Yakima Valley Founder – Wade Wolfe

Yakima Valley, WA (July 2015) Established as the first American Viticultural Area north of Napa Valley in 1983, Yakima Valley — with its 300 days of sunshine, ancient alluvial-volcanic soil and location that sits on the same parallel as the famous Bordeaux region of France –can easily be considered the birthplace of Washington wine.

The state’s wine industry has been built on the backs of the Yakima Valley’s founding families…many  are vital figures in the industry.

Dr. Wade Wolfe, who started his career in Yakima Valley as a winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle in 1978, believes that Yakima Valley “was and is the center of the industry.” Founding his own winery, Thurston Wolfe, nine years later in the valley, Wolfe finds himself working with not only children of those he started with but now their grandchildren as well.

“These (families) have made a dedication to the industry and have had multiple generations now,” Wolfe says, “As the generations came on, they were much more knowledgeable and sophisticated in their grape growing skills — they bring their enthusiasm and energy into growing the grapes. All of these things conspired together to keep the focus of the industry centered here on the Yakima Valley.”

Wolfe’s first official crush was in 1987. He and his wife Becky Yeaman have steadily grown his Thurston Wolfe Winery to more than 6,000 cases a year. Thurston-Wolfe is sold in nine states and shows up on respected wine lists across the country.

While he said he now considers himself more of a winemaker than a grower, Wolfe still has roots firmly planted in the vineyards. He’s been on the Washington Wine Advisory Committee since 1985, helping steward state funds funneled into research projects at Washington State University. Funds, which he and others successfully lobbied for with a 1/4 cent tax on each liter of wine sold in the state.

Those funds have supported research on deficit irrigation, powdery mildew prevention, fermentation microbiology, rootstock trials and more, leading to significant improvement in the quality of grapes.

His small-lot Petite Sirah and Zinfandel garner rave reviews and win awards. He makes an Orange Muscat and blends Pinot gris with Viognier to create a popular blend he calls PGV. And, he remains a steadfast supporter of Lemberger.

“It was the first wine I ever made,” he said. “I fell in love with it shortly after coming to Washington, all thanks to Walt Clore.”


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