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‘Unity is our power’, say major players in Washington wine

The movers and shakers of Washington’s wine trade gathered for the second annual TOAST! awards gala on 10 August at Chateau Ste. Michelle.

Jamie Peha, executive director for Auction of Washington Wines, devised the Toast! event to laud both established and emerging industry leaders in Washington state wine, selected by an esteemed peer committee.

This year’s presiding TOAST! luminaries included Auction of Washington Wines’ board president Stacy Lill, honorary chair Annette Alvarez-Peters, and Master of Wine Bob Betz.

TOAST! falls under the aegis of Auction of Washington State Wines, founded in 1988 to benefit Seattle Children’s Hospital and Washington State University’s Viticulture and Enology Department. More recently, additional funds also assist Vital Wines, a non-profit winery which provides medical care to vineyard workers. To date, the auction has raised over $63 million during its 36 year history.

Ted Baseler, emeritus president and CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, famous for his motto “Work hard, play hard, make history,” received the Lifetime Achievement award for his “extraordinary dedication, inspiration, and advocacy” to Washington wine.

“What was unique about Ted is that he could be president, he could be CEO, he could be the boss – but he was also part of the team,” recalled Betz. “He was part of the solution, never developing a problem and complaining, but helping to find a solution. He not only talked the talk, but he walked the walk. And he walked it with every one of us.”

Marty Clubb of L’Ecole No. 41 garnered the Award of Distinction for his work advancing “the calibre” of Washington wine.

“We’re at a turning point, and we’re well positioned to compete at an even higher level than we’ve been in the past,” said Clubb. “I, for one think it’s our industry unity that will help push us to a higher level, make us not just amongst the ten best wine regions, but the best wine region in the world.”

Emerging Leader award winners included Devyani Isabel Gupta of Valdemar Estates, an advocate for accessibility and inclusivity in the Washington state wine industry.

“We don’t just have amazing wine quality” said Gupta. ”We have an amazing quality in our wine community.”

Additional Emerging Leader recipients included Rebecca De Kleine of Four Feathers Wine Services, Michelle Moyer, WSU Professor in the Viticulture & Enology Department, and Ashley Trout, founder of non-profit Vital Wines and Brook & Bull Cellars.

“We talk all the time right now about organic, and vegan, and sustainable, and all those things are great, but what we work for with Vital is cultural sustainability,” observed Trout, who urged the audience to “think outside the box” for solutions.

“We are more than an US$8 billion statewide annual industry. And we can’t do that on the backs of people whose basic needs aren’t always being met. We just can’t.”

Other recipients included Honorary Vintners Ben Smith and Gaye McNutt of Cadence Winery, the biodynamically-farmed Hedges Family Estate, and ‘Vine to Wine’ award winner Eduardo Zaragoza of Shaw Vineyards, all from the Red Mountain AVA.

Further vine tending kudos fell to Honorary Grower, veteran Miguel Rodriguez of Weinbau Vineyard, who started his vineyard career in 1979.

Moreover, wine writer Andy Perdue of Great Northwest Wine received the Wine Industry Champion award for being a “constant voice for Washington wine,” and Gary McLean of GMMD Consulting earned the Auction of Washington Wines Star award for “significantly advanced AWW’s mission of uplifting the Washington wine industry.”

Finally, Senator Mark Mullet and Representative Kelly Chambers both received the Martin Clubb Washington Wine Hero Award, presented by the Washington Wine Institute, for their legislative efforts benefiting Washington’s wine industry.

Ultimately, the evening proved not just a celebration of individual accomplishments, but of the entire community, dispelling any doubts about the future of Washington state wine.

“Diversity has always been our strength, but unity has been our power,” concluded Clubb. “And unity will power our transformation into a new Washington state wine industry.”

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