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Dunham Cellars

"Dunham Cellars Blends
With Trey Marie to Create
One Label"

By Christina Kelly
Avalon Editor/Writer

Dunham Cellars and Trey Marie Winery, based in Walla Walla, WA, merged wineries recently and now operate under one label, Dunham Cellars.

The wines produced by both wineries will continued under the Dunham name, said winemaker Eric Dunham.

Trey Marie Winery, owned by the David Syre family of Bellingham, began as a joint venture with Dunham Cellars in 2000. A mutual banker introduced the Syres to the Dunhams after discovering the families shared a similar interest in wine, said David Blair, project manager for the Syres' Trillium Corporation, based in Bellingham.

"The matchmaker was the bank," Blair said. "They agreed to form a joint venture to share a winery with separate identities. Trey Marie is actually owned by David Syre's three grown children, but the wine is his passion."

Trey Marie produces a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Eric Dunham produces the wine. He also makes Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Semillon for Dunham Cellars, owned by himself and his parents, Mike and Joanne Dunham.

However, after two years, the public was confused by the Trey Marie identity and despite good reviews and high marks, Trey Marie sales were slow.

"Many people thought Trey Marie was my second label," said Dunham. "It just made sense to do this."

The merger was prompted by Syre's purchase into Dunham Cellars last year. Blair explained that the Dunhams wanted to grow, but needed investment capital. Syre enjoyed Dunham's wines and bought into Dunham Cellars, enabling Eric to expand operations and vineyards. The winery will grow to about 10,000 cases this year, including 5,400 cases of Trutina, produced under the Dunham label. (Last year, Dunham produced less than 5,000 cases).

"This is a capital-intensive business," said Blair. "When Syre bought into owner of Dunham, they became equal partners. There was no reason to continue two separate identities of wine. It became apparent that trying to sustain the distinction between the two wineries wasn't working well."

Dunham Cellars owns 33 estate acres and hires the Appellation Management Group (AMG) to procure additional grapes. Dunham contracts fruit from some of Washington's premier vineyard sites. AMG manages 130 acres in the Walla Walla Valley at six different sites.

For the first time, Dunham will release three estate wines this year and increase production of the always-sold-out Syrah.

Eric Dunham, a native of Walla Walla, started out working for Hogue Cellars as an intern. He was hired in 1995 as an assistant winemaker for Marty Clubb at L'Ecole in Lowden, while his parents started Dunham Cellars. Eric moonlighted as Dunham's winemaker. He left L'Ecole in 1999 to work full-time for Dunham Cellars. The winery is located in a World War II airplane hanger.

Each year, Eric produces a limited white wine dedicated to his grandmother, Shirley Mays. All profits from the wine are donated to breast cancer research.

"This is an exciting time for us right now," said Eric. "We've increased production. We will introduce our estate wines this year and we've joined with Trey Marie. I look forward to making Trey Marie, and there will be more of it around."

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Dunham Cellars winemakerEric Dunham, a native to the Walla Walla area, grew up with the passion to make wine. After serving four years in the Navy and then graduating in 1994 from Walla Walla Community College with his AAAS degree in Irrigation Technology he was asked the question of what he wanted to do.

"Make wine," he said.

He followed his passion and began a seven-month internship with Hogue Cellars where he was trained in all phases of winemaking. Upon completion of his internship, he was employed by L'Ecole No. 41 winery in Lowden, WA as the assistant winemaker for four years.

During that time he began producing his own wine, beginning with 200 cases and increasing every year. Soon his production outgrew the L'Ecole facility and in 1999, Eric along with his parents, Mike & Joanne Dunham, opened their own winery at the Walla Walla Regional Airport.

Eric plans to continue to concentrate on making top quality Cabernets as well as a first release of Syrah in the spring of 2001. He has attended University of California-Davis where he completed courses in Red Wine Production, Viticultural Production, Sensory Analysis, and Barrel Management.

Dunham Cellars began producing wine in 1995 and released 200 cases in December of 1997. This first production of Cabernet Sauvignon received a Gold Medal and a 93 rating from the World Wine Championships.

Dunham CellarsThe second vintage, 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon, was released in December 1998. Production for this vintage, shortened by the freeze of 1996, was limited to 70 cases.

The third vintage, 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon, released approximately 400 cases in September 1999. This Cabernet Sauvignon was awarded a Gold Medal and "Best of Show" honors out of 340 entries at the Northwest Wine Summit held at Timberline Lodge, Mt. Hood, Oregon in May, 1999.

In June 2001, Eric was awarded one of seven Gold Medals at the Northwest Wine Festival hosted by the Seattle Enological Society.

This year Dunham Cellars also produced a limited edition of Shirley Mays White Wine, in honor of his grandmother, which is kept in the winery library for special events.

Dunham CellarsWinemaking Philosophy

Through extended maceration (cold soaking), gentle crushing and destemming techniques, Eric achieves his goal of a wine both age-worthy and yet approachable now. The wines are typically cold soaked for 5 to 10 day's which in his "opinion" enhances the nose and color extraction. Through gentle treatment at all phases of the wine's life, Eric hope's to bring to the bottle something he enjoys and is proud of.

Dunham's winery, built on a 21-acre plot on a hill near L'Ecole, has a subterranean facility for storing barrels of wine. He also is planting a 15-acre vineyard. The grapes for the current vintage came from vineyards in Zillah and Paterson, Wash., and Milton-Freewater, Ore.


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