Allen Shoup

Long Shadows Vintners

By Leslie Kelly

Allen Shoup stood at the edge of a big hole in the early 1970s and saw his future. That hole was destined to become part of the vast Columbia Crest vineyards and, as Shoup contemplated Washington’s possibility to become a winemaking powerhouse, he had a gut instinct the time was ripe. “I arrived at a pivotal time,” he said.

The former CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, who launched his innovative Long Shadows in 2002 took a circuitous route to get there. Early in his career, he worked for Chrysler in his native Michigan before returning to school to get his masters in psychology. He then worked briefly at the Pentagon before a headhunter from Amway tracked him down and offered him a job, helping the company develop a line of personal care products. He was recruited by Gallo and in his first job in the industry, Shoup marketed the biggest selling wines in the nation. He then was wooed by Max Factor, which enticed by offering a big salary and a glamorous lifestyle. Still, he wasn’t quite satisfied.

“Here I was a bachelor, living in Hollywood, and I’d come home with lipstick and mascara on my wrist,” he said. “I enjoyed my work, but I wanted more.”

His marketing Midas Touch caught the attention of Chateau Ste. Michelle’s owners in the late 1970s and they made him an offer, but he refused, choosing instead to go with a job at Boise Cascade because it seemed like a strategic move.

“It was a mistake. I was miserable,” he said.

Fast forward to that pivotal moment in Eastern Washington, when early wine pioneer Wally Opdycke convinced Shoup this growing venture was going places. And did it ever.

During his fruitful 20 years as the company’s CEO, he helped develop Columbia Crest and dramatically expanded the estate vineyards. He was among the founders of the Washington Wine Institute and of the Auction of Washington Wines. He initiated joint ventures that brought Tuscany’s Piero Antinori and Germany’s famed Dr. Ernst Loosen to Washington. He worked tirelessly on behalf of wineries across the state, not just Chateau Ste. Michelle.

From the start, Shoup had strong feelings about the direction in which the company and the state should head, and he didn’t always get his way. He wanted to develop a partnership with Beringer, to become a grape-growing and distribution powerhouse and he fervently pushed for branding the Columbia Valley as the Washington state appellation. Neither happened. He said he still kicks himself for not starting research on grape clones best suited for Washington’s growing conditions back in the 1980s.

Yet for every frustration, there were many triumphs.

In the early 1980s, he hired a New York public relations firm, which led to valuable ink, including a spread in Time magazine. “Bob Betz and I literally carried two cases of wine on the plane with us to meetings in New York City,” he said. “Not just our wine, but our competitors wine, too.”

While spreading the good word, Shoup often thought of his good friend and mentor, Robert Mondavi. “He changed the way people thought about wine in this country. He had such passion,” said Shoup, who was one of five people who gave a eulogy at Mondavi’s funeral in 2008.

It was that kind of passion for demonstrating the potential of Washington’s fruit that propelled Shoup into the Long Shadows project, a collection of wineries based in Walla Walla that showcases exceptional vintners from around the globe.

Along with the long list of renowned winemakers, Shoup and Long Shadows director of winemaker and viticulture, Gilles Nicault, collaborate on Chester-Kidder, a New World red blend.

Of that superstar lineup – all casting “long shadows in the wine industry,” Shoup says: “They all take such pride in what they’re doing. It’s a true partnership.”

And it has been noticed. Long Shadows was named Food & Wine magazine’s winery of the year in 2007, just three years after its first release. It’s featured on prestigious wine lists around the country and has become a favorite among collectors.

All the accolades are wonderful, Shoup said, but there’s still a long way to go for Long Shadows and for Washington State.

“We can’t get lulled into thinking we’ve made it,” he said. “We’ve only reached the starting gate of the Olympics. Which is no small feat. Some wine regions will never make it that far. But we’ve got to continue reaching out to tell our story to the world’s wine press.”

The self-described dreamer looks forward to some day passing the business along to his sons. But in the meantime, he works just about every day of the week. Not a hardship because “I love what I do,” he said.