Red Mountain’s new director ready to charge forward

By on September 1, 2015
Jennifer Nance is the executive director of the Red Mountain AVA Alliance.

Jennifer Nance is the new executive director of the Red Mountain AVA Alliance. She will head up marketing efforts for Washington’s smallest wine region. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

Washington’s smallest and most important wine-growing region has a new leader.

On Monday, the Red Mountain AVA Alliance announced that Jennifer Nance is taking on the role of executive director. She starts today.

Red Mountain is a 4,040-acre ridge in the eastern Yakima Valley that overlooks the Yakima River. It vies with the Wahluke Slope as the warmest wine-growing region in the Pacific Northwest.

Nance will succeed Heather Unwin, who served in the role from 2012 through earlier this summer. Under Unwin’s watch, Red Mountain saw tremendous growth and development. Among them:

  • Napa Valley’s Duckhorn Vineyards launched Canvasback, a Red Mountain-centric winery. Duckhorn purchased 20 acres of land in late 2013 and planted 18.5 acres in 2014.
  • The Aquilini family, owner of the National Hockey League’s Vancouver Canucks, bought more than 600 acres of Red Mountain land and has been in the process of planting it this year.
  • Michael Corliss of Corliss Estates in Walla Walla acquired about 175 acres of land previously owned by Blackwood Canyon Winery. Corliss now owns about 350 acres of vineyards on Red Mountain.
  • The Kennewick Irrigation District built an irrigation system to deliver much-needed water to areas of Red Mountain.
  • Grape grower and winery owner Dick Shaw has planted hundreds of acres of vineyards on both ends of Red Mountain, with the most prominent being Quintessence Vineyard.

“Everyone is passionate about what Red Mountain is doing, about the wines from this area,” Nance told Great Northwest Wine. “That is exciting.”

Nance’s path to Red Mountain

The Aquilini company is planting more than 500 acres of wine grape vines on Red Mountain in Washington state.

A newly planted vine in an Aquilini vineyard on Red Mountain is alongside Sunset Road. The Aquilini company in British Columbia is planting more than 500 acres of vines – nearly all red grape varieties – this year on Red Mountain. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

Nance, who grew up in Bellevue, earned a degree in international wine studies at Central Washington University as part of the first class to graduate from that program on the Ellensburg campus.

Her first job out of college was for Goose Ridge Estate Winery, whose 2,200-acre vineyard is directly across the interstate from Red Mountain. While there, she was the general manager for direct-to-consumer operations, so her focus was on running the tasting room, the wine club and on-site events.

This April, Nance took on the position of Northwest account executive for WineGlass Marketing, a company based in Napa, Calif.

Nance lives in nearby West Richland with her family, and she is looking forward to the challenges and rewards for overseeing a small region with a long reach. While many members of the Red Mountain AVA Alliance are winery and vineyard owners within the American Viticultural Area, several are industry luminaries throughout the state and across the nation.

For example, such wineries as Betz Family WineryAndrew Will, Cadence Winery and Brian Carter Cellars are members of the Alliance, even though their connection is either owning or buying grapes from vineyards on Red Mountain.

Heavy hitters such as Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Antinori (Col Solare), Duckhorn Vineyards (Canvasback) and Bacchus Capital Management (DeLille Cellars) also play a big role on Red Mountain.

Nance is taking it all in stride.

“There are tons of big-name supporters, if you will,” she said. “And then there are a lot of smaller wineries that are equally important. Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone does their part in spreading the word about Red Mountain.”

Moving forward with Red Mountain

Col Solare on Washington's Red mountain as seen from above.

Col Solare on Washington’s Red Mountain is co-owned by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Antinori. (Photo by Great Northwest Wine)

In the past few years, Red Mountain’s stakeholders have shifted from promoting their brands directly to consumers to focusing on trade and media. This means their efforts have gone toward retailers, restaurateurs and writers. Nance said there are opportunities to continue to focus on trade and media while also achieving other goals.

“I think trade and media is still advertising to the general consumer,” she said. “So it really comes full circle. It’s really about spreading the word about Red Mountain and showing everybody what Red Mountain has to offer.”

Nance is looking forward to harvest, which already has started. And she doesn’t mind pulling on her work boots and diving in.

“It wouldn’t be a wind industry job without getting a little dirty,” she said with a smile.

She is looking forward to spreading the word about Red Mountain while also keeping the big picture in mind.

“I think the growth in Washington state in general is huge right now,” she said. “And Red Mountain in particular is booming. It’s phenomenal working with the people on Red Mountain, and it’s also great working for an association that everyone is passionate about.”

About Andy Perdue

Andy Perdue is founding partner of Great Northwest Wine LLC and a longtime wine columnist. He is a third-generation journalist who has worked at newspapers since the mid-1980s and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Eric Degerman and served as its editor-in-chief for 15 years. He is the author of "The Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook" (Sasquatch, 2003) and has contributed to four other books.

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