Ryan Pennington named COO at Washington’s L’Ecole No. 41

By |2023-07-10T08:59:36-07:00July 10th, 2023|

Ryan Pennington, former vice president of communications and corporate affairs at Ste. Michelle Wine Estates (SMWE), has been named chief operating officer (COO) at L’Ecole No. 41 in Walla Walla Valley. Pennington starts today, July 10th.

“It’s a perfect fit,” says L’Ecole managing winemaker Marty Clubb, who owns the winery with his wife Megan and their children Riley and Rebecca. “As a family, we were unanimous about Ryan.”

Founded in 1983 by Baker and Jean Ferguson, L’Ecole is one of Walla Walla Valley’s founding wineries. It is also one of Washington’s few third-generation wineries.

“I’m so excited to be working with L’Ecole,” says Pennington. “To have the opportunity to build on what Marty and his family have done over 40 years, it’s incredibly humbling.”

With a degree in political science from Western Washington University, Pennington started in the wine industry in 2008 as communications director for the Washington State Wine Commission. A state government agency, the Commission’s charge is to drive growth of the Washington wine industry. (Full disclosure: I have consulted for the Washington State Wine Commission since 2012.) After four and a half years at the Commission, Pennington joined SMWE, Washington’s largest winery by a mile, in 2012 as senior communications manager.

One of the brightest stars in the Washington wine industry, Pennington rose quickly up the ranks at the company. In 2015, he was promoted to director of communications. Three-plus years later, he became senior director of communications and corporate affairs. In 2022, Pennington became vice president of communications and corporate affairs. He now leaves Ste. Michelle for L’Ecole after almost 11 years at SMWE.

“I will always be a proud Ste. Michelle alum,” Pennington says. “I’m incredibly grateful for my time there.”

In addition to his work at Ste. Michelle, Pennington has spent almost five years as a member of the board of directors of WineAmerica, a Washington, D.C.-based group that lobbies for the wine industry. He’s also served as vice president of the board of directors of the Washington Wine Institute, which lobbies both locally and nationally for the state’s wine industry. For the last year and a half, Pennington has been treasurer of the board of commissioners of the Washington State Wine Commission.

Clubb knew Pennington from his time at the Wine Commission. He also worked closely with him at WineAmerica.

“I really got to understand and value his strategic vision for Washington State,” Clubb says.

At L’Ecole, Pennington will oversee the winery’s 50,000 case per year production. This includes distribution in 49 states and 11 countries.

“He will bring a management style to work with our sales team to help strengthen our partnerships with our distributors,” Clubb says.

Pennington will also oversee the winery’s direct-to-consumer business and its three tasting rooms. In addition to L’Ecole’s iconic Lowden schoolhouse location pictured on the winery’s labels, L’Ecole has tasting rooms in downtown Walla Walla and in Woodinville.

Pennington assumes COO responsibilities from Constance Savage, who joined L’Ecole in 2018 after the retirement of long-time general manager Debbie Frol. Savage left the position last fall due to health issues.

“She was a really valued employee that our team respected and looked up to,” Clubb says.

In addition to adding Pennington to the team, L’Ecole has been making other changes of late. In 2019, the winery hired Marcus Rafanelli as winemaker. A former instructor of applied winemaking and viticulture at College Cellars as well as previously the winemaker for Woodinville’s William Church, Rafanelli has revamped numerous winery processes and brought in a new winemaking team.

“I’m the first to admit we always have room for improvement,” Clubb says. “Having put Marcus and the production team in place, I’m really excited about the quality of the wines we’re making. Now with hiring Ryan, it feels like we’re beginning to fire on all cylinders.”

Benchmark Consulting led the search for L’Ecole’s new COO.

Image copyright Richard Duval. 

NOTE: Northwest Wine Report is now partially subscription-based. Please consider subscribing to support continued content on this site.

To receive articles via email, click here.

Like this article? Share it!

Leave A Comment

Go to Top