Saturday, October 1, 2011

Infamous Red Mountain Winemaker Passes Away

Truly, one of my favorite winemakers in this region passed away this week at the age of 55. Michael Moore, owner of Blackwood Canyon winery on Red Mountain passed away sometime Monday evening from natural causes according to the Benton County Coroner.

Moore, who graduated from University of California at Davis in the 1970s with a degree in fermentation science, moved to Washington soon after graduation to start working for Claar Cellars, Kiona Winery, and a few others.

Mike built the first production winery on Red Mountain back in 1982. It burned down in 1985 forcing Moore to start over again from scratch. In the past few years, Moore’s pristine property on Red Mountain became more valuable than winemaking itself. As of last year he had sold off a few hundred acres of his vineyards.

Last year I was hired by my friend Duane Smith, a commercial realtor in the Tri Cities to photograph Moore’s vineyards so they could be marketed. I spent several hours up on the vineyard site looking out toward Rattlesnake and the upper Yakima Valley. Truly, Michael owned a small piece of heaven out there. Unfortunately, the sale of property didn’t pay down enough debt, and Moore was forced into Chapter 11 protection in May of this year.

Over the years I had several opportunities to get to know Michael. Certainly, among those in the winemaking profession there were a lot of critics as well as those who had a deep respect for Moore. Just last weekend, while I was enjoying the “Crush” up in the Yakima Valley, there were several conversations about Moore’s winemaking and marketing practices. Even more, upon the report of his death there were several conversations and articles that I found interesting.

One thing that I can tell you about my own relationship with Mike was that he didn’t ever really know me. We had a relationship where, honestly, I didn’t want him knowing that I was in the industry. He didn’t have a love for those who worked in the business, and wasn’t afraid to let anyone know that. My anonymousness gave me the ability to just sit and listen and watch.

I truly loved visiting Mike with friends whenever I gave a tour of Red Mountain. It was always my last stop of a touring day. I did this for several reasons. Primarily, I loved the experience of taking people there to see their reactions, and visiting there took a very long time.

Some people would refuse to get out of the car. Others would walk away from the tasting thinking that they had just encountered Bacchus himself. I had people screaming mad for taking them there, and people thanking me profusely for allowing them to see how wine really should be made.

Usually you would find Mike in his winery barefoot or in sandals year round. He was almost always smoking something in the barbecue outside. You didn’t taste wines at his winery without tasting it with some sort of cheese, sausage samples, or other food. Last, but not least, if you were willing to listen, he would spend hours regaling you with stories of wine, winemaking, and his old-world techniques.

Mike, honestly I will dearly miss you. I hope that you are making great wines in heaven and walking barefoot amongst the vineyards!

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