UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. — Next month’s U.S. Open Golf Championship at Chambers Bay west of Tacoma is viewed as the most important sporting event ever staged in Washington state, and the Washington State Wine Commission has made sure many of its best wines will be poured near the 18th tee throughout the tournament.
It started with the $120,000 investment as its share of a corporate tent at Chambers Bay Golf Course, and leaders of the Washington wine industry followed that up with a blind judging by some of the state’s top sommeliers to determine the 120 wines to be featured at the tournament.
Woodinville vintner Chris Sparkman, who chairs the wine commission’s 12-member board of directors, said the vote was unanimous to invest in the corporate tent, feature the state’s wines and entertain many of the top wine retailers, sommeliers and wine writers in the United States and around the world.
“It was a slam dunk for us,” Sparkman told Great Northwest Wine. “We know this is a once-in-a-generation if not a once-in-a-lifetime type of attraction as it nails the demographic of wine influentials. And the response from the wineries has been great. It was wildly effective for our industry in building the sense of community and getting more people involved.”
This year’s tournament in University Place begins Thursday, June 18. As is tradition, the final round is scheduled for Father’s Day — Sunday, June 21.
The U.S. Golf Association announced in February that championship round tickets were sold out. Last year’s tournament at Pinehurst in North Carolina attracted more than 50,000 patrons for each round, and more than 2,000 media are expected to cover the Chambers Bay tournament.
Field for U.S. Open started with 420 wines
News of being selected to represent the Washington state wine industry at the U.S. Open brought a sense of pride for those wineries who took part in the judging, and L’Ecole No. 41 in the Walla Walla Valley town of Lowden topped the field of 420 entries with five wines selected to participate.
“I did not directly follow the process, but I am very happy about the selection of five of our wines!” Clubb wrote in an email.
Swiftwater Cellars was next with four selections, each made by the Cle Elum winery’s former winemaker, Linda Trotta.
The Wampfler household in Walla Walla will have four wines featured at the U.S. Open, two made by Daniel Wampfler for Dunham Cellars and two by his wife, Amy Alvarez-Wampfler for Sinclair Estate Vineyards. It’s an especially proud moment for Dunham Cellars as it celebrates its 20th anniversary this year despite the passing of founders Mike Dunham and Eric Dunham in the past two years.
“Mike would be ridiculously thrilled,” Wampfler said. “At one point, he was the club champion at Walla Walla Country Club.
“What is most exciting for us is that the selection was done in a very objective and fair manner,” added Wampfler, who also sits on the commission’s board. “For Dunham Cellars to have two wines chosen in a blind tasting is very humbling, and it’s also exciting for our wines to be presented on the largest stage in golf and at such an amazing venue.”
Seattle-based Precept Wine plans to pour all 10 of the wines it had selected at various price points under brands Browne Family Vineyards, Canoe Ridge Vineyard, Waitsburg Cellars, Waterbrook Winery and Willow Crest.
“The U.S. Open provides an incredible opportunity to show Washington state wines to a national and international audience. The exposure is fantastic,” said Alexandra Evans, Precept Wine’s chief marketing officer. “We’re delighted to be part of this showcase that underscores our state’s outstanding quality and diversity in winemaking.”
Ste. Michelle Wine Estates will be represented by six bottlings, including “string of pearls” brands Col Solare and two from its new Tenet project.
Seattle sommeliers determine U.S. Open wines
In a sense, the selection process for the wines came down to a tournament, which made it a natural for Chris Stone, the commission’s vice president of marketing and communications. Stone joined the commission after spending eight years working at historic Seattle Golf Club.
“We really want to highlight the fact that this judging was open to the entire industry and emphasize that the wines were vetted by a third party — an objective panel of experts,” Stone said. “That was the only way to handle something as important as this.”
So Stone reached out to Seattle wine professional Chris Tanghe, who attained the elite title of Master Sommelier in 2013.
“He recruited the team and led the tasting,” Stone said. “I wanted to make sure these are high-caliber people anyone would respect and agree are experts.”
Tanghe’s panel included Chris Horn, wine director of Heavy Restaurant Group; Jenny Klock, co-owner of Seattle food and wine boutique Picnic; Chris Lara, wine director of John Howie Steak; Canlis sommelier Jackson Rohrbaugh; and sommelier Dawn Smith, formerly of Cafe Juanita and Stoneburner.
Both Stone and Sparkman said there were at least three separate correspondences sent to all wineries inviting them to enter.
“Legally, we represent every winery and every grape grower in the state — everybody who is licensed,” Stone said. “They have to be current on their reporting and current with their assessment.”
The deadline was early April, with the tastings staged at the wine commission’s downtown Seattle office.
“We took a lot of time to thoughtfully organize them into themes,” Stone said.
The commission worked with Tanghe to develop categories for Washington’s core varieties as well as blends and styles, both red and white. The judges also evaluated wines within four price tiers — $15 and less, $15 to $30, $30 to $50 and more than $50. Tastings were staged as flights, with an average of 75 wines judged per day during the course of several days.
“They were scored independently among the judges, and usually there would be really solid consistency,” Stone said. “If there wasn’t, then there was an open dialogue when they would decide, ‘These two wines should be used.’ ”
One of the unexpected results in the process was seeing a number of little-known wineries participate in the judging and merit having their wines poured at the U.S. Open.
“We’re really happy with the breadth and diversity of wineries and wines that ultimately were selected,” Stone said. “Certainly, there were some disappointed folks, but the process was thorough and objective.”
Small fee to pour after commission’s large investment
There will be about 20 wines poured during each day of the event, which includes the three days of practice rounds.
The financial responsibilities placed on each winery and the handful of cideries to be represented at the U.S. Open are not much more than at some large wine competitions. The fee for a winery with a single wine selected is $200 and six bottles to be poured at the tent. If a winery has more than one wine selected, the fee drops to $100 for each subsequent wine.
For example, the Whitelatch family, which had three Claar Cellars wines selected, will be charged $400 and is responsible for sending six bottles of 2013 White Bluffs Sauvignon Blanc ($16), six bottles of 2012 White Bluffs Cabernet-Merlot ($16) and six bottles of 2010 White Bluffs Syrah ($25).
For the Washington State Wine Commission, it has shared the tent cost with Visit Seattle and Delta Air Lines. Since it organizes Taste Washington for the commission, Visit Seattle was a natural fit to join in the Platinum sponsorship package. Total cost is $235,000 to rent the 40-foot-by-40-foot corporate tent, which comes with 100 gallery tickets per day.
The relationship with Delta, its headquarters in Atlanta, rather than Seattle-based Alaska Airlines may surprise many in the Pacific Northwest wine industry.
“The price tag of the tent, of course, was huge, and we approached it as a partnership from the beginning,” Sparkman said. “Visit Seattle has been a great partner of ours and has a huge interest in showcasing the Seattle area. We pursued Alaska Airlines first — and we’ve had a number of questions about this nationally — but unfortunately they declined. We’ll continue what has been a close relationship with Alaska, but Delta has proven to be a great partner in this with us, and it’s great to have them involved.”
Rainier Village includes B of A, Sports Illustrated
Investing to the Platinum level allows guests of the wine commission, Visit Seattle and Delta to rub elbows with some heady company in the corporate tent area called Rainier Village.
“Our neighbors will be Sports Illustrated and Bank of America,” Stone said. “Those are the type of people we’re talking about.”
Even though the Washington State Wine Commission tent is believed to be the first of its kind for the U.S. Open, Sparkman said the USGA continues to show “excitement” in working with the Evergreen State’s world-class wineries.
“Last year’s tournament was at Pinehurst, and they have a wine industry in North Carolina, but they don’t have the same quality of wines that we do,” Sparkman said. “This is a really cool project, and we hope that it resonates. If we can get folks to pay attention to us while they are at the U.S. Open, that’s our goal.”
The commission considered several options for its corporate tent before choosing the Rainier Village area near the 18th tee box. It will be among the eight tents among the concrete bays, one of the legacies left by Pierce County when it hired the respected Robert Trent Jones, Jr., to design Chambers Bay and spent more than $20 million of taxpayer funds to transform the gravel pit along the shores of Puget Sound.
“We will be in position No. 5 in the middle of the lineup of tents,” Stone said. “We thought it was a better spot to be.”
Access to the wine commission’s tent will be tightly controlled, Stone said. “You need a badge for the Rainier Village,” he said.
Goal is to open up new markets via U.S. Open
“For us, this is about exposing some of the industry’s biggest wine influentials to Washington wine, thank others for supporting us and building relationships with people who can help us advance,” Stone said. “These are top buyers for national grocery chains and national retail chains and a long list of prominent sommeliers — many of which are master sommeliers. A good chunk of them are people who have been on the Road Trip Washington, which we do during harvest each year. The alumni from that program is a pretty robust list over the eight years we’ve done it.”
Stone added, “The $120,000, that’s for our share of sponsorship of the tent, but there’s a lot of expenses above and beyond that. There are the hotels and transportation on top of that. It’s a pretty deep investment, and every one of our board enthusiastically voted to support.”
The commission also is working to have some of these important golf fans to extend their trip a day or two and take a tour of Washington wine country.
“This is clearly the creme de la creme audience of influentials,” Sparkman said. “I spoke with a distributor in Florida who told me, ‘I’ll see you in June. I’m coming out for the Open.’ ”
There’s a litany of logistical work ahead for Stone and his team at the Washington State Wine Commission, but he’s already beaming with pride in a wide variety of areas — including with the meteoric rise of Chambers Bay. It’s rare for a public course to be used as the site of the U.S. Open, especially at such a young age. The course opened in June 2007.
Stone grew up playing municipal golf in Bellevue, and he worked in the pro shop at Seattle Golf Club before taking over the private club’s food and beverage program. On Mondays, his only day off, the University of Washington grad would drive downtown to volunteer at the Washington State Wine Commission office. Before long, he was supervising all of the volunteers at Taste Washington.
It was a decade ago when he left the golf industry to work full-time for the Washington state wine industry.
“I ended up here through golf in an odd way, and I’m a big golf fan, but we saw this as unusual opportunity — as a tool to get high-level influentials who won’t come out for Taste Washington,” Stone said. “We need something like this for some of these people to see what this region is about.”
U.S. Open wine list
Here is the list of wines, determined by Chris Tanghe and his team, to be poured inside the Washington State Wine Commission’s corporate tent at the 2015 U.S. Open Golf Championship:
Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2012 Destiny Ridge Vineyard Estate Little Big Man Petit Verdot, Horse Heaven Hills, $45
Ambassador Wines of Washington 2011 Estate Syrah, Red Mountain, $28
Arbor Crest Wine Cellars 2011 Dionysus, Columbia Valley, $48
Avennia 2012 Sestina, Columbia Valley, $60
Avennia 2012 Valery Merlot, Columbia Valley, $45
Baer Winery 2012 Ursa, Columbia Valley, $39
Balboa Winery 2012 Mith, Walla Walla Valley, $45
Barons V Winery 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $45
Betz Family Winery 2012 Bésoleil, Columbia Valley, $45
Betz Family Winery 2012 Pére de Famille Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $72
J. Bookwalter 2013 Antagonist Syrah, Columbia Valley, $45
J. Bookwalter 2012 Protagonist, Columbia Valley, $55
Brian Carter Cellars 2009 Solesce, Columbia Valley, $55
Browne Family Vineyards 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $35
Browne Family Vineyards 2013 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $30
Browne Family Vineyards 2012 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $35
Cadence Winery 2010 Cara Mia Vineyard Camerata, Red Mountain, $60
Cadence Winery 2011 Tapteil Vineyard, Red Mountain, $45
Canoe Ridge Vineyard 2012 Cherry Street Reserve Red Wine, Horse Heaven Hills, $25
Canoe Ridge Vineyard 2013 Expedition Pinot Gris, Horse Heaven Hills, $15
Canoe Ridge Vineyard 2011 Reserve Merlot, Horse Heaven Hills, $25
Chandler Reach Vineyards 2012 Patio Sangiovese, Yakima Valley, $12
Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen 2013 Eroica Riesling, Columbia Valley, $20
Claar Cellars 2012 White Bluffs Cabernet-Merlot, Columbia Valley, $16
Claar Cellars 2013 White Bluffs Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, $16
Claar Cellars 2010 White Bluffs Syrah, Columbia Valley, $25
Columbia Crest 2011 Walter Clore Private Reserve Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $35
Col Solare 2012 Red Wine, Red Mountain, $75
Columbia Winery 2013 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $14
Columbia Winery 2013 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $16
Columbia Winery 2013 Viognier, Columbia Valley, $26
Corliss Estates 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $85
DaMa Wines 2014 Cabernet Franc Rosé, Walla Walla Valley, $30
Daven Lore Winery 2012 Tempranillo, Snipes Mountain, $28
DeLille Cellars 2012 D2 Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $49
DenHoed Wine Estates 2006 Andreas, $80
Diversion Wines 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington, $10
Double Canyon 2013 Double Canyon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $65
Dunham Cellars 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon XVII, Columbia Valley, $45
Dunham Cellars 2013 Lewis Estate Vineyard Riesling, Columbia Valley, $20
Boomtown by Dusted Valley 2014 Chardonnay, Washington $19
Dusted Valley Vintners 2012 StoneTree Vineyard Petite Sirah, Wahluke Slope, $42
Dusted Valley Vintners 2013 Tall Tales Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $60
For a Song Wines 2013 Caliche Lake Vineyard Riesling, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $11
For a Song Wines 2013 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $14
Forgeron Cellars 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $35
Forgeron Cellars 2013 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $28
Genoa Cellars 2011 Crosswind Reserve, Columbia Valley, $37
Genoa Cellars 2014 Wind’s Eye Rosé, Horse Heaven Hills, $17
Gifford Hirlinger 2012 Estate Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $36
Goose Ridge Vineyards 2010 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $30
Gravel Bar Winery 2013 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $16
Henry Earl Estates 2013 Riesling, Wahluke Slope, $20
JM Cellars 2012 Margaret’s Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley, $50
JM Cellars Founder’s Reserve, Columbia Valley, $75
Kennedy Shah 2012 DuBrul Vineyard Reserve Riesling, Yakima Valley, $25
Knight Hill Winery 2013 Two Coyote Vineyard Verdelho, Rattlesnake Hills, $20
L’Ecole No. 41 2013 Chenin Blanc, Columbia Valley, $15
L’Ecole No. 41 2012 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $27
L’Ecole No. 41 2012 Seven Hills Vineyard Estate Perigee, Walla Walla Valley, $49
L’Ecole No. 41 2013 Semillon, Columbia Valley, $14
L’Ecole No. 41 2012 Seven Hills Vineyard Estate Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $36
Leonetti Cellar 2013 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $95
Lauren Ashton Cellars 2012 Sémillon, Columbia Valley, $35
Lauren Ashton Cellars 2012 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $35
Long Shadows Vintners 2014 Julia’s Dazzle Rosé, Columbia Valley, $16
Long Shadows Vintners Poet’s Leap 2014 Riesling, Columbia Valley, $20
Mandala Vineyards 2013 Zweigelt, Columbia Valley, $23
Maryhill Winery 2012 Proprietor’s Reserve Grenache, Columbia Valley, $20
Maryhill Winery 2011 Hattrup Farms Marvell GSM, Rattlesnake Hills, $40
Mercer Estates 2013 Zephyr Ridge Vineyard Estate Reserve Chardonnay, Horse Heaven Hills, $30
Mercer Estates 2014 Spice Cabinet Vineyard Estate Rose, Horse Heaven Hills, $15
Milbrandt Vineyards 2013 Traditions Evergreen Vineyard Riesling, Columbia Vally, $13
Naches Heights Vineyards 2013 Estate Riesling, Naches Heights, $11
Northstar Winery 2010 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $50
Novelty Hill 2013 Stillwater Creek Vineyard Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $23
Obelisco Estate 2011 Electrum Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $70
Obelisco Estate 2011 Merlot, Red Mountain, $50
Owen Roe 2012 Yakima Valley Red Wine, Yakima Valley, $28
Palencia Wine Co., 2012 Casa Amarilla Grenache, Syrah & Mourvedre, Yakima Valley, $36
Pepper Bridge Winery 2012 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $54
Powers Winery 2013 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $12
Proper Wines 2012 Estate Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $42
Revelry Vintners 2012 Aerials Series Reserve Merlot, Horse Heaven Hills, $40
Rotie Cellars 2012 Northern Blend, Walla Walla Valley, $48
Rotie Cellars 2013 Southern White Blend, Washington, $32
San Juan Vineyards 2011 Cabernet Franc, Horse Heaven Hills, $25
Savage Grace Wines 2014 Chardonnay, $25
Savage Grace Wines 2013 Riesling, $19
Sinclair Estate Vineyards 2013 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $28
Sinclair Estate Vineyards 2011 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $35
Sparkman Cellars 2012 Darkness Syrah, Columbia Valley, $62
Sparkman Cellars 2013 Lumiére Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $30
Sparkman Cellars 2012 Rainmaker Cabernet Sauvignon, Yakima Vlaley, $62
Stottle Winery 2013 Elerding Vineyard Viognier, Yakima Valley, $25
Swiftwater Cellars 2011 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $38
Swiftwater Cellars 2013 No. 9 Riesling, Columbia Valley, $18
Swiftwater Cellars 2011 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $35
Swiftwater Cellars 2012 Zephyr Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $38
Syzygy 2008 Saros, Columbia Valley, $50
Tamarack Cellars 2013 Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $30
Tamarack Cellars 2014 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $15
Tenet Wines 2013 GSM, Columbia Valley, $70
Tenet Wines 2013 The Pundit Syrah, Columbia Valley, $25
Three Rivers Winery 2012 Merlot-Malbec, Columbia Valley, $29
Three Rivers Winery 2014 Cabernet Franc Rosé, Walla Walla Valley, $14
Treveri Cellars NV Blanc de Blancs, Columbia Valley, $14
Treveri Cellars NV Blanc de Noir, Columbia Valley, $20
Upland Estates 2010 Julian, Snipes Mountain, $28
Upland Estates 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, Snipes Mountain, $16
Savage Grace Wines 2014 Chardonnay, $25
Savage Grace Wines 2013 Riesling, Columbia Gorge, $19
Salida Wines 2013 Garnacha Blanca, Yakima Valley, $20
Waitsburg Cellars 2013 Three White Grenache Blanc/Marsanne/Picpoul, Columbia Valley, $17
Waterbrook Winery 2013 Reserve Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $17
Waterbrook Winery 2013 Reserve Riesling, Columbia Valley, $12
William Church Winery 2012 Gamache Vineyard Malbec, Columbia Valley, $38
William Church Winery 2013 Viognier, Columbia Valley, $25
Willow Crest 2013 Estate Pinot Gris, Yakima Valley, $16
W.T. Vintners 2012 Stoney Vine Vineyard Rhône Blend, $32
W.T. Vintners 2012 Les Collines Vineyard Damavian Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $45