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Don Mercer played a key role in bringing the first vinifera grapes to Horse Heaven Hills. Courtesy Rachel Mercer

Don Mercer played a key role in bringing the first vinifera grapes to Horse Heaven Hills. Courtesy Rachel Mercer

Horse Heaven Hills pioneer Don Mercer will be inducted in the Legend of Washington Hall of Fame in August by the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center.

Don, working with his father, Milt, and brothers Bud and Rick, planted the first vinifera grapes on Horse Heaven Hills in 1972 at the urging of the late Dr. Walt Clore, Washington State University extension horticulturist. Don helped found an irrigation district for the Horse Heaven Hills and served as its first president.

Don and his wife, Linda, established a winery in 1985. Wines produced included Cabernet Sauvignon, Lemberger, Muscat Canelli, and a rosé.

Don’s enthusiasm for the wine industry is said to have encouraged family, friends, and neighbors to follow in his footsteps. The Robert Andrews family, at one time Don’s closest neighbors, now has more than 2,000 acres of wine grapes and operates McKinley Springs Winery. Don’s cousin Christy Martinez and her husband, Sergio, helped in the early years with both the Mercer vineyard and winery. Today, Sergio and Christy have a small vineyard, and their son, Andrew, and wife, Monica, operate Martinez and Martinez Winery in Prosser.

Don, now retired, is a past president of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers and Benton County Farm Bureau and helped found the Prosser Wine and Food Fair.

A commissioned bronze piece will be unveiled at the Legends Gala on August 7 and displayed with the other ten Hall of Fame inductees at the Clore Center.