Northwest Wine: Former Ste. Michelle boss keeps pushing forward

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Allen Shoup came into the Washington wine industry at a fortunate time, and he believes he has benefitted as much in the past 33 years as he has contributed.

“I clearly think I was the luckiest guy ever to get into the wine industry,” said Shoup, chief executive for Long Shadows Vintners in Walla Walla.

Shoup came to Washington in 1980 to work at what is now Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Prior to that, he worked for Max Factor, the cosmetics company, and before that was with E&J Gallo, the world’s largest wine producer.

Before he retired as CEO from Ste. Michelle in 2000, Shoup’s accomplishments there were many, not the least of which was helping to launch the Auction of Washington Wines in 1988. This year, Shoup is the honorary vintner.

“Of all the lucky things I’ve been affiliated with in my lifetime, this is one I hold most significant,” he said. “It was truly an opportunity to give back and an opportunity for our entire industry — which has so much to be grateful for — because there’s probably not a person in Washington who has been here a while who doesn’t know someone who’s benefited from the services of Children’s Hospital.”

Shoup and a couple of friends came up with the idea of the auction, hoping it could generate perhaps $100,000 to $200,000 per year. To date, it has raised nearly $30 million, including nearly $2 million last year.

The honorary chairman of this year’s auction is Harvey Steiman of Wine Spectator magazine. And Kent Waliser, partner and general manager of Sagemoor Vineyards north of Pasco, is the honorary grape grower.

The auction starts Thursday with a picnic at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville. The big auction, filled with patrons willing to spend $500 per ticket and perhaps thousands on various bids, is Saturday evening at Ste. Michelle. Nearly 50 wineries will be presenting their wines at the auction.

When Shoup arrived at Ste. Michelle, he never would have thought the auction — or the industry — would be what it is today. Back in the early 1980s, Washington was a bit of a winemaking backwater.

But he was a dreamer.

Ste. Michelle’s collaboration with the Antinori family of Italy in 1995 became Col Solare, which now has a grand winery on Red Mountain east of the Cascade Mountains. That was inspired by Opus One, the joint venture between Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild. Shoup said the advent of Opus One in the late 1970s helped propel California as an important wine industry back when Napa Valley wines were generally unavailable on the East Coast.

Mondavi was a close friend and mentor to Shoup for decades.

“He had so much influence over me in so many ways,” Shoup said. “He was like a second father.”

When Shoup decided to launch Long Shadows Vintners after leaving Ste. Michelle, Mondavi was an early supporter and even planned to be a partner, but he became ill and died in 2008 at the age of 94. Shoup gave the eulogy at his funeral.

At Long Shadows, Shoup has taken the Opus One idea and given it a twist. He has seven international partners who make a single Washington wine using a grape variety they excel with. His partners come from California, Germany, Australia, France and Chile.

Now nearly 70, Shoup shows no sign of slowing down

“I’m trying to see if we can’t go up one more plateau in Washington in terms of building the learning curve, to get to the point where nobody in the world questions our position among the premier viticulture regions.”

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company.

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