Paula Renee Eakin, who spent 27 years working at Washington’s Ste Michelle Wine Estates (SMWE) most recently as the company’s sparkling winemaker, passed away December 20th at her home in Kennewick, Washington. She was 52. No cause of death was announced.

“Paula’s time with us left more than beautifully crafted sparkling wines, she taught us how to be more detail oriented and what really caring for your wines looks like,” Juan Muñoz-Oca, chief winemaker at SMWE, wrote in an internal message the company shared with Northwest Wine Report. “We will miss seeing her walking around the winery tasting wine, but mostly we will just miss her.”

Eakin was born in 1970 in Spokane, Washington. She subsequently spent the first 11 years of her life in Plummer, Idaho before her family relocated to Kennewick. In 1993, Eakin graduated from the University of Idaho with a Bachelor of Science in Food and Nutrition. After a brief stint at the food processing company Lamb Weston, she turned her attention to work that would define the rest of her career: winemaking.

Eakin started out with a summer position in Grandview, Washington. From there she joined Ste Michelle Wine Estates, Washington’s largest wine company, as a laboratory technician in 1994 at SMWE’s Canoe Ridge Estate Winery in the Horse Heaven Hills. In 2001 she moved up to enologist at Columbia Crest, a sister winery in Paterson.

In 2015, Eakin was named sparkling winemaker for the company. She took over the position when long-time winemaker Rick Casqueiro retired, having spent the previous two years as his assistant. Eakin was responsible for wines at Domaine Ste Michelle, founded in 1978 and Washington’s largest sparkling wine producer. Eakin also had a hand in other sparkling wines made at SMWE.

“Sparkling wine fascinates me,” Eakin said on the Domaine Ste Michelle website. “I enjoy the pop of the cork and pouring of the wine into the flute and watching the tiny bubbles ascend in the glass.”

A funeral service was held December 27th in Kennewick at Muller’s Tri-Cities Funeral Home. A tribute wall for Eakin can be found here.

Image courtesy of Ste Michelle Wine Estates.