Cherry grower and winery owner Ronald Schmidt of Zillah, Washington, will be remembered as an upbeat and positive industry leader who had a passion for his work. He died in May in a one-vehicle accident, at the age of 51.
Schmidt, a third-generation orchardist, joined his father as managing partner of Schmidt Orchards after graduating from college. He became sole owner of the business in 2004. He was president of Cherry Institute in 2001, and was involved in many other agricultural associations, including the Sweet Cherry Marketing Committee and the Rattlesnake Hills AVA (American Viticulture Area).
He planted his first vineyard in 1999 and in 2003 opened the Two Mountain Winery at Zillah, converting controlled-atmosphere storage rooms used for apples into wine fermentation and aging rooms. He put his heart into creating a fun, yet sophisticated environment where friends old and new could enjoy excellent vintages and create memories, according to family members.
B.J. Thurlby, president of the Washington State Fruit Commission and Northwest Cherry Growers, said he spent some time working with Schmidt over the past few years and always felt refreshed and reenergized after visiting with him.
Schmidt was proud of both the cherries and wine that he produced, Thurlby said. He would bring several bottles of wine to the annual Cherry Institute planning sessions, share them with growers, and ask for their feedback on his product.
In 2001, Schmidt’s cherry orchard was decimated by hail and rain just before harvest, and Washington Governor Gary Locke asked him to speak about his loss at a press conference.
“Ron gave one of the most eloquent and uplifting talks I’ve ever seen—especially given the fact that he had just lost 90 acres of sweet cherries,” Thurlby recalled.
Schmidt was soon able to put the loss behind him, and the following year he had a great crop of cherries.
“He seemed to have an amazing strategy on life, where he had fun with his work,” Thurlby said.
Schmidt is survived by his wife, Wendy, and his parents, Phil and Phyllis Schmidt.