Dan McCarthy, former co-owner of McCarthy & Schiering Wine Merchants in Seattle, passed away December 3, 2022 in Huatulco, Mexico. McCarthy opened his wine shop in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood in 1980, and three years later Jay Schiering joined as partner. A second shop was subsequently opened on Queen Anne.
Over the ensuing decades, as a prominent retailer and early advocate of Washington wine, McCarthy had a profound impact on the local wine industry. He also affected generations of wine lovers and wine professionals.
Here, 15 individuals across the industry share a remembrance of Dan. These were collected via various sources: phone interviews, email, text, Facebook messenger, and through social media posts. The latter are re-shared here with permission. Some have been lightly edited for clarity. Some have been excerpted. As they indicate, Dan McCarthy’s impact was profound, and his legacy will be long-lasting.
Jay Schiering, former co-owner, McCarthy & Schiering Wine Merchants
During his 45-year career in the wine trade, Dan became friends with thousands of people. He was legendary for his joie de vivre, positive attitude, outstanding work ethic, amazing generosity, kindness, and willingness to help others. Dan was also a gifted artist, published author, and mentor to many.
Dan was a great storyteller, able to excite multiple generations to the wonders of wine and food. When he spoke, folks listened. Dan earned worldwide respect for his encyclopedic wine knowledge, tasting talent, palate memory, and the ability to inspire others to share his passion.
Dan also helped found the Auction of Washington Wines and co-chaired a number of the PONCHO wine auctions to benefit the Seattle arts. Dan always had it in his heart to give back to community in a big way.
Stephen Tanzer, critic emeritus, Vinous
Dan McCarthy was a quiet giant of the Washington wine industry. When he founded his Seattle wine shop in 1980, there were barely a half-dozen Washington producers making truly interesting wines. By the time he retired in 2021, dozens of wineries were making world-class bottles, and the state had truly come of age. And through his long career, no one had more to do with bringing these outstanding wines to the attention of Washington’s drinkers and collectors.
Dan was an encyclopedia of knowledge about Washington’s wines but he wore his expertise lightly. Having tasted thousands of wines with Dan over more than 25 years, I can say that he was the best kind of taster: critical, honest, uncompromising, and tireless but at the same time constructive, encouraging, and enthusiastic. And he was a true gourmet: it was his vast experience with the elite wines of the world that gave him the ability to put Washington’s bottles in their proper context—and to celebrate their ascendance. His passing this fall has left a giant hole in the Washington wine industry.
Matthew Loso, founder, Matthews Winery, currently Matteo Wines
I asked Doug [McCrea of McCrea Cellars] what to do when I started my winery. He said ‘You need to go see Dan McCarthy on Queen Anne.’
So I loaded my Astro cargo van up with my red and white Matthews wines, drove to Queen Anne with shorts and a t-shirt on, and walked into the store. Dan was there. I said, ‘I’m a new Washington winery.’ Dan, his eyes lit up. ‘A new Washington winery. That’s great!’ He tasted the wine, and he says, ‘How much can I buy?’ I think I made a hundred cases of red and seventy cases of white. He says ‘I can sell all of that for you today. I’m gonna give you a list of places to go drive after you leave here. I want you to go grab me four cases of each and put them in front of the counter.’
So I went and drove the van around, brought the cases in. He gave me a check. He sent me to Pete’s Wine Shop. They did the same, bought four of each. Then I went to Pike & Western, saw Mike [Teer]. I went to DeLaurenti. Then went to the Columbia Tower Club and then made one other stop, and I was done. I sold every case I had in my van, which was my production minus maybe six cases for myself. Dan was like “Hey, keep doing what you’re doing, kid.” That’s how I got going.
Kristine Bono, former general manager, Tertulia Cellars
What an incredible man. He was my first stop on my very first ride along in 2013, while working for my favorite wine family, Alexandria Nicole Cellars. I couldn’t believe I was getting to meet and taste our wines with the great Dan McCarthy. He was so gracious, kind, attentive, and generous with his feedback. I had just received my sommelier certification, and I remember feeling so intimidated in discussing our wines with him. Then he asked me, ‘What’s your favorite?’ Easy! ‘Shepherds Mark (our estate white Rhône blend)!’ He agreed, and stacked up it and its big brother, Jet Black Syrah, making my boss super happy.
I just remember most how kind and open he was with me. I thought, ‘If the Great Dan McCarthy could be this easy, the rest will be a piece of cake!’ Well, he spoiled me for all others. He left an impactful footprint on my success then and in the future. Be gracious, be kind, be professional, and most importantly, be authentic.
Jay Soloff, co-founder, DeLille Cellars
Dan McCarthy, he came into the winery one time [early on], and it was uncanny. He blended something that absolutely tasted like Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet. It was amazing. Then we sat back and Chris [Upchurch] did a calculation. He suggested that it’s only going to be like 300 cases if we use that blend with those barrels. Dan said, ‘Well, you don’t want to do that anyway. You’re not making California, you’re making Washington. I just recognized the flavor components, and I thought I could put it together.’ It taught us something, that you could make [a wine] taste like anything you want when you can blend different components.
He said, ‘Now let’s make a Washington wine that blows this one away.’ He said ‘First Chris, show me what you’ve done. I know you’ve already done it.’ Chris smiled. We tasted it. Dan said, ‘Oh my God. This is truly Washington. It’s absolutely fabulous. Don’t change a thing. I couldn’t have done this. It would have taken me days.’ Chris said, ‘It’s taken me months!’
Chris Peterson, winemaker/partner, Avennia
When I first moved back from Walla Walla after wine school to work for DeLille, I happened into the shop on Queen Anne. Dan welcomed me to town, showed me a few wines to try, and on my way out the door they asked if I wanted to help out for a few days over the holidays. For almost twenty years after that, I never went in there without knowing just about everyone there. Dan was always generous, opening great bottles of wine on Saturday afternoons and occasionally pulled things out of his secret stash to sell me for a reasonable price (Coche-Dury?!).
He was also the host and organizer when Stephen Tanzer would come to Washington. Dan always made sure I got to taste with him, and generously offered to have me help open and proof wines for Tanzer, which was a great opportunity to taste many of the top wines in the state.
When we started Avennia, Dan was one of the first to put them in his shop and always appreciated when I would stop by and bring him the new wines to taste, or an old one to see how it was doing. He was amazed at the quality and promise of the LIMINAL wines too, and I’m sad that he won’t get a chance to see how they grow. All in all, he was a great champion of Washington wines, and especially liked finding new, young winemakers to champion. He is missed by so many.
Jonathan Edelman, Chief Sorter, Partner
The absolute first appointment on the very first day of our very first in-market presentation of Foolhardy wines was with Dan McCarthy, the legend, at his Queen Anne store. Dan did not taste wines, rather he held court. Having poured the first wine, I attempted to execute my plan to wax poetic about our Cabernet when he lifted his head from the glass and said firmly ‘Taransaud! Maybe, just maybe, Sylvain?’ I was gobsmacked. Dan, within seconds of smelling and tasting the wine, was seeking to divine which French coopers we used for our barrel program.
And so it began, with Dan implementing his Socratic method to tasting wine with a producer. It was a truly enjoyable and engaging first pour for Foolhardy, albeit not at all what I expected. My answers were satisfactory, and Dan was kind enough to order some of our inaugural vintage for the store – if for no other reason, I suspect, than his desire to support a new winery trying to make quality wine. It meant a great deal to us.
Simon Siegel, president, CoEfficient Consulting
I first met Dan in the early ‘80’s as a customer of McCarthy & Schiering. He and I became much closer after I became the executive director of the Washington Wine Institute in 1985. That organization was focused on improving the business climate for Washington wineries through government relations initiatives. Dan was always interested in the legislative and regulatory issues wineries faced, and I could count on him for a solid interpretation of potential impacts of change from his view as a retailer.
In 1987, after two years of wine industry lobbying efforts, the state legislature approved the formation of the Washington Wine Commission, and I served as its executive director concurrently with the Wine Institute position. The Commission was (and still is) focused on increasing awareness for the quality of Washington wine among consumers, trade, and the media, so the work was focused on marketing and public relations – locally and as far as we could reach. Allen Shoup, whom we lost recently, was a Commissioner and, with his consumer products marketing expertise, helped give focus to our initial efforts.
One of the foundation blocks of the Wine Commission activities Allen suggested was the formation of the Auction of Washington Wines. Dan volunteered immediately to help direct the efforts of soliciting wineries for items to auction off. His position in the marketplace as an influential retailer was very persuasive with our target wineries, as well as with other members of the procurement committee. He envisioned where the auction could take us as a vehicle to illustrate after-market value of the wines and to contribute to a venerated charity, Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Dan was a valuable professional resource and source of encouragement to the Washington wine industry. He was always accessible and possessed a great sense of humor, which is missed.
Chuck Miller, founder, Seattle Wine Storage
Dan was one of the most knowledgeable wine people in the area, and I was always happy when I got to share a bottle with him. I remember one time in 2001 when he came in to Seattle Wine Storage to get a bottle from his locker for his 50th birthday, a birth year bottle of 1951 BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve. He said a previous bottle was the second best bottle he had ever had, which was saying a lot! I asked what was the best, and he said 1948 Martin Ray Cabernet. It just so happened that I had a bottle of 1947 and 1948 Martin Ray that I was planning a dinner around later that year. He will be missed by thousands of friends and loyal customers.
Lenny Rede, wine steward, Metropolitan Market; chef, instructor at Northwest Wine Academy at South Seattle College
My story for you is about how I came to be in retail. I had a contract with the people that I sold [my] restaurant to to stick around for a year. Met Market was opening a new store, and a friend told me I should apply.
I walked down the street to Dan’s and asked him if he thought I could do it. He told me that I knew more about wine than most of the shmucks out there. I told him, ‘I don’t think I know that much about wine. I just know what people like.’ He told me, ‘Lenny, I should hang a shingle outside my door – I know what people like!’ He went on, ‘Don’t forget that. That is the most important part that people forget. It is about what your customers like! Too many people just start buying for themselves.’
That has been a cornerstone of how I do things. It is the message I try to instill in my students.
Erica Orr, owner, Erica Orr Winemaking Consulting, Orr Wines
Before I moved up here when I was still working in Napa Valley, I reached out to Seattle native and my old boss from Cain Vineyard, Chris Howell, to ask what he knew about the local wine industry in Woodinville, Washington. Chris suggested I meet Dan McCarthy, so I popped into his shop on a Saturday in 2005, and the rest is history.
Years later I was lucky enough to be an alternate in his tasting group where I was introduced to the deliciousness and tremendous value of dry, minerally Loire Valley Chenin Blancs from Chidaine and Huet. An inspiring tasting for sure. He also helped me coordinate life-changing winery visits in Chianti Classico through his friend Francesco Bonfio in Siena.
Lars Ryssdal, co-publisher, Beverage Editor, Art Culinaire Magazine
The time for your weekly appointment at Dan McCarthy’s Queen Anne store was an approximation. Upon arrival you’d get a feel for how long a wait to expect by registering the number of salespeople haunting the aisles, then glancing at their sample bags to count the corks peeking out. Being a small store, all you could do was exchange a spot on the floor to pace back and forth, looking at labels on the layers of shelving and open boxes on the floor.
The reason for the wait was Dan’s irrepressible desire to taste every open bottle from each salesperson’s bag. Volumes of notes were recorded and often Dan would go find another bottle from his reserve stock to compare against what he was tasting. Store staff was encouraged, no required, to taste but few took the copious notes Dan jotted down. Too bad if you were left to wait, each open bottle needed the respect Dan felt it deserved.
When he found a bottle he really liked he might comment on the cooperages he could identify. He had a certain knack on identifying the flavor and textural foot print of Taransaud barrels.
One day, an hour’s wait ensued to talk about what the store needed for the coming week. I, instead of showing wine to taste, posed a question that came to mind while listening to other presentations ahead of me and looking at the breadth of wines stocked in this tight, small shop.
‘Dan, I’ve got a question for you, one to ponder, and I don’t know if there’s an answer.’ I said ‘At what point does a bottle of wine stop being a beverage and become a shrine? When does it become unapproachable, where you have to consider seriously, if it should or even could be opened?’
We talked about price, place of origin, the event, or the people that causes the cork to be withdrawn. Many mitigating factors. We talked about this for a while, and the conversation sticks with me to the day. I would think of this premise when I worked on a wine’s brand identity later on in my career. Dan had no firm answer, as expected, but he did give me the order for the week, and I left with the samples unopened for another day.
There are far more stories to be told and eager tellers to recount them. Dan’s abundant intelligence, quietly wicked sense of humor, and irony’s twinkle, his was a life well lived by a considerate man. I humbly count myself amongst the privileged to have been his friend.
Morgan Lee, co-owner/winemaker, Two Vintners
I remember a time early in my career when I was intimidated by Dan McCarthy. He was already a legend, and I couldn’t imagine that he would like my wines. I finally got the courage to stand in front of him one day. It is hard to imagine being intimidated by him now. He was an incredibly kind and insightful man. I am so honored that I got to call him a friend. I miss him very much, and I will always cherish our lunches of Spud’s Fish and Chips with Grand Cru Burgundy.
Tony Macias, McCarthy & Schiering employee, 2015-2021
What I enjoyed about working with Dan was his enthusiasm of wine. There are many people who love wine and have a deep knowledge on the subject, but his overall passion was what set him apart. Anytime I had a question about wine, he was always happy to answer, and the same went for customers. When you heard the zealous way in which he talked about wine, you couldn’t help but fall in love with wine as well. It’s hard to describe how someone who was in the business for 40+ years could continue with the same love as he did. Dan’s reverence of wine is what kept the customers coming back year after year and for some, decade after decade. Wine was Dan’s work, his life, his everything. May his legacy and love of wine live on.
Shayn Bjornholm, MS, examination director at the Court of Master Sommeliers – Americas
From fledgling wine lover who had the dumb luck to live three blocks away from Dan’s version of McCarthy & Schiering and spent hours dorking away in the always stuffed-with-wine-gold-boxes jewel shop(s) to a fellow professional sharing various industry functions and tastings to an in-awe ear as he held forth with one of the greatest Burgundy palates I have ever met, I join the blessed for knowing him. Our city’s love of the world of wine owes an immense debt to this man. Perhaps his greatest professional legacy? I don’t know that any of us would be as warm and giving with our wine passion if we didn’t have Dan’s paradigm imprinted on our most foundational ethos.
Ben Smith, owner/winemaker, Cadence
I have so many wonderful memories of Dan – from watching him identify nearly every brown bag wine set in front of him to being regaled by tales of blending the 1983 Rieussec Sauternes or tasting the greatest wines in the finest cellars in the world. Dan did it all, knew everybody, loved his profession, and shared that love profusely with anyone within a glass’s pour of him.
Dan was crucial to Gaye and me as we set about starting Cadence in late 1997 and 1998. We would drop by the shop for the Saturday tastings and wait till he shut the shop and closed the blinds. I’d pop my homemade efforts for his gentle and honest evaluation. Dan would scribble notes, data and numbers related to starting a winery on his ever-present yellow legal pad and send us home with them to massage, expand, and eventually turn into a legitimate, informed business plan. We still have those 26 year old notes in our files. Two years later both shops were the locations of our first shop tasting – a 20 year tradition that only was broken by COVID.
And we weren’t alone in benefiting from his enthusiasm. Dan was instrumental in promoting Washington wine and offered the same advice to many other aspiring young winemakers. Our Washington wine industry simply wouldn’t be the same without his tireless promotion and ability to connect people from around the world.
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We invite you to share your remembrances of Dan in the comments here or on social media.