WALLA WALLA, Wash. — The global pandemic prompted Joanne Dunham and the Blair family to cancel various festive events surrounding the 25th anniversary of Dunham Cellars in Walla Walla. Instead, they found another way to make a difference by using a special bottling to raise $15,049 for suicide prevention.
Reach Out Walla Walla, a suicide prevention program in Walla Walla County, is a heartfelt cause at historic Dunham Cellars. The family, the Walla Walla Valley and wine lovers around the world lost one of its brightest stars on Oct. 23, 2014 when founding winemaker Eric Dunham took his own life.
“As we drew closer to the start of summer, we knew that cancelling Dunham Days was inevitable,” Joanne Dunham, Eric’s step-mother, said in a news release. “However, we also knew that it was important to still to find a way to support suicide prevention efforts in our community.”
On Aug. 6, Dunham Cellars announced the cancellation of its annual Dunham Days concert, but it also released a limited-edition Dunham Days magnum with proceeds benefiting Reach Out Walla Walla. Within days, the special 100-bottle lot available through the former World War II airplane hangar was sold out.
“This pandemic continues to affect each of us in a different way, and it is important to remember that no one is truly alone,” she added. “Mental health needs to be a priority, now more than ever.”
National Suicide Prevention Week begins Sept. 6 and includes Thursday, Sept. 10 as World Suicide Prevention Day.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for ages 10-34 and the third-leading cause for ages 35-44 in Washington state, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Reach Out Walla Walla was founded in 2016 as a direct response to an increase in youth suicides in the Walla Walla Valley and expanded in 2019 with a peer-to-peer program called Men in the Middle.
Program coordinator Peggy Needham said, “When analyzing the suicide data for Walla Walla County, we found a disturbing trend: we are losing men in the middle age group to suicide more than any other age. There is an integration that is happening in behavioral health that is trying to braid together mental and physical health. We need to address whole person health, which includes mental health.”
For more information on suicide prevention efforts in Walla Walla, contact Peggy Needham at (509) 524-2684. If you are in crisis, please contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
First Dunham Cellars wines produced at L’Ecole
Dunham Cellars, founded in 1995 by Eric Dunham and his father, Mike Dunham, quickly built a following among consumers, collectors and critics for its work with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Lewis Vineyard Riesling and popular proprietary blends such as Three Legged Red and Trutina.
Another popular wine at Dunham Cellars, the Shirley Mays Chardonnay, donates a portion of its proceeds to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in honor of Eric Dunham’s grandmother.
The launch of the winery by the Dunham family helped spark the Walla Walla Valley’s boom era, following in the footsteps of forefathers Leonetti Cellar, Woodward Canyon, Waterbrook, Seven Hills and L’Ecole No. 41.
Eric Dunham served as an assistant winemaker at L’Ecole No. 41 for Marty Clubb in 1994, and the first Dunham wines were produced at the historic schoolhouse in Lowden. There were fewer than 10 wineries in the Walla Walla Valley at the time.
Today, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance reports there are more than 120 wineries in the valley. On Aug. 21, USA Today announced the Walla Walla Valley as America’s Best Wine Region.
In 2008, Dunham Cellars was named the Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year by Wine Press Northwest magazine.
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