The continued success surrounding L’Ecole N° 41 Winery often takes Marty Clubb beyond the Walla Walla Valley and Washington state in order to receive an award for one of his family’s acclaimed wines.
Those have included ceremonies in London and Australia, but today, his wife, Megan, and his children were in Sacramento, Calif., to watch him be presented with the Rich Smith Award of Excellence for Distinguished Service from WineAmerica, the National Grape Research Alliance and the Winegrape Growers of America. Clubb is the first in the Pacific Northwest to receive the honor.
“It’s a really small handful of people in the wine industry who do this kind of work,” Clubb told Great Northwest Wine. “Rich Smith was stellar at it and was respected across organizations and policy-making organizations and also in his vineyard operations and winery operations and in the Santa Lucia Highlands area. The respect that the industry had for him led to the creation of this award in his honor.”
Jim Trezise, president of WineAmerica, pointed to the work Clubb has performed for decades on behalf of the wine industry — both regionally and nationally. The presentation was staged during the WGA annual Leadership Luncheon in conjunction with the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, the largest trade show for the North American wine industry.
“Passion, commitment and collaboration are the qualities Rich exemplified and which Marty also shares,” Trezise said. “And like Rich, he is the ultimate nice guy. In addition, his commitment to quality has earned L’Ecole N° 41 wines international acclaim, which reflects positively on his region and state.”
Clubb’s résumé of industry service includes the Washington State Wine Commission, the Washington Wine Institute, the Walla Walla Community College enology and viticulture program, what’s now the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance and his positions as treasurer, vice-chair and chair of WineAmerica’s board of directors.
“They can’t get rid of me, I guess,” Clubb said tongue in cheek.
Grape growers, Wine America praise work of Clubb
The Rich Smith Award of Excellence is emblematic of the life’s work of Smith, who died in 2015. He founded Valley Farm Management and Smith Family Wines in California. Clubb is the seventh recipient of the award.
“Rich was very active in a lot of things that many people in the wine industry don’t take the time to focus on, such as research and policy when it comes to rules and regulations and legislation,” Clubb said. “He was involved not only in WineAmerica but the Wine Grape Growers of America and the Grape Research Alliance that he helped found. He played such a significant role in that side of the industry and helped all organizations join hands to accomplish objectives.”
Smith’s son, Jason, applauded the recognition of Clubb.
“Not only did the two friends share a passion for our industry, but they also shared the innate spirit of collaboration which makes things happen,” Smith said.
Among the recent achievements Clubb points to with pride is the passage in Congress of the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act (CBMA), which contained the first reduction in wine excise taxes in nearly 80 years.
“There’s been a lot of important work that’s been accomplished in the last five to eight years,” Clubb said.
Clubb also credits Simon Siegl with recruiting him in 1990 to become more involved in work on behalf of the wine industry. Siegl served as executive director for the Washington Wine Institute, and his efforts encouraged the state Legislature to create the Washington State Wine Commission. Siegl served as its first executive director, and Clubb valued being on the wine commission’s inaugural board of directors.
“I learned more by being at the table,” Clubb said, “and that was when a role with the commission was not as prestigious as it is today.”
By 2000, Clubb also helped to establish the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, serving as president, and also as president of the Walla Walla Community College Foundation. Those efforts led to the establishment of the school’s vaunted Institute of Enology and Viticulture.
He’s also served on the board of the Washington Wine Institute, which helps educate state lawmakers.
“It’s been amazing to build an influence in Olympia,” says Clubb, who graduated from Texas A&M with a chemical engineering degree prior meeting Megan while they both were MBA students at vaunted Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
WineAmerica, he points out, takes a national approach to issues.
“There have been a lot of these state entities that have been doing marketing and legislative work within their states, and we all face similar challenges,” Clubb says. “When we started, I’m not sure we really understood how powerful that effort would become. I’m proud to have been to be a part of that. To use a term from Jim (Trezise) — ‘Collaboration can build things.’ ”
Acclaim, sales led to record growth for L’Ecole N° 41
A number of Pacific Northwest wine industry power brokers are involved in WineAmerica or the WGA. Moya Shatz Dolsby, executive director of the Idaho Wine Commission, is the Government Affairs Chair for WineAmerica. Michelle Kaufmann of the Stoller Wine Group in Dundee, Ore., represents Oregon on the WineAmerica board of directors. Ryan Pennington of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates serves as an at-large member and is on the Government Affairs committee with Josh McDonald of the Washington Wine Institute. Janie Brooks Heuck of Brooks Wines in Amity, Ore., recently chaired WineAmerica. The indefatigable Vicky Scharlau, executive director of the Washington Winegrowers Association, serves as president of the Wine Grape Growers of America.
“Marty not only believed in collaboration; he also practiced the concept with enthusiasm,” Scharlau said in a news release. “He led by example with decades of involvement in both state and national organizations that lifted the entire industry to greater heights. We owe him a debt of gratitude for this continued work to represent our collective best interests.”
Clubb acknowledges that it’s time-consuming to run a business and be involved in efforts that elevate an entire industry, but he says the winemaking of Marcus Rafanelli and success of his family’s sales team during the pandemic prompted L’Ecole N° 41 to increase production to 53,000 cases from the 2022 vintage — a record level for the third-generation winery launched in 1983 by Megan’s parents, Jean and Baker Ferguson, famous figures in the West Coast banking industry.
“I learned early on that the work these organizations do on behalf of the wine industry is important, but it’s often obscure and behind the scenes,” Clubb says. “It’s been fun, and I’ve gotten a lot of reward from doing it. And I plan to do it for a few more years.”