LOWDEN, Wash. – When Debbie Frol began working for the Clubb family in 2002, L’Ecole No. 41 might have been best known for its whimsical label, a child’s drawing of the historic Frenchtown schoolhouse west of Walla Walla.
Great Northwest Wine has learned that Frol will formally announce today her retirement as general manager of L’Ecole, and the success she’s been a part of has helped the famous Walla Walla Valley producer to recruit Kobrand Wine & Spirits executive Constance Savage to take over as General Manager. Kobrand’s portfolio includes Napa icon Cakebread Cellars.
“The wine industry has become increasingly competitive over the last two decades. Debbie’s marketing expertise and business savvy have been instrumental in the winery’s growth,” Marty Clubb, co-owner and managing winemaker, stated in a news release. “Because of Debbie’s leadership, our core business is stronger today than it was 16 years ago. We will miss her greatly.”
Frol, a graduate of the University of Washington, joined the Lowden winery after a 22-year career at The Seattle Times Co., capped by six years as Publisher of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. Prior to moving to Walla Walla, her focus in the newspaper industry was on sales and marketing.
Acclaim, production grows at L’Ecole with Frol
In 2004, L’Ecole No. 41 was named Wine Press Northwest magazine’s Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year and case production stood at 28,000. Two years later, longtime assistant winemaker Mike Sharon was promoted to winemaker.
Along the way, the Clubbs continued to invest in some of the Walla Walla Valley’s most promising vineyard sites, and in 2011, they adopted a new label, transitioning from that schoolboy’s artwork to a stately oil painting of the Frenchtown schoolhouse built in 1915. While the move disappointed many of L’Ecole’s longtime fans on the West Coast, the serious nature of the label better resonated with national accounts as production has grown beyond 40,000 cases.
Ironically, the 2011 vintage would ultimately bring L’Ecole its highest honor to date. In 2014, Decanter magazine’s World Wine Awards in London announced the 2011 Ferguson Red Wine as the Best Bordeaux Blend in the World over £15. This month, Frol and her team learned that USA Today’s 2018 Reader’s Choice Awards as ranked L’Ecole as the No. 4 tasting room in the country.
Frol, a board member of the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, said she plans to stay in the valley after leaving L’Ecole at the end of the year. Her husband, Steven Frol, is a longtime attorney in Walla Walla, and her retirement seems to have been well-measured.
“Marty, Megan, and I have been developing my replacement plan for over a year,” Frol told Great Northwest Wine via email. “We began the search process in earnest in June and are very excited about our new hire.”
Savage spent decade on VinExpo board
The transition from New York executive to the Walla Walla Valley began for Constance Savage the day after Labor Day, which has allowed her to learn first-hand of the history surrounding L’Ecole No. 41. When Marty Clubb’s in-laws, Baker and Jean Ferguson, started L’Ecole No. 41 in 1983, there were just two wineries in the Walla Walla Valley — Leonetti Cellar and Woodward Canyon.
At Kobrand Corp., Savage’s 23-year career included 12 years as vice president and director of supplier relations. The certified sommelier who is fluent in French also represented the U.S. alcohol beverage trade as a member of the Vinexpo supervisory board for more than a decade. Her work with Kobrand also included Mullan Road Cellars, Dennis Cakebread’s project in the Walla Walla Valley with winemaking talent Aryn Morell.
“Constance holds an incredible track record building strong brands,” Marty Clubb said. “Her expertise in the premium and luxury wine categories will help us further the story of Washington wine and strengthen L’Ecole’s leadership position in Walla Walla grape growing and winemaking.”
Savage received a degree in philosophy from Minnesota’s St. Catherine University in 1994, spent a year studying in Burgundy, earned an MBA from City University of New York and recently added a master’s degree in marketing communication from Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y. She and her husband now reside in the Walla Walla Valley with their three children.
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