Latino winemakers shine in new state history campaign

wculverwell@tricityherald.comApril 22, 2016 

In honor of spring barrel tasting festivities in the Yakima Valley, Washington’s ongoing effort to tell the stories of innovative pioneers turns its attention to a pair of Latino winemakers in the Mid-Columbia.

Amy Alvarez-Wampfler, 35, and Victor Palencia, 31, are profiled in Secretary of State Kim Wyman’s Legacy Washington program series. The extensive tale of how the two emerged as some of Washington’s most respected winemakers is posted at bit.ly/LatinoWinemakers.

The state history project release is timed to this weekend’s annual Spring Barrel Tasting, which runs through April 24. Visit bit.ly/SpringBarrel for a list of participating Yakima Valley wineries and other details.

Alvarez-Wampfler is a Skagit Valley native who started in the wine industry when she heard Columbia Crest Winery needed someone who spoke Spanish to host visitors to its Paterson tasting room.

Palencia, a native of Michoacán, Mexico and naturalized U.S. citizen, grew up around Prosser, helping his farmworker father.

Both studied winemaking in earnest when they enrolled in Walla Walla Community College’s Institute for Enology & Viticulture. Alvarez was among the first to enroll in the hands-on program where students tend vines for College Cellars.

Stan Clarke, an Air Force Academy graduate, wine enthusiast and grade school teacher, became their mentor. He helped Palencia secure a scholarship to pursue his wine education and steered Alvarez to her first winemaker post.

Alvarez returned to Columbia Crest, where she oversaw its 10,000-barrel Chardonnay production. In time, she would marry winemaker Daniel Wampfler and join Tim and Kathy Sinclair as winemaker, general manager and part owner of Walla Walla’s Sinclair Estate.

Earlier this year, she and her husband reunited professionally at Abeja, a Walla Walla winery known for its cabernets and chardonnays. Alvarez-Wampfler is associate winemaker to her husband, the head winemaker. She called it an ideal arrangement. She prefers whites and he favors reds.

Which of course begs the question: What do they drink at home? After tasting wine all day, both look for something else to cleanse the palate.

“Most of the time we drink champagne,” she said.

Palencia oversees operations and winemaking at J&S Crushing in Mattawa, which owns the award-winning Jones of Washington. He also has launched his own winery.

Palencia Wine Co. won two-consecutive best of show awards at the annual Cascadia Wine Comptetion, the largest judging of Northwest wines. Its 2015 Albariño won the top prize at this year’s competition. Palencia’s Rosé of Pinot Noir was best of show in 2015.

Palencia said he’s happy to keep dividing his time between J&S, which links him to winemakers around the state, and his own small winery, which lets him experiment with unusual spice profiles.

“I have a perfect balance right now. It is a dream come true,” he said.

His wines are available for tasting at the Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center in Prosser.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514, @WendyCulverwell

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