Eric Dunham with his dog Port. (Courtesy of Dunham Cellars)

Eric Dunham with his dog Port. (Courtesy of Dunham Cellars)

Washington’s Walla Walla winemaking veteran Eric Dunham died October 23 in Cannon Beach, Oregon. He was 44.

Dunham was born in Walla Walla and grew up with Walla Walla wine pioneers like Rick Small of Woodward Canyon and Gary Figgins of Leonetti Cellar. His interest in wine started early, and he is said to have snuck into his father’s wine cellar as a teen and even removed the hinges of the locked door to get inside. He made his first barrel of wine for his father when he was 23.

His family moved to western Washington, and he graduated from Redmond High School in 1988 and enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving in aviation maintenance at NAS Moffett Field in the San Francisco Bay area and achieving the rank of Petty Officer Third Class.

He returned to Washington to pursue his passion for wine and completed an internship with Hogue Cellars in Prosser. He was then hired as assistant winemaker at L’Ecole No. 41 under the mentorship of Marty Clubb.

In 1995, he produced eight barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon while at L’Ecole for what would become Dunham Cellars and convinced his parents to launch the family winery. He left L’Ecole after the 1998 vintage and with his family established Dunham Cellars in 1999 at the Walla Walla Regional Airport, where the winery remains today. Dunham Cellars has become one the Walla Walla Valley’s largest wineries, producing around 40,000 cases annually.

Dunham was known for donating his time and wines to many local, statewide, and national philanthropic organizations and helped mentor many aspiring young winemakers.

He is survived by his wife Kathy, son, Hikari, stepmother, Joanne, and sisters Michelle Sikma and Katy Dunham.