Sips

Roots

On June 10, Columbia Winery celebrated its 40th anniversary with a cellar tasting of wines ancient and modern, a lavish supper atop the Space Needle (also celebrating 40 years in business), and gifts of engraved commemorative bottles and wine glasses for all in attendance. Columbia is now owned by the multinational Canandaigua, itself just one component of Constellation Brands, the biggest alcohol-beverage supplier in the United States. But its roots run straight back to the little band of amateur winemakers—most of them UW professors— who decided in 1967 to turn professional, releasing their handmade wines under the modest label "Associated Vintners." But AV was just the ripe fruit on a vine planted and tended by others in the post-Prohibition wilderness of cheap muscatel and Concord—others who also deserve to be toasted as we tip a glass in honor of AV. Lloyd Woodburne and his professorial pals would have had no grapes to play with if it hadn't been for a Sunnyside attorney and grape grower named William Bridgman, who was sure that, given the option, his fellow Washingtonians could learn to like a beverage that didn't taste like alcohol-laced Welch's grape juice. It was Bridgman who nagged Walter Clore, a young agronomist at the state agricultural station in Prosser, into a 40-year experiment in discovering ways to grow the noble European grape varieties in Eastern Washington's ferociously extreme desert climate. Cheers, too, to the pols who took on the entrenched bad-wine establishment in the 1960s and drove them from the field. Sure, it took Gallo money to do it, but Gallo's guy in Olympia, Sydney Abrams, helped persuade leery legislators and bureaucrats that breaking the local-wine monopoly on supermarket sales would be good not only for the consumer but for local growers and vintners as well. Many others are worthy of a toast, but one stands out for me. In 1965, two years before AV released its first vintage, a UW English prof named Angelo Pellegrini published a little book called Wine and the Good Life. Today—in the world of multinational marketing, genetically engineered crops, and fast food—Pellegrini's message that man does not live by bread alone is more timely than ever. Anyone who cares about the growth of the Washington wine industry should own a copy of Ron Irvine's encyclopedic history The Wine Project (Sketch Publications, $29.95), written in collaboration with Walt Clore, who celebrates his 91st birthday on July 1. rdowney@seattleweekly.com

 
comments powered by Disqus