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Wine Scene: Wade Wolfe’s roots are in Yakima Valley vineyards

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Wade Wolfe and Becky Yeaman, Wolfe’s wife and business partner.

YAKIMA, Wash. -- The state’s wine industry has been built on the backs of the Yakima Valley’s founding families, many of whom remain vital figures in the state’s wine industry.

Wade Wolfe is one of those industry giants. His vision and leadership have helped mold Washington’s wine industry into what it is today. Wolfe received his doctorate in plant genetics from The University of California, Davis prior to moving to Washington in 1978 to begin his career as a viticulturalist for Chateau Ste. Michelle. One of his first projects was working as an adviser on the expansion of the site that is now Columbia Crest Winery in Paterson.

He also worked closely with Walter Clore, who was proclaimed the Father of Washington Wine by the Legislature in 2001.

“I met Walt the first day I was here,” Wolfe said. “He took me around and introduced me to the growers.”

A few years later, Wolfe and Clore collaborated to write the federal petition for the Columbia Valley American Viticultural Area, which was approved in 1984. Wolfe is widely viewed as Clore’s successor due to his viticultural knowledge and academic approach.

In 1984, Wolfe left Chateau Ste. Michelle so he and his wife, Becky Yeaman, could start their own project, Thurston Wolfe Winery. Their first official crush was in 1987, and they have steadily grown their winery to more than 7,000 cases per year and now work side by side with their son Josh, who has returned to the Valley to work in the family business.

Wolfe believes the Yakima Valley “was and is the center of the Washington state wine industry.” Today, he works with the children and grandchildren of some of the farmers he worked with in the late 1970s.

“These (families) have made a dedication to the industry and have had multiple generations now,” Wolfe said. “As the generations came on, they were much more knowledgeable and sophisticated in their grape-growing skills. They bring their enthusiasm and energy into growing the grapes. All of these things conspired together to keep the focus of the industry centered here on the Yakima Valley.”

While he now considers himself more of a winemaker than a grower, Wolfe still has roots firmly planted in the vineyards. He’s been on the Washington Wine Advisory Committee since 1985, helping funnel state funds into research projects at Washington State University.

Thurston Wolfe was first located in the historic old City Hall on North Front Street in Yakima. The business was moved to Prosser in 1996 and is now in a custom-designed winery built in 2006 in Prosser Vintner’s Village, just off Interstate 82 at Exit 80.

Wines to try

Albariño, Crawford Vineyard, Yakima Valley. The current vintage is sold out, but you will want to put this wine on your list and watch for the release of the new vintage. Albariño is the best-known of the Spanish white varieties and has recently been planted in Washington state. This wine is unique and always a hit.

2013 The Geologist. This wine is made up of cabernet sauvignon (49 percent), merlot (27 percent), cabernet franc (15 percent) and petite sirah (9 percent). The fifth vintage of this blend, in 2013, spent 22 months in French oak and three years in the bottle before release. Limited production of 104 cases.

2016 Touriga Nacional Port, Yakima Valley. Another sold-out vintage, but if you are a port fan, you want to visit this winery. Touriga Nacional is one of the traditional port varieties from the Douro region of Portugal.

• Barbara Glover is executive director of Wine Yakima Valley, an industry group representing member wineries.

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