Hipolito Vargas, with 40 years as a supervisor of Champoux Vineyards, was named the Erick Hanson Memorial 2023 Grower of the Year on Feb. 9 at the annual WineVit conference in Kennewick, Washington.
The previous winner, Todd Newhouse, presented the trophy and plaque, as well as a bottle of wine, as the final award of the concluding luncheon of the Washington wine industry’s annual meeting. Educational presentations in the morning focused on the wine industry’s economic conditions.
Vargas’ family, including two young granddaughters, were with him to celebrate.
“I just want to say thank you, everybody, for giving me the chance to work with you,” he said in his only reception comments.
Vargas, a married father of five, nicknamed Polo, was touted by his colleagues for his upbeat attitude and uncompromising quest for quality in his four decades at the vineyard located in the Horse Heaven Hills growing area. They also lauded his communication ability, crew management skills and calm demeanor under pressure.
He’s also a cattle rancher and connoisseur of tequila.
Allen Shoup, considered one of the fathers of Washington’s wine industry, was posthumously selected for the Lifetime Achievement Award. He died in November in Seattle.
The founder and managing partner of Long Shadows Vintners began his career at E. & J. Gallo Winery in Modesto, California, but came to Washington in 1979 to help build Chateau Ste. Michelle into a juggernaut. He founded the Washington Wine Institute and the Auction of Washington Wines, and he helped create the Washington Wine Commission and the American Vintners Association.
Shoup is also the founding chairman of the Association for Wine Accurate Research and Education, or AWARE, and received a lifetime achievement award from Sunset Magazine.
His son, Ryan, accepted the award on his behalf.
Thomas Henick-Kling, an enology professor at the Washington State University Wine Science Center in Richland, received the Industry Service Award.
The married father of two is known for his research into the role of yeast strains on wine flavor and how to avoid stuck fermentation. He earned his doctorate from the University of Adelaide in Australia and his master’s degree from Oregon State University.
The Grand Vin Award, honoring winemaking, went to Katie Nelson, vice president of winemaking for Chateau Ste. Michelle.
Ste. Michelle brought the married mother of two to Washington in 1999 as an enologist. She left the company only briefly from 2015–2018. She studied chemistry at Sonoma State University in California and cut her teeth as a crush intern in Healdsburg, California.
—by Ross Courtney