On the final day of the Washington Winegrowers Association’s annual meeting, the association presented the 2019 awards to recognize four industry leaders.
Executive director Vicky Scharlau presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to pioneering grower Mike Sauer, calling him a man of “passion, kindness, generosity and purpose.”
Sauer first planted wine grapes in the Yakima Valley in 1972 and now operates Red Willow Vineyard with his sons.
Friends called him a “quiet leader” and a “star grower” whose partnerships with winemakers helped him pursue quality.
“One of the things I’ve learned is that good wineries make good growers, so I thank all of you and I appreciate this very much,” Sauer said.
Jim McFerran presented the Erick Hanson Memorial Winegrape Grower of the Year award to Yakima Valley grower David Minick.
“He grows some of the best Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache in Washington state,” McFerran said. “He’s the type of guy who is great to have as a neighbor, because he’s always willing to lend a hand.”
Next, Tim Donahue from Walla Walla Community College presented the Industry Service Award to Kent Waliser, the director of vineyard operations for Sagemoor Vineyards.
Donahue praised Waliser’s focus on customer service, communication and his “remarkable ability to lead from the middle.”
“It’s an incredible honor,” Waliser said, reflecting on the 17 years he’s spent in the wine industry since he transitioned from the tree fruit industry. “It’s easy to serve an industry you love, and I hope to do so for many more years.”
Lastly, Winegrowers board chair Shane Collins presented the Grand Vin award to longtime winemaker Gordon Hill, whose career spans Chateau Ste. Michelle, Milbrandt Vineyards, and now custom crush winery Coventry Vale.
“People like him put Washington wine on the map, and I wanted to thank him for paving the way for people like me,” Collins said. Hill likes to be behind the scenes, but he’s made wines that are found in homes across the country.
Hill thanked many longtime collaborators, reflecting on good times together, and said that his philosophy has always been to make wines that people want to drink and to share what he’s learned to help others.
“Your first years in the wine industry are logarithmic, you learn so much so fast,” Hill said. “I don’t believe there’s any wine secrets in the world.”
—by Kate Prengaman