SEATTLE – Jamie Peha is well aware of her reputation within the Washington wine industry for wielding “a velvet hammer.” That ability to do so skillfully and with a smile will serve her well in her new role as executive director of the Auction of Washington Wines.
Peha officially took over for Shelley Tomberg on Monday. Tomberg and managing director Melissa Pederson recently left after helping the Auction of Washington Wines raise more than $4 million in both 2017 and 2018 for Seattle Children’s Hospital and Washington State University’s wine program. The 2019 Gala is Saturday, Aug. 17 at Chateau Ste. Michelle.
“I really saw this as an opportunity to stretch my wings and give back to the industry in a big way at the tail end of my career,” Peha told Great Northwest Wine. “It is a truly meaningful project, and things that are meaningful are at the top of my list these days.
“I’m already involved a lot with the Private Barrel Auction,” she added. “We’re coming off a record year, and Shelley did a great job and moved on, so they needed someone to step in and help them get it to the finish line.”
Peha gave thanks to the board of directors at Auction of Washington Wines, a group that includes retired Ste. Michelle CEO Ted Baseler, grower Dick Boushey, Walla Walla winemaker Jean-François Pellet and AWW President Beth McCaw.
“We are delighted to have Jamie as our new Executive Director,” Baseler wrote via email. “She has remarkable experience in the wine industry. “
McCaw stated in a news release, “Jamie has been a part of the AWW team for over five years, growing the Private Barrel Auction from its inception with eight wine lots netting $72,000 to 31 lots and a record-breaking $251,000 raised last year. Jamie has a long history in the wine industry. Her career highlights include building Taste Washington into an event that is nationally recognized, growing the Seattle Wine and Food Experience into a two-day financially viable event, and serving as interim director for both Woodinville Wine Country and the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance.”
While she described her new role with the Auction of Washington Wines as an interim position, Peha added, “I think there’s an option for me to stay on longer term.”
Private Barrel Auction grows from 8 to 43 wineries
Peha already has been busy organizing this year’s Private Barrel Auction at Novelty Hill-Januik, which kicks off Auction of Washington Wines weekend on Thursday, Aug. 15. The Private Barrel Auction is a young event, starting in 2015, and Peha took it over the next year.
“This year we’re up to 43 wineries, so it’s grown quite a bit, and we’re very excited about that,” she said.
Peha grew up on Mercer Island and attended Washington State University, graduating in 1978 from the school’s vaunted hospitality management program.
“I’ve always wanted to be in hospitality,” Peha said. “I loved food and wine from a young age, and I’ve managed to stay in the field my entire career.”
She spent 10 years spearheading marketing and promotions for the Washington State Wine Commission, leaving in 2005 to launch Peha Promotions. She founded the Seattle Wine and Food Experience in 2010, growing it into a multi-day festival she subsequently sold to Seattle magazine.
“I’ve looked at the executive director position a number of times over the years,” Peha said. “When I looked at it, I said, ‘I could do this job,’ but I’ve had my own business, so I really wasn’t looking to do it.
“I’m a gal who really enjoys a challenge, and I have one,” she added with a chuckle.
Auction hires third director in 3 years
A few positions are waiting to be filled, but she helped train her events manager. Alexis Ip worked three years on the Seattle Wine and Food Experience for Peha prior to joining the Auction of Washington Wines team.
“My goals start with getting us fully staffed, then work on fund-raising, then audience development and donor relations,” she said.
Peha becomes the fourth executive director for the Auction of Washington Wines since 2014 as the group has struggled to find a long-term replacement for Sherri Swingle, who spent seven years in the role.
“Shelley was with the Auction for a year and a half, and last year there were records set when we raised $4.3 million,” Peha said. “And it’s ranked as the No. 3 auction in the country according to Wine Spectator. All of our patrons and the wine industry has been super generous in their support of making this such a success.”
Throughout its history, the auction has raised more than $46 million since Allen Shoup, an inductee into the Legends of Washington Wine Hall of Fame, helped create the Auction of Washington Wines during his 17-year career as CEO of what is now Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.
A return to familiar confines
Peha recently spent a year as president of the Seattle Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier, which raises funds for scholarships for women in the culinary, beverage and hospitality industries. Indeed, her decades of work in the wine and hospitality industries would seem to make her a natural fit for the position.
“In some ways, this is kind of turnkey for me,” Peha said. “It’s easier for me to step in and pinch-hit than it is for someone from outside of the industry. And since WSU is my alma mater, this is a full-circle opportunity for me to make a difference.”
Making the decision easier is that her husband, Benson Grinspan, encouraged her take on the executive director role.
“He wanted me to do this, and he was totally in support,” she said, adding, “He loves a good party!”
She will sacrifice a fair bit of traveling with her husband, and it means that instead of working from home, she’ll be in the Auction of Washington Wines office adjacent to the Washington State Wine Commission on Western Avenue.
“It will be fun to be back in the city. It’s a bit of a flashback, I have to admit,” she chuckled. “I left the commission in September of 2005, and when they set up my email at the Auction, I think I was still in the system. And my email is exactly the same.”
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