Red Mountain winemaker dies

One of Washington's most controversial winemakers and a pioneer on Red Mountain died Monday night.

Mike Moore, 55, was found dead Tuesday morning. He died of natural causes, said John Hansens, Benton County coroner. Hansens said friends of Moore reported he had been ill for several days and had refused to seek medical help.

Moore owned Blackwood Canyon Vintners on Sunset Road, a winery and vineyard he launched in 1982.

Moore earned a degree in fermentation science from the University of California at Davis in the late 1970s and moved to Washington soon after graduation. One of his first jobs in Washington was working as a viticulturist for Kiona Vineyards, said Jim Holmes, who co-founded Kiona with John Williams in the mid-1970s, and now owns Ciel du Cheval Vineyard across the road.

When Moore built his winery in 1982, it was the first production facility on Red Mountain. In 1985, a fire razed his winery, forcing him to start over.

He owned about 300 acres on Red Mountain before selling a third of his property a few years ago to Corliss Estates in Walla Walla and purchasing land near Santa Barbara, Calif. In May, he sought Chapter 11 protection.

Damon LaLonde, who manages Vinagium, a vineyard on Red Mountain, was friends with Moore for nearly two decades.

"I understood his artistic ability and what he was trying to do," LaLonde said. "He had passion. He grew grapes to make wine, not to make money. He grew some of the most intense fruit in the state."

LaLonde said that while Moore was not popular with his peers, he was memorable.

"I understood his passion. Even though he was a little kooky, he could be enjoyable."

Mitch Venohr, associate winemaker for Fidelitas Wines on Red Mountain, worked for Moore from 2002 to 2005.

"He definitely had a different approach to winemaking to what most of us were doing," he said. "He was very passionate about it and totally believed in what he was doing."

Rob Griffin, owner of Barnard Griffin in Richland, met Moore in the early '80s. Both were from California, and their paths crossed throughout the decades.

"Mike was a person with unique ideas about winemaking," Griffin said. "He was an iconoclast and didn't waste a lot of time worrying about what other people thought. He had focused ideas about winemaking that didn't agree with the herd."

Coke Roth, a Kennewick attorney and former Tri-City wine distributor, knew Moore for decades and enjoyed his antics.

"He was a real maverick," Roth said. "Academically, he was strong, but he had a real eccentricity to him that drove him to do things differently than anyone else in the world. He certainly was one of a kind because of the way he did business. He was a lot of fun to be around, and I personally enjoyed him."

In 2003, Moore gained new fame, thanks to mentions of his wine in the Tom Clancy novel Net Force: State of War.

No services have been announced. An associate said Moore was divorced and his son lives in Canada.

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