A CENTURY AGO, William Bridgman recognized the potential of a wine industry in Washington’s Yakima Valley.
Today, he’s a nearly forgotten figure, but it is difficult to conceive what the state of Washington wine would be were it not for him.
Bridgman was the two-time mayor of Sunnyside in the Yakima Valley and a lawyer with expertise in irrigation law. In 1914, he planted wine grapes on Harrison Hill in Sunnyside and, as the dark curtain of Prohibition closed around the nation, he planted more wine grapes in 1917 on nearby Snipes Mountain.
When the country came to its senses and repealed Prohibition in 1933, Bridgman was ready and launched Upland Winery the next year. During that time, sweet wines ruled the Washington wine landscape, and Bridgman went along, even though he thought the future was in dry table wines.
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Then Bridgman met a scientist named Walter Clore, introduced him to wine grapes and gave him cuttings from his vines to propagate. That young man became the champion for the wine industry over the next half-century and influenced everything that is happening today.
Bridgman died in 1968, and Upland Winery closed in 1972, the same year Al Newhouse bought the Snipes Mountain vineyards from Bridgman’s family. When Bridgman died, the Washington wine industry was in chaos, and the focus had not yet fully turned toward using European wine grapes to make dry table wines. He must have been heartbroken.
Bridgman’s story would be nearly lost were it not for Ron Irvine, founder of Pike & Western Wine Shop in Seattle and now owner of Vashon Winery. In 1997, Irvine published “The Wine Project: Washington State’s Winemaking History,” the definitive history of Washington’s wine history, and he told Bridgman’s story in detail.
Today, Al Newhouse’s grandson Todd, who studied history at Whitman College in Walla Walla, runs the vineyards. He oversees some of the last remaining grapes Bridgman planted on Snipes Mountain.
In 2006, Newhouse launched Upland Estates, a small winery that honors Bridgman’s legacy. He and winemaker Robert Smasne produce a dozen wines for Upland, available at Upland’s Woodinville tasting room. In 2009, the federal government recognized Snipes Mountain as an American Viticultural Area, thanks to the efforts of Newhouse and Washington State University scientist Joan Davenport.
Today, Bridgman’s dreams for the Washington wine industry are fulfilled, and his legacy is honored. If his spirit still roams through those old vines he planted a century ago, he must be smiling.
Andy Perdue is a wine author, journalist and international judge. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com.