Throughout his career, Doug Gore has shown that a passion for growing grapes and dedication to teamwork can not only make delicious wines but create a more accessible industry for everyone. Gore began dabbling in vineyards and winemaking right out of college, and soon moved to Washington to become an assistant winemaker at Chateau Ste. Michelle. After just a few years, he helped launch Columbia Crest as a standalone winery and began focusing solely on their award-winning red wines. Additionally, Gore played a vital role in several irrigation experiments, partnering with Washington State University to find the most effective and conservative ways to water vines in Eastern Washington. In 2003 he became Ste. Michelle's Executive Vice President of Winemaking, while also participating in the launches of their partner brands Seven Falls and 14 Hands. Gore retired in 2018 after 36 years in the Washington wine industry.
Beginnings in California
Born on May 20, 1952, in San Jose, California, Doug Gore was part of the fifth generation of his family to reside in the Santa Clara Valley. While growing up, he enjoyed time in the Future Farmers of America while attending public school. He continued his interest in agriculture as a young adult, and decided to further his passion by attending California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. As the youngest child, Gore looked up to his older siblings for career and life advice. One of his brothers had majored in Agricultural Business, but Gore wasn’t sure he wanted to take the business route. Once he started school at Cal Poly, he had to declare a major right away, and he found Food Science a strategic passion to follow, still well within his love for agriculture. "I picked Food Science, and it picked me," Gore said (Heath interview).
His brother, who was a vineyard manager in Sonoma, helped him get a part-time job at a winery in 1973. He worked for about six months at Souverain Winery in Geyserville and loved it. Growing up, his family preferred to drink cocktails or beer and didn’t really keep wine in the home, so this was truly his introduction to the wine industry. It wasn’t until he got to college that he tasted wine for the first time and began to understand what a special slice of agriculture it really was. He spent the next three harvests at Souverain, working from September through the end of the year, while balancing his time with full summer quarters at Cal Poly.
After graduating in 1976, he began working at Beringer Vineyards, first as a laboratory technician and later as an enologist. At that time, Gore likened the wine business to a gold rush, with vineyards popping up seemingly by the hour in California. "It appealed to a lot of people, it was very exciting, and it was go-go-go," he said (Heath interview). Before Gore had joined the California wine industry, there had been approximately 490,000 acres of grapes in the state, with only one third of them dedicated to wine grapes. By 1976, "wine grape acreage increased to almost 660,000 acres, amounting to nearly 4 million tons of grapes" (Wine History Project).
As a result, the number of wineries had close to doubled, much in part to larger scale operations popping up. California wineries became a commercial enterprise and a way for national companies to invest their money in the 1970s and 1980s. Souverain, where Gore got his start, was owned by Pillsbury. Other companies like Heublein, Inc. (a large distiller and food processor), Seagram’s, Brown-Forman (which produces brands like Jack Daniels, Woodford Reserve, and Chambord), and insurance giant John Hancock were all purchasing wineries and vineyards to grab a piece of the pie. With the California wine industry quickly growing, it was easy to see the benefits of large corporations spreading their wealth and gaining large returns on their investments.
On the winery side, growth was also the clearest path, because wealthy investors were easy to find, even if they came from a completely different industry. Gore believes that this made for a lot of funny stories and interesting personalities being mixed into the business. And that the old saying, "if you want to make a small fortune in the wine business, start with a large fortune," was definitely true (Heath interview).
While California was booming, Washington was going through more of a slow simmer. Several vineyards had been planted during the 1960s, but wine production and sales remained extremely local to Washington. Popular varietals such as Chardonnay and Merlot weren’t introduced to Washington soil until 1965. These wineries were "on a steep learning curve, for Washington had almost nothing in common – climatically or geographically – with its neighbors to the south" (MacNeil, 730). But then in 1974, Chateau Ste. Michelle’s 1972 Riesling won first place in a blind tasting of 19 different Rieslings. The tasting was sponsored by the Los Angeles Times, which meant not only was California paying attention, but the rest of the country started to notice this small wine region in the Pacific Northwest. This helped to kick-start several decades of monumental growth in the Washington wine industry.
In 1982, Gore made the move to Washington, specifically as the Assistant Winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle at the old Grandview winery, which is no longer used. Gore helped make red wines for Chateau Ste. Michelle, which at that time was almost exclusively Merlot and Cabernet. "Those were the two red wines. Syrah didn’t exist, there was some Grenache in the ground, but it was used for Rosé," Gore said (Heath interview).
That same year, 1982, Chateau Ste. Michelle had established its new River Ridge Vineyard and had broken ground on a new winery near the Columbia River. In 1987, River Ridge would be rededicated and renamed Columbia Crest Vineyards, located in what would later be established as the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. Gore was quickly promoted to head winemaker, and the first winemaker for Columbia Crest, and immediately began producing red wines for them, as well as for Chateau Ste. Michelle. Columbia Crest’s inaugural vintages were released in 1984 with Gore at the helm.
When Columbia Crest was initially released, it was presented as a second label to Chateau Ste Michelle. However, after the first few years, it became clear that Columbia Crest would set itself apart as a standalone brand. Gore and others worked hard to separate Columbia Crest from its much larger partner and began calling them "sister wineries" instead. They used to tell people, "We are the second-best winery in Washington," Gore said (Heath interview). By using phrases like these, they were able to help the public understand the nature of the relationship with Chateau Ste Michelle.
By 1987, Gore was exclusively making wine for Columbia Crest and was no longer working on wines for Chateau Ste. Michelle. Columbia Crest had started to take off, in part because of the delicious wines Gore had helped to create. During the 1980s, Columbia Crest had firmly established its belief that the country was ready to support another nationally distributed Washington winery. Allen Shoup (1943-2022), former President and CEO of Chateau Ste Michelle, agreed that the Seattle wine market was reaching its saturation point at 200,000 cases per year. He also predicted that "sales efforts were going to have to be beyond the state’s borders" (Irvine, 363).
In 1998 they needed more room for wine, and ground was broken for a new warehouse expansion to accommodate an additional 1.4 million cases of wine. This would bring Columbia Crest’s total warehouse storage to 2.5 million cases. The extra space allowed more wine to be stored, but also to be shipped greater distances. Once Columbia Crest established the staffing and space for larger scale production, it began advertising farther afield. Gore spent the majority of his off-season away from the vineyards, traveling and talking to anyone who would listen about Washington’s red wines. Although Gore had the necessary wine knowledge to advertise his wines, he had to relearn another skill: public speaking. "I didn’t take public speaking in college because I was deathly afraid to stand up in front of people," he said (Heath interview).
During college, he had been very thankful when Cal Poly had agreed to trade out his public-speaking credit in favor of a math class that he had already taken, in order to meet graduation requirements. Several years later, Gore was once again worrying about that college requirement, but after a few tries at public speaking he realized he would be just fine. Gore quickly learned he just had to lean on what he knew, both about growing grapes and connecting with people. "So it was easy, it was Washington wines. There’s a whole lot to talk about there," he said (Heath interview). Once talking to large groups became second nature, Gore realized he thoroughly enjoyed everything that came along with showing others the wines he had worked so hard on. "That was always fun, just to get out, get around the country" (Heath interview).
Gore and Columbia Crest associates would travel to wine and food festivals, meet with wine writers and distributors, and set up tastings to share Columbia Crest wine with the public. Often, they would travel with other wineries, especially if the event was sponsored by the Washington Wine Commission. Even with organized events, Columbia Crest and others would typically have to pay for travel expenses, if not more, to get their names out there. Gore and his team had to dedicate not only their money but also their time to the cause. He estimates he was traveling around the country for two weeks out of every month during the first half of the year, while his wife Jane and children stayed at home.
Sharing the Wealth
In the 1990s, Washington’s wine popularity really started to catch the attention of the rest of the nation. During his travels, Gore believed that if the wine in the bottle was good, it would sell itself. "The grapes deserve a lot of credit," he said (Heath interview). After all, it might be the first time someone had ever tasted wine from the Columbia Valley or the state. In 1994, Columbia Crest was awarded a gold medal for its 1990 Estate Series Cabernet Sauvignon at the Challenge du Vin in Bordeaux, France. It was the only U.S. wine awarded gold that year. The following year, popular wine writer Ronald Irvine said of Columbia Crest, "The wines consistently win awards and are liked by judges for the balance of fruit flavors and fresh acidity – with pinpoint varietal flavors. The Columbia Crest Merlot is the best-selling Merlot in America" (Irvine, 299). Columbia Crest furthered its growth by appearing on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 for the first time in 1997, with its 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon and 1995 Estate Series Chardonnay.
Once it was deemed possible to create an award-winning winery like Columbia Crest essentially out of nothing, additional sister wineries quickly followed. Northstar, Snoqualmie, and Canoe Ridge were some of the first, and today Chateau Ste. Michelle has a family of more than 20 vineyards, estates, and partnerships in Washington alone.
The popularity of Columbia Crest and Chateau Ste. Michelle became a blessing for anyone opening a winery in Washington. Once people had tasted the wines, they wanted to see what else was available. Gore believed that it was important to share Washington wines with the world, no matter which winery they were from. "Don’t try to take business from somebody else, your neighbor. Just try to grow Washington state," he said. Gore likened it to the positive saying, "a rising tide floats all boats" (Heath interview). Gore took this mentality to heart when he helped to share important irrigation research with young students and fellow wineries alike.
The Art of Irrigation
When Gore first moved to Washington in 1982, he noticed the style of irrigation being used at the vineyards was heavy-handed. A lot of folks in the wine industry had come directly from the popular Washington fruit-tree business and were used to irrigating in a certain way. Whereas grapes need about a third of the amount of water used for fruit trees such as apples or cherries. According to Gore, it wasn’t the worst thing, but it could also be better. "And the grapes were pretty good still," he said, "and some varieties benefited from that, other varieties didn't, especially the reds" (Heath interview). With too much water on vines such as Cabernet, it would not only delay the growing season and in turn, affect the harvest, but it could also change the flavor. Many of the red varieties had an almost watery or earthy flavor to them, which in Gore’s opinion didn’t bring out their true character.
What naturally followed this curiosity in irrigation was a study called the Regulated Deficit Irrigation Experiment. Among wine growers and makers, it was simply known as the Clore Experiment, named after the inspiring scientist Dr. Walter Clore (1911-2003). Clore initially began as an assistant horticulturist at the Irrigation Branch Experiment Station (also known as the Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center) just outside of Prosser in 1937. It was funded by Washington State College (now Washington State University). The Center was founded in 1919 with just 200 acres filled with things like potatoes, corn, and wheat, and a few years later, apples. When Clore joined the program, he was "put in charge of evaluating the apple irrigation project and the tree-fruit variety plantings, and also oversaw the planting of other fruits, including grapes, red and purple raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and dewberries" (Irvine 21). Clore started with just a trial block of grape vines in 1965, which eventually grew to 312 varieties by 1974. Shortly after Clore’s retirement in 1976, the Regulated Deficit Irrigation Experiment began, headed by a second generation of irrigation researchers: Dr. Sara Spayd, Dr. Bob Evans, and Dr. Bob Wample.
The Clore Experiment set out to determine exactly how much water was needed for different varieties of wine grapes and to "establish water requirements of wine grapes at varying crop levels, and determine their effect on vine growth, yield, wine quality, and winter hardiness" (Irvine, 324). Dr. Wample had further refined the experiment by teaming up with Doug Gore. They took a single circular 64-acre section of Sauvignon Blanc and divided it into four quadrants. Each quadrant was irrigated with a different amount of water. Essentially, the team would experiment with eye droppers, adding small amounts of water at different times of the growing season to see what worked best and how the product changed.
The water treatments were labeled as Low Low (LL), Low High (LH), High Low (HL) and High High (HH). LL meant low levels of irrigation throughout the entire growing season, whereas LH was low irrigation at the beginning of the season, followed by higher irrigation later in the season. The latter part of the season was determined by a certain level of canopy growth. HL was the opposite, high irrigation earlier and low irrigation later, and HH was high irrigation throughout the season.
"High and low levels of irrigation were defined as 2.2 and 1.2 inches of water per foot of soil, respectively, in the top three feet of the soil profile" (Irvine, 324). During the experiment, rainfall would add approximately 7-8 inches of water on top of the experiment. Therefore, the total inches of water being added to the grapes would vary between approximately 12 and 15 inches depending on the Low or High ends of irrigation and rainfall. In 1993, the 64-acre circle where the experiment began was renamed Clore Vineyard.
After the enormous success of the experiment, Gore and his fellow scientists learned they could use significantly less water than before, and still maintain the vines and actually get more flavor out of the grapes. This not only helped to conserve a much-needed resource during the growing season but also changed the grapes (and the industry) for the better. "We wanted it to more express the fruit character of the grape. But with all that water and all that growth and all that energy going into the vine, into the canopy, and not just the grapes, for a lot of varieties, it hid the true varietal character of the grapes, and therefore the wines," said Gore (Heath interview).
It also changed the size of the canopies and in some cases the leaves protecting the grapes – this altered the number of leaves that had to be pulled in order for the grapes to receive appropriate sunlight. With a lower irrigation level earlier in the season, the team concluded that "the grower can better manage vineyard canopy, which reduces physical management strategies, decreases vineyard diseases and pests, and sets the vineyard up for better hardiness by limiting the growth of the wood on the vine" (Irvine, 325).
Once the first large-scale experiment was complete, Clore and Gore and their teams began experimenting with specific varieties and the amount of irrigation needed. After a few seasons of tweaking the water levels, Gore was able to show a difference in the flavors of different grapes. "I think it helped the varietals that we had to more clearly express themselves," Gore said (Heath interview).
Next came the hard part: convincing growers and winemakers to make a big change in irrigation. Many growers were hesitant until they saw the physical outcomes from the research because they had been watering the same way for decades and were afraid of possibly harming the grapevines. After learning that the vines would be just fine with less water, growers became excited about the possibility of better water-management during droughts and in areas with less rainfall. The results are even more relevant today as water conservation and river conditions become a leading topic in the Washington wine industry.
The winemakers were also unsure until they were able to taste the difference, literally. Once Gore was able to harvest the grapes from the first round of the experiment and make wines, he set up tastings. His team would place four glasses of wine on the table – one from each irrigation section – and discuss which wines had the most flavor and noticeable characteristics. "Literally, the proof was in the wine. It was there to taste. It was an exciting culmination of all the overwhelming data and input" (Irvine, 325). The consensus was that the wines from LL and LH were generally tastier and had more distinguishable flavors. There were also differences between the two, allowing wiggle room for growers and winemakers to adjust the flavor if they so choose. The ability to control wine characteristics from the first moments of growth in the vineyard was fairly groundbreaking in the 1980s and 1990s.
To Gore, it was second nature to share this information with wine growers and makers all over the state, and the country. Because the research was done under Washington State University, multiple papers were published on the subject, and became part of the public domain. "It's for everybody," said Gore, "We executed it, and we made the wines and then we made all that available for research to do the analysis on the wines" (Heath interview). Today anyone can access the research that Gore worked on, and they can use it to further research other aspects of grape-growing and winemaking. The Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center is currently made up of four large units, consisting of hundreds of acres of agricultural research ranging from wine and soil science to livestock and landscape architecture.
Back to Ste. Michelle
In 2002, Gore helped introduce a new wine called Walter Clore Private Reserve. The 1999 vintage, Bordeaux-style red was named in honor of Walter Clore. That same year, Columbia Crest was named Wine Press Northwest’s Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year. After such a successful year, Gore decided to move on and let someone else take the helm of Columbia Crest.
The following year, Gore became the Senior Vice President of winemaking for Stimson Lane Vineyards & Estates (soon to be Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in 2004), overseeing all winemaking and vineyards. Ray Einberger was hired as the new head winemaker for Columbia Crest. Gore kept his offices at Columbia Crest, and although they had a new winemaker, he still felt that he had a large hand in their production and success during that time. He made sure to spend time at both Columbia Crest and Chateau Ste. Michelle, to show an even hand with both children. By 2008, Columbia Crest was celebrating 25 years of winemaking, and selling 2 million cases per year. "Although I was not the day-to-day winemaker any longer, I was still there and participating. But it was very exciting," said Gore (Heath interview).
When Columbia Crest’s 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was named the No. 1 Wine of the Year by Wine Spectator in 2009, Gore was right there. They were the first and only Washington wine to receive the honor. "It changes things in a very positive way. There's only one wine in the world every year from the Wine Spectator. Let alone, it was a $40, $50 bottle of wine and our competition was selling for a lot more than that," he said (Heath interview). As inspiring as winning the award was, Gore was still focused on what that attention can do for everyone else, for the greater good. "You go to the gala and get the award, and you go up there. It was very neat. But it's not just for Columbia Crest or Ste. Michelle Wine Estate, but for the Washington wine industry, it's a big deal" (Heath interview). In 2010, Columbia Crest was mentioned on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list again, the 16th time since they had bottled their first wine in 1985.
During his time at Chateau Ste. Michelle Gore oversaw dozens of winemakers who came and went, and the creation of several wineries from scratch, just like Columbia Crest – wineries such as Northstar, Snoqualmie, Canoe Ridge, 14 Hands, and Seven Falls. Gore also helped to foster important relationships with brands such as Erath, Antinori, Eroica, Stag’s Leap, and Col Solare. "Building a brand, in hindsight, I’m pretty proud of that, because it didn’t exist," he said (Heath interview).
In 2017, Gore received the highest honor for a Washington winemaker, induction into the Legends of Washington Wine Hall of Fame, at the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center in Prosser.
He retired in 2018 after a storied 36-year career fostering the popularity of Washington wine and encouraging as many others to join him as he could. Looking back, Gore doesn’t believe he made very many enemies, but instead focused on what mattered most at the time. "I’m not a person that tends to dwell on, if somebody else is treating me bad or not good. I don’t see that. I tend to stay away from that and just try to do what’s right for not just Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, but also Washington state, and let that be the guiding light" (Heath interview).
More: Ariana Heath's interview with Doug Gore