing to work at Sterling. In 1992, he got an internship at Trefethen Family Vineyards in Napa Valley and was hired as a full-time enologist in 1993.
In 1996, Dinn was lured to Washington to become Hogue Cellars' white winemaker, joining an all-star team that included Wade Wolfe as general manager, David Forsyth as director of winemaking and Tony Rynders as red winemaker.
At the time, Hogue Cellars was owned by Mike Hogue.
"It was a great opportunity to come to Hogue, and I've never regretted a minute of it,"Dinn said.
Hogue Cellars was sold to Vincor International of Canada in 2001, and Vincor later was purchased by Constellation Brands, one of the world's largest wine producers, which owns such wineries as Robert Mondavi, Clos du Bois, Mount Veeder, Woodbridge and Toasted Head. In British Columbia, it controls Jackson-Triggs, Nk'Mip Cellars and Sumac Ridge.
Within a few years, Wolfe left Hogue to focus on his own winery, Thurston Wolfe. In 2007, Forsyth followed Mike Hogue to his new venture, Mercer Estates, and Dinn was elevated to director of winemaking, where he oversaw the production of 550,000 cases annually.
Dinn had opportunities to move back to California to make wine through the years, he said, but he grew to enjoy Washington wine country and being part of an industry that has been on a strong trajectory in both quality and quantity.
When he arrived in Washington, the state had fewer than 100 wineries. Today, there are more than 750.
"It's been a real rocketship ride, a lot of fun," Dinn said.
During his time at Hogue, the winery became one of the nation's first large producers to move primarily to screwcaps in 2004. Dinn was part of the team that tested the closures for several years.
After he takes a week of vacation to clear his mind, Dinn plans to get to work on his next winemaking adventure, which will include talking with grape growers and securing some fruit come September and October. He plans to be based in the center of the Yakima Valley, where he will have easy access to fruit from the Horse Heaven Hills, Wahluke Slope and Columbia Basin.
He said he doesn't believe transitioning from making 550,000 cases to a few thousand will be difficult, as Hogue long has produced small-lot vineyard-designated and reserve wines of just a few hundred cases.
"It's the kind of work we've done as long as I've been at Hogue," he said. "it's just not what everybody sees."
Now, he will be able to focus on a few barrels without having to worry about 150,000 cases of Riesling.
"I want to be my own boss and call my own shots. That's the real driver."
w Andy Perdue is editor and publisher of Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.