Walla Walla winemaker moves from Dunham to Abeja

By on November 20, 2015
Daniel Wampfler, with a bottle of the Dunham Cellars 2009 Founders Blend, has been the head winemaker at Dunham Cellars in Walla Walla since 2008.

Daniel Wampfler has been the head winemaker at Dunham Cellars since 2008. He will be moving on to Abeja in early 2016. (Photo by Eric Degerman/Great Northwest Wine)

WALLA WALLA, Wash. – The head winemaker for one of Walla Walla’s top producers is moving along.

Daniel Wampfler, head winemaker for Dunham Cellars, will be taking over the same position at Abeja. Wampfler, who took over the winemaking duties from Eric Dunham in 2008, will be working alongside his wife, Amy Alvarez-Wampfler, who will be leaving her head winemaking position at Sinclair Estate Vineyards.

“Neither of us was looking for a job,” Wampfler told Great Northwest Wine. “I’ve been happy at Dunham. But I was missing the opportunity to make wines with my wife.”

The couple will take over for John Abbott, who helped launch Abeja for Ken and Ginger Harrison in 2002. He and his partner in life, Molly Galt, ran the winery and inn until recently departing to start their own operation. Abbott was a winemaker in Napa Valley until being lured to Washington as head winemaker for Canoe Ridge Vineyard in 1994.

Wampfler was on the winemaking team at Columbia Crest beginning in 2002 and was part of the group that crafted the 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon that earned No. 1 wine in the world in 2009 by Wine Spectator magazine.

“That was one of the highlights of my career,” he said. “What was special was the team I worked with. It was one of the best winemaking teams of all time. They’re all still close friends of mine.”

Alvarez-Wampfler also got her start at Columbia Crest, pouring in the tasting room. At the same time, she began to take winemaking classes at Walla Walla Community College and ultimately moved into the cellar at Columbia Crest, where she oversaw about 10,000 barrels of Chardonnay.

In 2010, Tim and Kathy Sinclair hired her to become their winemaker and general manager at Sinclair Estate, a 1,500-case winery. Alvarez-Wampfler custom-crushed the Sinclair wines at Dunham Cellars, so she got to see her husband some of the time.

Now, they’ll be working side by side, and that is a dream come true.

“We’ll be making wine from start to finish under the same roof with the same brand,” he said with a smile. “We don’t have to relocate our kids. We don’t have to move from Walla Walla.”

Another change at Dunham Cellars

Eric Dunham was the head winemaker for Dunham Cellars in Walla Walla, Washington.

Dunham Cellars is in an old World War II airplane hangar at the Walla Walla Regional Airport. (Photo via Flickr/click for credit)

It’s already been a couple of years of change and upheaval at Dunham Cellars. In 2013, founder Mike Dunham died. And last year, his son Eric Dunham also passed away. Now General Manager John Blair will be searching for a new winemaker, too.

“Thankfully, with the Dunham name what it is, we’ll get a lot of good candidates,” he said. “It’s been quite a roller coaster the past three years, but this is a really good opportunity for Dan and Amy, something they always wanted. Everyone at Dunham is very happy for them. He gave us eight amazing years. His personality and winemaking skills will be missed.”

Wampfler’s arrival in early 2008 gave Eric Dunham time to represent the winery on the road and help grow the brand considerably. When Wampfler joined the team, Dunham was making about 12,000 cases. Now, it’s at 30,000, growing proportionally with each wine.

Abeja, on the other hand, is a smaller winery that makes about 5,000 cases. As Wampfler jokes, he’s gone from 5 million cases of production at Columbia Crest to 30,000 cases at Dunham to 5,000 cases at Abeja.

Wampfler, appointed to the board of the Washington State Wine Commission in 2012, will stay on with Dunham through December, then continue on as consulting winemaker until Dunham’s new winemaker is in place and up to speed. Alvarez-Wampfler has made the same arrangement with Sinclair.

About Andy Perdue

Andy Perdue is the editor and publisher of Great Northwest Wine. 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 a frequent judge at international wine competitions. He is the author of "The Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook" (Sasquatch, 2003) and has contributed to four other books. He writes about wine for The Seattle Times. You can find him on Twitter and .