On Monday morning (July 11) Duane Wollmuth, Executive Director of the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, died. He was jogging when he suffered a heart attack. He was 60. This is a great shock to the Valley's wine industry.
Wollmuth came to the executive director job in 2011 with impressive credentials. He worked in the cell phone industry before launching the Three Rivers Winery on the old Highway 12 in 1999. He also owned the Biscuit Ridge Vineyard, near Dixie, with his wife, Mary, where they made their home. In 2008, Three Rivers was sold to the Foley Estates wine group of California. Wollmuth remained as general manager until he took over as executive director of the Southeast Washington Economic Development Association before leaving to take the job with the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance.
Wollmuth took the broad view in promoting Walla Walla Valley wine. Representing a cross-state AVA, he worked closely with both the Washington State Wine Commission and the Oregon Wine Board and had many friends across the border. Under his direction, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance took some successful marketing initiatives. One was the Taste and Tote program with Alaska Airlines whereby the airline would check a passenger's case of wine for free. Another was Celebrate Walla Walla Wine, which brought international winemakers to Walla Walla for a panel tasting and discussion comparing the Valley's wines with others. The fourth annual one last June, featuring Cabernet Sauvignon, was a sold-out success.
Duane was a consumate gentleman. He was always warm and helpful, always there for everyone. I, myself, have spoken with him numerous times. He will be sorely missed.