When Allen Shoup was recruited to run a newly organized wine company outside Seattle called Chateau Ste. Michelle, the state’s most widely planted grapes were Concord for the juice market and a noble German variety, riesling, for table wine, popular primarily because the wine was sweet. You can’t blame the customers, they didn’t know any better, but Shoup would help consumers make the transition to drier wines from varieties like chardonnay, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon,
Shoup had been a brand manager for Gallo (remember Sangria? That was his.) and worked in luxury marketing for Max Factor. He was running a company in Idaho when the headhunters called. He took one look at the faux-French “chateau” that had just been inaugurated on the bucolic Stimson Estate northeast of Seattle, with a few token vines planted across from the parking lot. “At first I hated it,” he confided to me recently, “but now I see it was absolute genius.”
For the better part of a decade, the Chateau stood as a challenge to the nascent Washington wine industry: the biggest dog in the yard Today, there are over 100 winemaking facilities and tasting rooms within a five-mile radius of the front gate. What made it work for Shoup was the company’s unexpected sugar daddy, an outfit in Stamford, Connecticut, called UST, manufacturer of Skoal and Copenhagen smokeless tobacco. “We built the Washington wine industry with UST cash,” Shoup acknowledges.
Not just the biggest dog, but the richest as well. He could have ridden roughshod over the competition but quickly realized that the region’s strongest suit was going to be quality. From the start, Ste. Michelle’s commitment to quality would mean that they had to help their competitors, not obliterate them. Any bad bottle, didn’t matter whose, would reflect poorly on the entire region, and Ste. Michelle’s name was on most of the bottles.
When he left Ste. Michelle in 2000, Shoup set out to build his own brand, which he called Long Shadows. The concept: to unite, under that one brand, half a dozen ultra-premium Columbia Valley wines that would showcase not just the viticultural excellence of the growing region, but a handful of internationally acclaimed winemakers as well. So what you have, since 2003, is a collection overseen by Gilles Nicault (a brilliant French wine maker who moved over from Woodward Canyon and who guides day to day operations at the Long Shadows winery in Walla Walla); Randy Dunn (the reclusive genius behind Caymus); the Australian wine maker John Duval, formerly of Penfolds; Michel Rolland, the legendary consultant from Pomerol, outside Bordeaux; and Philippe Melka, French-born protégé of Agustin Huneeus, Sr., the globe-trotting eminence grise of California wine. Together they are responsible for seven remarkable wines; a German wine maker, Armin Diehl, and a father-son duo from Chianti, the Folonaris, have come and gone. But there’s a spinoff, Nine Hats, based in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood, that originally bottled the “declassified” wines from Long Shadows. Now it’s a freestanding brand, and even has its own pizza parlor.
Allen Shoup passed away this week at the age of 79. Without him, one could argue, there would be no Washington wine industry today, certainly not as we know it.