Washington wine industry legend Bill Powers, known for pioneering efforts in organic grape growing and winemaking, died September 23. He was 88.
Powers came from drought-stricken Oklahoma to the state’s Columbia Basin in 1956 to raise livestock and farm in Othello.
After volcanic ash from Mount St. Helens’ eruption created havoc with his pastures and cattle, he moved the family to Kennewick and planted wine grapes in 1982 on Badger Mountain. He crushed his first grapes in 1986 for his newly established Badger Mountain Vineyard winery.
In 1990, Powers’ vineyard became the first in the state to be certified organic. He was also a pioneer in producing organic wines without the addition of sulfites. So ahead of the times, he and son Greg, who became a winemaker in 1990, had to learn by doing—there was no published information on organic grape production in Washington or organic winemaking techniques.
Powers told Good Fruit Grower during an interview in 2012 that he could have “written the book on organic grape growing and winemaking practices.” (Read: Finding a better way.)
Powers embraced sustainable farming and environmentally-friendly practices, installing one of the largest solar array in eastern Washington’s wine industry to power the winery, turning cooking oil from restaurants into biodiesel to fuel tractors, and using lightweight glass for wine bottles. He designed a pest fan, constructed with screen mesh, to blow and catch grape leafhoppers and cutworms from the vines.
Badger Mountain Vineyard winery produced 1,500 cases its first year. A second winery, Powers Winery, was added in 1990 to make high-end wines from conventionally grown grapes. Today, Badger Mountain winery , which makes only organic and no sulfite added wines, and Powers Winery produce about 70,000 cases annually. Organic wines make up about two-thirds of the total wine production.
In 2007, Powers was recognized by the industry for his pioneering organic work and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers. He was inducted into the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center Legends of Wine Hall of Fame in 2010.
Powers is survived by his wife Barbara, son Greg and daughter-in-law JoAnn, daughter Elizabeth and her husband Brian Cito, and several step-children and grandchildren.