Walla Walla All-Stars

Round the globe, the wine industry models the typical woes of the early-21st-century world economy: sluggish growth, excess capacity, falling prices, conglomeration. Except in Washington state, or more precisely, the Walla Walla Valley. Here, it seems a Washington wine-industry guru has chosen to pilot his ship directly into the economic storm. Mad? Obsessed, like Capts. Ahab and Nemo? It's hard to imagine Allen Shoup in such a role. Visionary he may be, but in the 1980s and '90s his vision put Washington wine on the commercial map, and made his company (Stimson Lane, producer of Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest) one of the industry's most respected and profitable. When Shoup retired from Stimson Lane in 2000, no one expected him to leave the wine business entirely, but few can have predicted his latest move. In March he announced formation of a new company called Long Shadows Vintners, bankrolled by a consortium of mostly retired but still well- to-do investors. But instead of putting his investors' money into one of those architectural-wonders-with-a-winery-on-the-side that have proliferated funguslike in Napa, Shoup is operating as a venture capitalist building a winery portfolio. He envisions not one but six or more wineries, each operating independently under the Long Shadows umbrella, each with its own label/brand, each making its own single "best of type" wine, and each co-owned by a proven master of winemaking from a different region of the wine world. The only real precedent for this business model is the one Shoup invented at Stimson Lane to manufacture credibility for Washington's little-known wines. There, he partnered with Italy's Marchese Antinori to produce the big-ticket red Col Solare, and German winemaker Ernst Loosen on the more modestly priced Eroica, a fragrant white rather in the Mosel manner. The first winemaker partners announced for the new operation were California cabernet wizard Randy Dunn, Augistin Huneeus, whose Concha y Toro red put Chile on the wine quality map, and bordeaux star Michel Rolland, whose home vineyard is just up the road from Chateau Petrus, where merlot (Washington's favorite grape) is queen of the vintage. Since March, Shoup has enlarged his team with the young Bordelais Philippe Melka, who will work with Huneeus, and is in serious negotiations with one of the young German winemakers who are bringing that country's long-troubled wine industry back into international repute. Shoup says at least some of his stable will create their first wines this year for 2005 release. To begin with, they'll work their alchemy at the Walla Walla facility Bergevin Lane, itself an ambitious new kid on the Washington wine block. But he fully expects that when his band of virtuosi become more familiar with the differing characteristics of Washington's many grape-growing climates, they'll each want to have their own facility adjacent to the vineyards they want to concentrate on. "That's the classic model," he says. "A great winery like Petrus doesn't produce a 'line,' it makes Petrus." rdowney@seattleweekly.com

 
comments powered by Disqus