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Dunham Cellars

20th Anniversary Celebration!

In 1995 when Eric Dunham produced his first vintage, a Cabernet Sauvignon, the family had no idea what an amazing journey they were beginning and how many changes would occur over those 20 years.


Eric was 11 when his father Mike married Joanne and they moved from the Walla Walla area to Sahalee in Redmond, Washington, where they both worked as insurance agents for Northwestern Mutual. They later returned to Walla Walla. Eric wanted to become a Marine, but was turned down because he'd had a non-cancerous brain tumor at the age of 5. Children's Hospital took care of the tumor and he was perfectly fine. The Navy accepted Eric and he spent four years at Moffett Field in Mountain View, California. He was never on the water, but was near Napa and visited frequently. Mike also shared this interest in wine. When Eric returned to Walla Walla, he enrolled in Walla Walla Community College, graduating as an irrigation specialist.

On a fishing trip to the Deschutes River, the weather was so bad that Mike and Eric and plenty of time to talk. Eric said he was interested in starting a small winery. Mike suggested he work somewhere to get a better idea of what it would take. Eric worked as an intern at Hogue for six months (where he adopted a stray dog he named Port), then moved to L'Ecole for four years where he became the assistant winemaker. While at L'Ecole, he started making his own wine with the first vintage being the 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon. In 1998, when they actually had wine to sell, he, Mike, and Joanne moved the winery to the Airport Wine District.

Mike retired from the insurance business in 1999; Joanne followed in 2000. The winery was on a large piece of land and situated in one building. They constructed a tasting room and added the crush pad in 2000, built the barrel building in 2006, and the bottling line building in 2008. In the beginning, Eric was the winemaker, Mike handled the business end of things, and Joanne handled decorating and events. Before long, they needed an office manager. The business kept growing. They hired several assistant winemakers over the years, but as Eric's marketing duties grew and he traveled more, they wanted a full-time winemaker. Dan Wampfler (photo) joined Dunham in early 2008. He received undergraduate and Master's degrees in enology from Michigan State University and worked at Chateau Ste. Michelle as a research winemaker. He worked at Ste. Michelle's Canoe Ridge Winery and as Assistant Winemaker at Columbia Crest. Eric moved more fully into the marketing side of things.

Trey Marie winery was created in 1998 with Trutina, a Bordeaux-style blend. This winery was to be a standalone winery, however, in 2001 it merged into Dunham Cellars. David and Cheryll Blair joined the Dunhams in 2004 as business partners. Prior to Mike's death in 2013, the Blair's son John (at left with Joanne) was hired to learn the winery business and eventually became the winery's general manager.

Dunham wines are now available in 35 states and this year they'll produce somewhere between 28,000-30,000 cases. Their grapes all come from the Columbia Valley, from several AVAs. "Eric got his first Syrah grapes from Lewis Vineyards in the Yakima AVA in 1999," recalls Joanne. "We planted Frenchtown Vineyard, 13 miles west of town, but in recent years sold it. We purchased a dry land parcel four miles east of Walla Walla in the foothills of the Blue Mountains with an elevation of 1,450 feet in 2008. We're almost done planting the 70 acres at Kenny Hill Vineyard with the first crop harvested in 2012. We like to use multiple vineyards for complexity and to ensure we're not hostage to weather." Originally, they were only going to make Cabernet Sauvignon. They added Syrah in 1999 and since then have added Shirley Mays Chardonnay, dedicated to Eric's grandmother who died from breast cancer. A portion of the sales of the Chard is donated to Susan G. Komen. "'Trutina' is the Latin word for 'balanced,'" says Joanne. "That wine and Three Legged Red are our biggest sellers. The Cabernet Sauvignon is our flagship wine." They also make a Lewis Vineyard Riesling and are re-introducing Four Legged White for Maysy, their winery dog. Depending on weather, they make a late harvest Riesling. Appellation Management Group is their farming company and Ken Hart their vineyard manager since 1999.

Dunham's Artist Series wines are offered to Wine Club members first. Members also receive an annual Wine Club-only wine made especially for them, as well as three shipments per year, and great discounts on wine. There are wine club parties in Spokane, Seattle and Walla Walla, plus a Spring Release party each May and holiday party in December at the winery. Other events include Dunham Days now in its sixth year. It's a weekend of food, music and wine celebrated the last weekend of August.

With Eric's tragic suicide in 2014, following Mike's death in 2013, it's been a hard few years for the family. But the company they founded continues on and is still growing. "We've moved our case goods to another building so we can add barrels as we make more wine," says Joanne. "And for the first time, we've hired a national sales rep who is the first non-family member to hit the road. We're very excited." While they have contemplated a west side tasting room, they haven't yet found the right spot or the right person to run it.

There are many charities they support, but they are especially connected to Susan G. Komen, Children's Hospital, and the Humane Society.

For their 20th anniversary, they're creating a special wine dedicated to Mike and Eric.

Dunham Cellars
150 E Boeing Ave
Walla Walla, WA 99362

Connie Adams/April 2015

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