That personality obviously stands out in the Gordons’ wine. The Gordon Brothers 1998 Tradition, an estate blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, won first place in a blind tasting of prestigious Washington, French, and Napa Valley wines this past March in San Francisco. Washington wines also took second (DeLille Cellars), third (Col Solare), and sixth (Quilceda Creek) places. Interestingly, even at $40, the Tradition was the least expensive of the first eight. The ’96 Mouton-Rothschild, which placed eighth, goes for $278 a bottle. Washington winemakers like to point out the good value of their wines.
Jeff is quick to note that the top three places were a dead heat. His point reflects an observation you hear a lot among wine people in Washington. They like each other. What they are about is not just Gordon Brothers wine or Woodward Canyon wine or Chateau Ste. Michelle wine, but Washington wine.
Pioneer Walter Clore Helped Create
After graduating from WSU, Jeff Gordon worked for an agribusiness outfit, an experience that he found deadening, and which led the Gordons to look for land. Vicki recalls Jeff’s bringing her to the spot where their house now stands, even before the land was for sale. She was stunned by its beauty. When the land came available in 1979, they quickly worked out a deal and started planning.
Part of that planning involved a visit to the site by WSU horticulturist
Though many call him the “father of Washington wine,” vines were planted in Washington long before Walt Clore was born. The first Vitis vinifera, the premium European vines, were probably planted by the Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Vancouver in 1825. Around the same time, French trappers might have planted vinifera vines in the Walla Walla Valley. Other European settlers across the state undoubtedly brought their seeds or cuttings with them, unwilling to abandon their wine to memory.
But Washington did not see its first bonded winery until 1933, immediately following the repeal of Prohibition: St. Charles Winery on Puget Sound’s Stretch Island west of Tacoma. By 1938, Washington had 42 wineries. But most of the wines produced during this era were fortified, sweet dessert wines.
What Clore was able to do was assure Washington farmers that vinifera would grow in Washington. Without his revelations—and a little legal persuasion from California—the products of Washington’s wine industry would still be relegated—with some exceptions—to the same shelf as Mogen David and Wild Irish Rose. They certainly wouldn’t dominate the wine lists of restaurants such as New Orleans’s Dominique’s.
Walt Clore came to Washington State College in 1934, following the lure of a $500 fellowship and fleeing the Depression and a life in the Oklahoma oil refineries. Prohibition had been repealed six months earlier.
In 1937, Clore was appointed assistant horticulturist at WSU’s research center in Prosser, now called the Irrigated Agriculture Research Center. He was the third faculty member on staff at the center and began working with tree fruits and small fruits—including grapes.
Clore immediately started grape variety trials at Prosser. Over the years he tested 250 American, European, and hybrid grapes. He had the grapes. He had the ideas. He saw the potential. All he needed was a partner for his grand vision to reach fruition.
He had to wait 30 years after beginning his work in Prosser before that partner came along. Arriving in Pullman in 1960, Chas Nagel joined the science department as a microbiologist. Coming from the Napa Valley, where he grew up just down the street from Louis Martini and where his father sold grapes to the Napa Valley Coop, he knew a little about winemaking. So Clore asked him to help evaluate his grapes.
Nagel offered to make some wines and run a taste panel. Soon afterward, George Carter joined the team in Prosser as the winemaker. Consulting with Nagel, he would make the wines in Prosser, then send them up to Pullman for analysis.
“Folwell did the economics, Chas headed up the winemaking, and I grew the grapes,” says Clore.
All this led finally to Clore’s magnum opus. With Nagel and Carter, he published in 1976, the year he retired from WSU, the prosaically titled, Ten Years of Grape Variety Responses and Wine-Making Trials in Central Washington. The publication consists mostly of crop yields, analytical data, and taste panel results, meticulously compiled over the decade. But the message was clear:
If hardier varieties free of diseases are used and the best cultural practices known to obtain full vine maturity are followed, it is feasible to grow European grapes in favorable sites in south central Washington.
Is that poetry or not? Certainly it stirred the souls of eastern Washington farmers who had the foresight to realize that mankind cannot live by wheat—or apples—alone.
And obviously it was not Clore alone who bore the weight of the new industry. The history of wine in the state of Washington is intricate and fascinating. Readers wanting to know more might pick up Ron Irvine’s excellent The Wine Project: Washington State’s Winemaking History. Written with the help and memory of Clore, the book details a history that can only be glanced at in this article.
Walter Clore honored with Special Wine
From the press release:
Columbia Crest Winery announces the introduction of its premier wine, “Walter Clore Private Reserve,” an artisan-style Bordeaux blend. The vintage 1999 wine is now available nationally for a suggested retail price of $30 per bottle. Just 2,000 cases of the blend were produced.
Winemaker Doug Gore said the new designation
honors the pioneer who proved that premium wines could be produced
from Washington-grown vinifera
Walter Clore, PhD was a Washington State University (WSU) scientist who began planting grapes for research in 1937. He quickly became an advocate for grape growing in the Columbia Valley, although local growers were skeptical of his recommendations. Nearly 40 years later, Dr. Clore published, “Ten Years of Grape Variety Responses and Wine-making Trials in Central Washington.” The work ultimately convinced growers that varietal and site selection joined with the best viticultural practices could produce premium wines.
Theodor Baseler, President/CEO of Columbia Crest’s parent company Stimson Lane Vineyards & Estates, said that without Dr. Clore’s research, the Washington wine industry would have evolved much more slowly. Today, Washington state is ranked the second largest wine producing region with more than 200 wineries and 28,000 acres of vineyards, all planted to premium grape varieties.
“The industry got a running start because he planted scores of varieties throughout the Columbia Valley and collected the data necessary for vintners to make reasonable decisions about where to site a vineyard or winery,” Baseler said. “Prior to that, many people decided it was a foregone conclusion that premium wine grapes could not be grown in Washington state.”
Winemaker Gore said that Dr. Clore’s contributions to the Washington wine industry include guiding Columbia Crest through vineyard plantings and research projects. “His work laid the foundation for a seven-year irrigation trial that demonstrated that the precise timing of when and how much to water a vineyard would enhance wine quality. The results have been adopted by a majority of growers in Washington state.”
Columbia Crest’s parent company, Stimson Lane Vineyards and Estates also consulted with Dr. Clore before planting many of the company’s premier vineyards sites, including on the Horse Heaven Hills and Cold Creek. Outside Washington State, Dr. Clore’s research has been lauded by numerous national and international wine and grape organizations.