The Story Behind Upland Winery

by Todd Newhouse

Snipes Mountain was named after cattle king Ben Snipes, who was the first to settle the Yakima Valley and who made his vast cattle business headquarters on the south side of Snipes Mountain in the 1850's. He chose this site because it was the highest point around and from the top of Snipes Mountain he had a panoramic view of the Yakima Valley and his vast herds of cattle. He also couldn’t help but note that the mountain added a little more protection from the elements of Mother Nature that the rest of the valley didn’t seem to offer.

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In 1914, William B. Bridgman, two-time mayor of Sunnyside and author of many of the Yakima Valley's irrigation laws, planted table grapes on Harrison Hill. Currently owned by the Al Newhouse family, it is now the second oldest Cab site in the state, planted in 1964, and goes into DeLille Cellar’s Harrison Hill bottle. In 1917 Bridgeman planted vinifera wine grapes on Snipes Mountain. Because of the country's prohibition laws of 1916, and Washington State's even more stingy anti-alcohol sentiments, Bridgman foresaw an increase in demand in wine grapes. While all other grape growers around the Yakima Valley and Columbia Basin were farming table grapes, Bridgman was planting more and more wine grapes. And before long, he was selling them for far greater prices than his neighbors were receiving for their table varieties. By 1934, Bridgman had over 165 acres of wine grapes under contract with more than 70 growers, which prompted him in that same year to open Upland Winery. It was the first winery in Washington east of the Cascades (two others were opened a few months earlier the same year on the west side) and also the first to commercially make European style wine (what we drink today) in Washington State. Upland Winery was making table wine from vinifera grapes, rather than fortified wines made from fruit and labrusca grapes (like Concords). Although these wines only accounted for about 10% of Upland’s volume, it would prove to be a very important stepping stone in Washington’s evolution into a world wine region powerhouse. In other words, the seed was planted.

By 1947, because of financial strain, Bridgman was eventually forced to give into demand and concentrate entirely on fortified wines. And after two extremely harsh winters in a row, ’48-49 and ‘49-’50, Upland Winery sadly began a slow decline. In 1960, Bridgman sold the winery and in 1972, it was shut down. Bridgman died in 1968, but by then he had deeply affected the future of Washington’s wine industry. One way in which he did, involved Dr. Walt Clore, who is regarded by most to be the “Father of Washington Wine.”

What follows is a quote from Ronald Irvine’s book, The Wine Project: Washington State’s Wine Making History:

 

Fortunately, Bridgman had encouraged Walt Clore to plant vinifera wine grapes at the Irrigation Experiment Station in Prosser in 1940. By providing Clore with cuttings from his own vineyard, Bridgman propagated his vision. Bridgman’s early efforts at wine grape growing and his vision of European-style wines can be viewed as a family tree – or family vine – of Washington’s wine industry. The family vine would show Bridgman as the trunk, with branches (canes) to new developments emanating from his efforts. One cane would lead to Dr. Clore, another would lead to Dr. Woodburne and the Associated Vintners, home winemakers who bought their first grapes from Bridgman. Shoots would lead to Dr. George Stewart, who built his home on property with grapes planted by Bridgman and later founded a winery at Granger; American Wine Growers (the forerunner of Stimson Lane Vineyards & Estates); Tucker wine Cellars in Sunnyside; Maryhill; and the new DeLille Winery in Woodinville. A shoot leading to Sagemoor, Bacchus, and Dionysus Vineyards was nurtured by Bridgman’s early acquaintance with Albert Ravenholt, one of Sagemoor’s founding partners. And today Bridgman’s seminal vision is acknowledged in a brand named for him: W. B. Bridgman, produced by Washington Hills Cellars winery in Sunnyside.”

So as you can see, there is a lot of history on Snipes Mountain and Harrison Hill. A lot more than most people I talk to realize. Everybody knows who Walt Clore was, but hardly anybody knows who William Bridgman was and how much of an impact he had on Walt Clore and Washington’s wine industry. If Walt Clore is considered the Father of Washington wine, then W. B. Bridgman should be considered the Grandfather of Washington wine.

In 1972 my grandfather, Alfred Newhouse, bought all of what used to be Upland Vineyards. Over the next 35 years he and my Father, Steve Newhouse, would continue to expand their holdings on both Snipes Mountain and Harrison Hill. Today the Alfred Newhouse family farms cherries, apricots, nectarines, peaches, prunes, pears, apples, juice grapes, table grapes, and of course wine grapes. Altogether they make up approximately 1000 acres of what today is once again called Upland Vineyards, of which about 400 acres is wine grapes grown in some of the most unique soils in the world. Because of these unique growing conditions on Snipes Mountain, we now have a petition submitted to the TTB to get Snipes Mountain designated as its own American Viticulture Area (AVA).