Eric Dunham, owner and winemaker of Dunham Cellars in Walla Walla, died tragically in Cannon Beach, Oregon on October 23 at the age of 44.
After working at notable Washington wineries including Hogue Cellars and L’Ecole No. 41, Eric founded Dunham Cellars with his father, Mike, in the mid-1990’s.
At the time, it was just the ninth winery in Walla Walla and one of the first to open a tasting room near the Walla Walla airport.
To say that the Dunhams were pioneers in the Walla Walla Valley is an understatement. Today, over 20 wineries have tasting rooms at the airport and somewhere near 150 are located in and around the area.
Eric’s accomplishments were many. He is best known for his red wines and others have cited him for his energetic spirit and constant support and promotion of the state’s wine industry.
Dunham Cellars’ production was around 40,000 cases, an astoundingly high number considering the winery’s ability to maintain consistency and quality throughout the years.
My contacts with Eric in the past were limited to wine festivals and wine-related events, but one experience stands out.
Many years ago, Eric came to Bellingham to pour his wines at a dinner at the Hotel Bellwether. Somewhere during a post-dinner conversation, the topic of pet ownership came up and, not knowing what was in store, he asked if my partner and I would like to come with him to check on something.
He took us to his hotel room, and there, huddled on the floor in a blanket was his beloved border collie, Port.
Port was no ordinary dog. As a puppy, the dog had lost a leg in a fight with a pit bull. Eric rescued the dog, nurtured it, and gave it a home. He made sure the dog was with him, even if it was just for a one-night trip to Bellingham. He offered the dog compassion and hope.
That dog later became the inspiration for Dunham Cellars’ Three Legged Red…the flagship red wine blend for the winery and one which countless Washington wine drinkers have come to know and love.
Now in its 2012 vintage, the Three Legged Red is still available today and even though Port has since passed away the label for the wine continues to bear his photograph.
With Eric now gone as well, there is a void in the Washington wine industry that will be difficult to fill and not soon forgotten. However unpredictable the future may be, one thing is for certain…Eric Dunham’s mark upon Washington’s wines is indelible.