Today Kiona Vineyards, one of the largest growers on Red Mountain, announced the hiring of Matt Halldorson as viticulturalist. He will oversee farming for Kiona’s five estate vineyards that span 272 acres.

“I’m honored and humbled, frankly,” says Halldorson. “It’s is a big deal for them to bring me on, and I’m going to try my very best to make them proud.”

A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Halldorson subsequently earned a master’s degree in horticulture from Washington State University before working for three years as a viticulturalist at Wycoff Farms, one of the largest growers in the state. He subsequently spent nearly six years as viticulturalist at Ste Michelle Wine Estates, the parent company of Chateau Ste Michelle.

Halldorson has plenty of experience working with Red Mountain fruit in general and Kiona fruit in particular, which is part of what attracted him about his new position.

“I really liked their growing style,” Halldorson says. “They also have a strong emphasis on sustainability. That really spoke to me.”

In addition to growing fruit for the estate wines, Halldorson will also work with more than 50 local wineries that contract Kiona fruit, allowing him to have a substantial impact on the Washington wine industry. Halldorson will also be cutting down on his commute, as he already lives on Red Mountain.

“It’s a really good feeling to work with the land you live on,” he says. “It feels a little more intimate. I think you look at the land a little bit differently.”

With Kiona a long time family-run operation, Halldorson will assume a position previously held by second generation grower Scott Williams. Williams’ father, John, along with his friend and business partner Jim Holmes, planted the first vineyard on Red Mountain in 1975.

“When my dad came on in the 80s, after getting his degree in agricultural engineering, he became the de facto viticulturist,” notes Kiona general manager JJ Williams. This will be the first time in 35-plus years Kiona will be run by a grower from outside the family.

“Matt’s got the science chops, the research background. He just fits. We’re excited to have him on board,” Williams says.

While Halldorson will assume day-to-day responsibilities over growing, Williams notes his father, who is 62, is not going anywhere.

“Scott’s not throwing in the towel and riding off into the sunset. It was time for a responsible delegation. Besides, having to wake up at 3:30[am] to make ice wines on a January morning is not something I think he really wanted to do anymore.”

Picture courtesy of Kiona Vineyards and Winery