In this new feature, WineAmerica will be doing a spotlight once a month on one of our winery members.
Spotlight: Dunham Cellars
Can you give us a brief history of the winery?
Dunham Cellars is a family-owned and operated winery that began producing ultra-premium wine in 1995. After serving four years in the U.S. Navy, and then graduating in 1994 with a focus on Irrigation Technology and Fluid Dynamics, Senior Winemaker Eric Dunham followed his passion and began his journey into the world of winemaking. Eric was employed by L’Ecole No. 41 winery in Lowden, Washington as the Assistant Winemaker, where he honed his skills under the tutelage of Marty Clubb. Eric’s natural talent and passion for winemaking led him, in his spare time, to begin handcrafting small lots of premium Cabernet Sauvignon under the Dunham Cellars name. With an inaugural release in the fall of 1997 of the 1995 Dunham Cabernet Sauvignon I (200 cases), Eric’s wine began creating quite a stir. This first release garnered several prestigious awards, including a Gold Medal and a 93 rating at the World Wine Championship. Encouraged by his success, Eric and his family decided to dedicate their full attention to the wines. In the spring of 1999, they went out on their own and opened the winery at the Walla Walla Regional Airport in a converted WWII airplane hangar. Using grapes from some of the finest vineyards in the Walla Walla, Yakima and Columbia Valleys, Dunham Cellars has established an award-winning reputation for their wines.
What wines do you produce at Dunham Cellar?
Dunham Cellars flagship wine is our Cabernet Sauvignon. Our other wines include Syrah, Trutina (a Bordeaux style blend), Three Legged Red (a red table wine), and the “Shirley Mays” Chardonnay, which is dedicated to Eric’s grandmother.
What inspired the choice to dedicate this wine to Eric’s grandmother?
Sadly, Shirley died of breast cancer in 1983. She was a native of Walla Walla, Washington, and mother to Eric’s father, Michael. We dedicate this wine to her memory. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the Shirley Mays Chardonnay is donated to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation to help fund the fight against breast cancer. In addition to supporting the Puget Sound Affiliate of Susan G. Komen For the Cure, we also dedicate the back label of each vintage to tell the inspirational stories of the brave individuals and their families who have been affected by breast cancer. Those stories can be viewed here: http://www.dunhamcellars.com/backlabels.
What is the climate in your region like for wineries?
Our climate could not be more suitable to world-class wine production. Our growing season is long, warm, and virtually devoid of rainfall as a result of the rainshadow effect of the Cascade Mountain Range. As a result, we are able to control the growth of the vines through cautious irrigation of our deep, well-drained soils.
The Walla Walla Valley is a viticultural area of superlatives, not just in terms of the wines it produces, but also in the sense of the geologic events in which it and its soils were created. These soils were formed approximately 13,000 years ago, during a time of enormous floods. These floods inundated the Walla Walla Valley as the glaciers of the last ice age melted. The silt deposits left behind by the floods were picked up by the winds and blown into the stunning rolling hills that surround the Valley on all sides. At the same time, Mt. Mazama in Oregon was continually erupting. The fallout from these eruptions gave our soils a high percentage (about 10-15%) of volcanic glass. This contributes to soil fertility and excellent water drainage. All of these factors result in a growing climate that produces some of the finest wine grapes on Earth.
What sets Dunham Cellars apart from other wineries in the region?
Dunham Cellars selects the finest fruit from several renowned estate vineyards in the Walla Walla and Columbia Valley Appellations. The winery works closely with its farming company, Appellation Management Group, to ensure the fruit is of the highest quality. The commitment between grower and winemaker and the quality of these vineyards with their incredible combination of climate, soil and geography allows Dunham Cellars to create wines of structure and balance.
Additionally, we implement sustainable vineyard growing practices in all our vineyards. Healthy soil is a key component of sustainability. Our goal is to meet the needs of the present without compromising future generations. We take guidance on these practices from Walla Walla Valley Vinea, the Winegrowers’ Sustainable Trust of the region.