Several long-time industry members were honored for their decades of growing, industry involvement, and advancement of Washington State’s wine grape industry during the annual meeting of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers.
Kevin Corliss, who’s spent his career working to improve, expand, and enhance the Washington wine grape industry, received the Grape Growers’ Industry Service Award. Corliss started as a wine lab intern at Ste. Michelle in 1983 and worked his way to vice president of vineyard operations.
As Ste. Michelle’s vineyard leader, Corliss oversees production of the company’s Oregon and Washington vineyards. In Washington, Ste. Michelle’s acreage represents about two-thirds of the state’s supply of wine grapes. Corliss also works with 80 growers under contract.
Corliss has held leadership positions in the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers, Washington State Grape Society, Washington State Commission on Pesticide Registration, and the Wine Advisory Committee, which provides recommendations on research projects.
He helped develop and update Vinewise, a sustainable viticulture guide and self-assessment for Washington growers. Corliss has been active in the state’s grape clean plant program, helping maintain and support funding for mother blocks. He also worked with Washington State University scientists on research related to clean plants.
Robert Rivera, vineyard manager for Goose Ridge Estate Winery, was named the Erick Hanson Memorial Grower of the Year. Rivera was recognized for his viticulture passion, meticulous approach to farming, and ability to fine tune crop quality through canopy management and irrigation. Rivera manages Goose Ridge’s 1,600 acres of wine grapes south of Red Mountain.
“He’s earned the respect and admiration of both his employees and employers, and is quick to spread credit to others for his vineyard successes,” said Todd Newhouse, chair of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers.
Rich Wheeler, longtime viticulturist for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates who now lives in Hawaii, received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Wheeler began as assistant manager for Ste. Michelle’s Cold Creek Vineyard in 1969, became director of grower relations in 1996, and later director of vineyard operations. He ended his more than 40-year career with Ste. Michelle when he retired in 2010.
Wheeler is credited for helping expandwine grape production in the Horse Heaven Hills and Red Mountain appellations and is said to have “loved giving growers contracts and he loved planting vineyards.”
42nd Street Café and Bistro in Long Beach, Washington, owned by Blaine and Cheri Walker, was named Restaurant of the Year. The award is annually given by the Grape Growers to a restaurant that’s done an exceptional job in showcasing Washington wines.
The Walkers were recognized for their outstanding Washington wine list, exceptional efforts to showcase Washington wines, and knowledgeable wine staff.
Melissa Hansen is the research program director for the Washington Wine Commission. Hansen previously was an associate editor at Good Fruit Grower from 1996 through 2015. Read her stories: Author Index