“We wanted to grow grapes and eventually make wine,” explains John Hughes, current president of the Woodinville Rotary Club. “And then we wanted to use that wine to help fund scholarships for students interested in studying viticulture and enology.”
The idea for the project was the brainchild of Hughes and his cohorts, Terry Jarvis, Grace’s mayor for life, and Max Zellweger, the town’s viticulturist.
“We were looking for a way to support the wineries in the area,” says Hughes. “And we thought what better way to do that then to help support students who planned to work in the industry.”
The project, which is led by Woodinville Rotary past president Erv DeSmet and sponsored by the Greater Grace Wine Appreciation Society, gives up to $3,000 annually in scholarship money to students at WSU and Walla Walla Community College.
Hughes notes that these institutions have strong viticulture programs and many of their graduates go on to work in wine-related careers around the state.
“We had our first graduate,” he says. “Catherine Jones, who was from Inglemoor High School and went to WSU, graduated about a year ago and she has a job in Prosser running the wine extension program there. We’re proud that we were able to help support her education.”
The program has been running since 2003, the year of the first vintage of the grapes and production of the initial bottles of the group’s wine, a Pinot Noir. In 2008, another 24 vines were planted at a new site located on Molbaks’ plant farm.
“We only make a few cases a year,” comments Hughes, “and we don’t sell it. We’re not a commercial winery. The way it works is when someone donates to the scholarship fund, they get a bottle of our wine in return.”
The wine that comes from the original vineyard is called Grace Town Vineyards’ “Reckonyard Gold Pinot Noir,” named in recognition of the type of business that used to occupy the site — an auto dismantling yard.
Chief winemaker is Zellweger, a past president of Columbia Winery and wine industry veteran.
“Max knows so much about wine,” says Hughes. “He supervises the process from start to finish and so far, the wine that’s been produced has been very drinkable.” He adds, “Recently, we had a wine tasting session of our 03, 07, 08 and 09 vintages and the scores were in the mid to high 80s, which was pretty good. The panel was unanimous that all four vintages were wines of character, each with its own true personality. They felt that the wines showed evidence that each would be well served in terms of ability to age gracefully for many years.”
Hughes notes that experts agree it is an unusually delicate task to produce Pinot Noir in Puget Sound’s climate, but adds that this challenge was met with considerable, well-deserved confidence by the Gracean vineyard team.
“It was a challenge we took on and it’s been rewarding to see the success we’ve had,” he remarks. “
The vines are really sturdy now and we’ve been able to produce decent wine each year with the exception of 2011 when the grapes didn’t mature because it was too cold.”
The true satisfaction for the group, however, has been in its ability to help numerous students achieve their educational goals, which in turn is helping to provide a trained workforce for the many Washington wineries and wine-related businesses.