Allen Shoup, former president and CEO of Stimson Lane (now Ste Michelle Wine Estates) and founder of Walla Walla Valley’s Long Shadows winery, passed away November 7th at his home in Shoreline, Washington. He was 79 and died of natural causes.
“It’s not an exaggeration at all to say that he is truly one of the giants of Washington wine,” says Ryan Pennington, vice president of communications at Ste Michelle Wine Estates. “He left an indelible legacy not only at our company but for the entire industry.”
Shoup spent 17 years as president and CEO of Stimson Lane, leading Washington’s wine industry through its formative years. At the time Shoup was hired, Ste Michelle was a bit player in the larger wine world. Shoup helped grow Ste Michelle into what today is one of the largest wine companies in the U.S.
He had his work cut out for him. When Shoup started, Washington produced significantly more fruit and berry wine than it did wine from vinifera grapes. At the helm of Ste Michelle, Shoup was not just responsible for growing a nascent wine brand. To get there, he needed to create a local wine industry and establish regional, national, and international awareness of it from whole cloth.
“Allen recognized that he wasn’t building a corporate brand. He was building an industry,” says Marty Clubb, co-owner and managing winemaker at L’Ecole No. 41 in Walla Walla Valley.
Shoup was instrumental in the creation of Columbia Valley as Washington’s unifying grape-growing region. At Ste Michelle, he created a number of successful brands, most notably Columbia Crest, which would become one of the state’s most recognized wineries. Shoup also played an integral role in creating many of the local agencies that guide today’s local wine industry.
At both Ste Michelle and Long Shadows, Shoup created partnerships with internationally renowned wineries and winemakers. These partnerships significantly magnified awareness of Washington wine over the decades.
Always a visionary, over the 40 years Shoup worked in the Washington wine industry, much of his vision has become reality. Shoup put a spotlight on Washington’s wine industry that continues to shine to this day. It is not an overstatement to say that the state’s wine industry would look nothing like it does today without Shoup’s influence.
“Our company and the Washington wine industry owe a lot of what they are today to his contributions,” Pennington says.
Allen Chester Shoup was born August 31, 1943 in Utica, Michigan. He was raised in Farmington Hills, a suburb of Detroit.
Shoup began his career working for local automotive giant Chrysler. However, he was subsequently drafted into the Army during the Vietnam war and spent two years in the military, much of it working at the Pentagon.
After his service ended, Shoup spent five years as manager of product development at Amway. Decades later, he would still talk about how that job influenced his thoughts on product branding and positioning.
Shoup entered the world of wine in 1975 as director of brand management at E. & J. Gallo. From there, he served as vice president of marketing and product development at the cosmetics company Max Factor. In the late 70s, he also served as communications director for Boise Cascade.
In 1980, however, Shoup took the gamble that would define his life. He accepted a job as vice president of marketing at Ste Michelle in Woodinville, Washington. By 1983 he was named president and CEO of the company. While today that might seem like an appealing job, at the time, Shoup was in the trenches.
“Starting a wine business in an unknown viticultural region is difficult,” he told me in a 2017 interview.
One of Shoup’s first major tasks was the establishment of Columbia Valley as Washington’s unifying, federally approved grape growing region. “All the great wine regions were viticultural regions, so I knew we needed a viticultural region,” Shoup explained.
For the task, he hired Dr. Wade Wolfe (now of Thurston Wolfe Winery) and Dr. Walter Clore (officially proclaimed by the state as the father of the Washington wine industry) to draft the appellation application. The Columbia Valley was approved as Washington’s second viticultural region in 1984. (The considerably smaller Yakima Valley was first in 1983.) Today, Columbia Valley remains the appellation most frequently seen on labels of Washington wine around the country and around the world.
Shoup’s vision was larger than just creating a viticultural region though. He wanted to place that region prominently on the US and world wine map.
“A goal would have been, name the three most important American viticultural regions: Napa, Sonoma, and Columbia Valley,” Shoup told me in 2017.
There would be major challenges trying to get there. There was brand confusion between Washington State and Washington, D.C. that still exists to this day. Shoup was also trying to create brand awareness where there was none.
“In the beginning, I put more money into public relations than I did sales because we couldn’t sell something that nobody knew about,” Shoup told History Link.org earlier this year.
Additionally, to the extent people did know about Washington State wines, it was the whites. Shoup, however, was convinced the state would ultimately become best known for its reds.
“I gave a speech where I said eventually Washington would be known more for its reds than its whites, and I was laughed at a bit,” Shoup recalled in 2017.
That vision, however, was prophetic. Today, red grape plantings and production dominate their white counterparts. Additionally, it’s the state’s red wines that garner the majority of critical acclaim.
During his tenure at Ste Michelle, Shoup had a long list of achievements. He launched the brands Columbia Crest (one of the state’s most prominent wineries), Northstar (a Merlot-focused venture), Domaine Ste Michelle (a sparkling wine producer), and others.
One of the hallmarks of Shoup as an individual, both at Ste Michelle and beyond, was that he always focused on quality. He also always took a long view.
“[Allen] brought a vision of what the company and the industry could look like and where we could go,” says Bob Betz, who spent 28 years working at Ste Michelle and interviewed Shoup before he was hired. “Rather than making wine today, it was ‘Where can we take this in 10, 20, 30 years?’”
Another one of Shoup’s guiding principles was unusual for someone in any business. It was that what was good for the category Washington wine was good for Ste Michelle.
“Early on, he understood that to have the rest of Washington thrive was important to the whole industry,” Clubb says.
For this reason, Ste Michelle assisted when much smaller wineries were in need, such as when winter kill devastated crops and threatened producers’ livelihoods. This ethos has remained at Ste Michelle in the ensuing decades and has allowed the state’s industry to flourish to what it is today.
Shoup was also instrumental in establishing many of the Washington wine industry’s overarching bodies, including the Washington Wine Institute, which deals with legislative affairs; the Washington Wine Commission, which is charged with promoting and educating about Washington wine; and the Auction of Washington Wines, which works to increase awareness of the state’s industry, raise money for viticulture and enology research, and assist several key charitable causes.
“From an industry standpoint, he was a real guiding force on the early initiatives that plotted out the state’s course for the future,” Betz says.
The Auction of Washington Wines, established in 1987, has raised over $59M to date. Jamie Peha, who first worked with Shoup in 1994 and currently serves as executive director of the Auction, recalls his vision for the event.
“Allen invited A-list industry icons to chair the relatively unknown auction, including Robert Mondavi, Marvin Shanken, Piero Antinori, Oz Clarke, and others,” she says. “This raised acclaim for both the industry and the event itself.”
His invitation to Mondavi would be telling. Though 30 years his junior, Shoup developed a strong kinship with the Napa Valley wine pioneer. “He called me his soulmate,” Shoup once told me. “We just shared the same views on all these issues.”
It was Mondavi’s partnering with Baron Philippe de Rothschild to form Opus One in Napa Valley in 1982 that planted the seed for what would become another one of Shoup’s most impactful contributions to the Washington wine industry: creating partnerships with world-renowned wineries and winemakers.
In 2000, Shoup retired from Ste Michelle. He subsequently began establishing a new winery appropriately named Long Shadows. The winery, which was formally launched in 2002, was an extension of the idea of the partnerships Shoup had been creating at Ste Michelle.
Long Shadows started out working with seven world-renowned winemakers, with each producing a single wine from Washington fruit. Both at Ste Michelle and at Long Shadows, these partnerships have had a profound effect on raising awareness of Washington wine throughout the country and around the world.
“Most people think it was using these world wine players to sell Washington. My point of view is the opposite,” Clubb says. “What actually happened is, those people really began to believe in Washington, and the word spread.”
In another move that showed Shoup’s talent for taking a long view, when deciding on a place to build the winery, he chose Walla Walla Valley rather than more obvious choices. While today, with the valley home to 120 wineries and tasting rooms, that might seem a clear choice, at the time Walla Walla had a couple dozen wineries. The town’s fate as a wine region was far from certain.
“It was a real subtle but significant endorsement of what was happening in Walla Walla,” Clubb recalls.
In addition to his business acumen, Shoup had a magnetic personality. Though soft-spoken, he commanded attention and respect. He was a quintessential gentleman, with an incisive intellect, well-formed opinions, and someone who was simultaneously able to deal with minutia or take a 50,000 foot view. I recall him once discussing the intricacies of perfume labels and how they related to wine branding.
“He was bigger than life for a lot of people and was able to stand on the world stage,” Betz says.
Over the years, Shoup received numerous awards for his work in the Washington wine industry. These include Sunset magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Puget Sound Business Journal’s Lifetime Hall of Fame, Walter Clore Center’s Legends of Washington Wine Hall of Fame, and the American Wine Society Award of Merit.
However, winemaker Agustin Huneeus Sr. – one of Shoup’s original partners at Long Shadows – perhaps best sums up his impact on the Washington wine industry.
“He was to Washington wines what his friend and mentor Robert Mondavi was to Napa Valley,” Huneeus said in a statement released through Long Shadows.
Shoup is survived by his wife Kathleen, son Ryan Shoup and his wife Aubrey, stepson Dane Narbaitz and his wife Sara, and three grandchildren.