Albert Ravenholt was a visionary. In 1968, he and founding Sagemoor Farms partner Alec Bayless shared a belief that tree fruit and wine grapes would thrive in Washington’s Columbia Basin, an area then still mainly scrub brush and tumbleweeds. Ravenholt of Seattle, Washington, died on April 25 at the age of 90.
Though Ravenholt traveled extensively in his life as a foreign correspondent-analyst and was well connected—photos of foreign diplomats, U.S. presidents, and military generals he met lined his wall—grape and tree fruit production were one of his passions, said Seattle’s Winslow Winslet, Sagemoor Farms partner who invested in the partnership in 1971.
John Pringle of Kennewick, Washington, an early Sagemoor employee, said that Ravenholt had tremendous energy, a brilliant and photographic mind, and was interested in new fruit varieties and more efficient ways of farming. He was an expert on world food supply, and had a farm in the Philippines as well as Washington State. Sagemoor Farms initially started with a couple hundred acres of tree fruit, mostly cherries, with Granny Smith apples added early on, he said.
Pringle was involved in planting about 600 acres of Sagemoor’s pioneering wine grapes that are now credited with helping establish the state’s wine industry. According to Ronald Irvine’s book The Wine Project—Washington’s Winemaking History, Sagemoor Vineyards became important because it had no captive winery and was a crucial supplier to small wineries throughout the Pacific Northwest. “It can be said that Sagemoor Farms and its companion vineyards [Bacchus and Dionysus] truly became the mother vineyards for many of the first wineries that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s.”
Dennis Courtier of Pepin Heights Orchard in Lake City, Minnesota, first met Ravenholt in 1977 during a trip to China sponsored by what was then called the International Dwarf Fruit Tree Association. “He was the real deal, interested in everything,” Courtier said.
Ravenholt, one of ten children, grew up during the Great Depression on a family farm in Milltown, Wisconsin. He attended one semester of college before hitchhiking from the New York World’s Fair in the summer of 1939 to California where he signed on as cook on a Swedish freighter sailing for Asia, got off in Shanghai, China, and from 1941-42 led relief convoys for the International Red Cross on the Burma Road and into the Chinese interior. For the next four years, he served as a war correspondent for the United Press International in the China-Burma-India theatre. In 1946, he married Marjorie Severyns, a Sunnyside, Washington, native serving with the State Department’s wartime intelligence agency. When they returned to the United States, he continued reporting about China and Southeast Asian affairs, writing for the Chicago Daily News and the Institute of Current World Affairs until 1978. He wrote articles and books on a variety of Asian topics and lectured as a founding member of the American Universities Field Staff, a group of writers organized by colleges and universities to cover foreign affairs.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Marjorie, and is survived by four sisters and three brothers.