On Friday, July 11, 1969, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's "Gourmet Spoken Here" column by Stan Reed lavishes praise on the debut commercial release of wine by Associated Vintners, Inc. (AV), a consortium of Seattle-based onetime hobbyist winemakers who have recently opened a pioneering winery in a warehouse in Kirkland. The columnist salutes the winemakers for their "revolutionary" breakthrough in viticultural and enological practices within the still unimpressive and nascent Washington wine industry. Reed's writing is already known to be popular with the newspaper's readership. This piece also proves that his enthusiastic insights are measurably influential, as AV's debut release sells out within a week of the column's publication.
Making Wine in Washington
The AV saga had begun a decade and a half before Reed's column, when a gaggle of University of Washington professors led by psychology professor Lloyd S. Woodburne (1906-1992) began making wine in a collaborative effort to see if decent European-style wines could be made from classic vitus vinifera grapes grown in Washington. For decades prior to that, the Washington grape industry had been focused on growing non-vinifera varieties of grapes (like Concord and Thompson seedless) mainly for the sweet-grape-juice industry and common-table-grape market. Few regional vineyards were planting or growing the proper grapes for making wines that could compete with the noble wines of France, Italy, Spain, Germany, or even California. Indeed, the local tradition for (mainly Italian American) home winemakers had long been to await the arrival each year of the "California grape train" in Seattle's Georgetown neighborhood, where individuals could then acquire some fruit from local fruit shippers like the DeSanto Brothers or Anthony "Tony" Picardo (Woodburne, 1).
But Woodburne and company developed a different vision of how this could be. They encouraged eastern Washington growers to grow wine grapes, and eventually pooled their resources and bought their own vineyard land in the hot Yakima Valley near Sunnyside, where in 1963 they planted several varieties as a test. After some weather-related setbacks, the 1967 harvest produced some fine fruit and that year AV leased a warehouse near Kirkland on King County's Eastside to begin commercial production. In 1969 the winery made its debut by marketing 250 cases of Gewürztraminer and Johannesburg Riesling wines from that 1967 vintage. If one can really call arranging to sell the wine through just one store, the QFC supermarket in northeast Seattle's University Village shopping center, "marketing."
"A New Industry"
As it turned out, the plan succeeded beyond the winemakers' wildest dreams. Soon after the June 1969 release of those debut wines, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Stan Reed took note and posted his first of several rave reviews. Reed acknowledged the wines' excellence -- but then went even further, heralding the winery's emergence as an historic achievement:
"A new industry has been born in Washington. Its name is Associated Vintners, Inc. Its total aim is the production of fine varietal wines from grape varieties grown within the state. That last sentence makes AV more than a new industry. It qualifies the firm as a revolutionary industry within this state" (Reed).
After the newspaper hit the racks that day Reed's readers responded instantly. The University Village QFC was deluged with ecstatic customers and the wine sold out within one week -- just as it would each June for the next several vintages. The spicy Gewurztraminer, in particular, became a regional hit, sales skyrocketed, and AV was faced with the need to upgrade to larger facilities several times over subsequent years.
The initial 10 members/shareholders/investors in AV shifted and expanded over time, with Lloyd Woodburne serving as president and winery manager through much of the 1970s and the others serving on various winery-related committees. In 1979 a Master of Wine, David Lake (1943-2009), was brought aboard and AV began earning more accolades far and wide. In 1983 the firm morphed into a new corporate entity, Columbia Winery, which would become known globally for its Chardonnay and Syrah wines. In 1988 Columbia acquired a new facility at 14030 NE 145th in Woodinville in East King County. That move -- to a site adjacent to the extremely successful Chateau Ste. Michelle winery -- signaled the beginning of what would in time develop into the Puget Sound region's robust wine-biz destination area.