Kent Waliser to stay on as brand ambassador
“We often say we have ‘the Sagemoor way’ of putting the customer first, and that every customer is just as important as the next,” says Kent Waliser, who most recently served as director of wine sales at Sagemoor. “Danny embodies that same kind of spirit, and that’s probably the highest compliment I can pay.”
Gordon’s position is a new one for the company that encompasses all of the activities around its vineyards and winery. As part of the change, Waliser will have the new title of brand ambassador.
“I’m not going anywhere, but I’ve reached my last title in the working world,” says Waliser, who recently turned 70. Waliser joined Sagemoor in 2002, served as general manager, and then director of vineyard operations prior to overseeing wine sales.
Gordon grew up in Banks, Oregon and subsequently received a degree in agriculture from Oregon State University. He was managing a shade and flower tree nursery when he found his calling in the wine industry.
“I didn’t come to Walla Walla Valley to make wine. I didn’t go to school to make wine. I just walked in off the street at Tamarack in 1999 asked if they needed some help,” Gordon says.
At the time, Tamarack Cellars was in its second year. Gordon worked harvest with founder Ronald Coleman.
The first wine that Gordon pressed on his own in 1999 was ironically fruit from the 1972 Block at Bacchus Vineyard, one of Sagemoor’s prized properties. Gordon left the winery briefly and then was hired on full-time in 2000.
“It was quite the leap of faith to go from a job with benefits and all kinds of things to a winery just starting out,” Gordon says.
When Gordon started at Tamarack, Walla Walla was home to fewer than two dozen wineries and tasting rooms. Today it has over 120.
Over time, Gordon became winemaker and helped grow Tamarack into a 25,000-case per year winery. Much of that production was the winery’s Firehouse Red wine. Gordon remained on as winemaker after Coleman sold the winery to Vintage Wine Estates in 2018. He left the winery at the beginning of 2023.
Throughout his 20+ years at Tamarack, Gordon worked extensively with Sagemoor fruit. Waliser says this knowledge is part of what made him an ideal candidate for the position.
“He knows our people because he’s worked with all of our vineyard managers. He’s worked with all of our blocks,” says Waliser.
Sagemoor’s vineyards include Sagemoor, Bacchus, Dionysus, and Gamache in the White Bluffs, Weinabu on the Wahluke Slope, and Southwind in Walla Walla Valley. The company purchased the latter in 2021. Sagemoor provides fruit to over 100 wineries in Washington – nearly one in every 10 wineries in the state.
“Very few in the industry work with the number of wineries that we do and manage blocks and rows to the needs of those customers,” says Miles Kohl, principal and CEO at Allan Brothers, Sagemoor’s parent company. “We’ve grown from when we purchased Sagemoor in 2014 with the addition of Gamache [Vineyard] and then the expansion into Walla Walla with Southwind. This role is also the recognition of the growth that we’ve had.”
Gordon’s new position follows other recent changes at Sagemoor. Brittany Komm was hired as vineyard operations manager this spring. Lacey Lybeck, who previously served in that role, moved over to grape sales manager. It’s all a sign of the company’s growth.
“We want to continue to expand and find the right types of properties,” Kohl says. “We’re going to continue to look for those opportunities. An important part of Danny’s role is helping us prepare for future growth.”
Gordon will also oversee Sagemoor Estates. The winery was started in 2014.
“What really excites me is everything we’re going to make is estate,” Gordon says. “I’ll have the ability to have that much deeper of a connection to the wines we make.”
Sagemoor Estates intends to expand its offerings over time. However, the winery will remain a small but important part of the company’s business. Approximately two percent of Sagemoor’s fruit goes to the winery. Though Gordon brings extensive winemaking experience, the Sagemoor Estates wines will continue to be made by Aryn Morell (Alleromb, Morell- Peña, The Royal Bull). Morell was hired as winemaker in 2021.
While the future looks bright for Sagemoor, it’s murky for Tamarack Cellars. Like all big wine companies, Vintage Wine Estates has been experiencing turbulence due to changes in the wine market. Earlier this year the company hired a new CEO. The winery has sold some of its vineyards and has been cutting SKUs and headcount.
Looking at Tamarack specifically, the winery closed its tasting room in Walla Walla Valley’s airport region. Tamarack has also reportedly severed many of its grape contracts.
Gordon started his new position in July.
Image by Richard Duval.
To receive articles via email, click here.