Dick Shaw

Dick and Wendy Shaw. Copyright Richard Duval.

Dick Shaw, one of the largest grape growers in Washington and an inductee in the Legends of Washington Wine Hall of Fame, died October 27th at his home in Richland, Washington after a brief illness. He was 84 years old.

“His impact on our industry is immeasurable,” says Marshall Edwards, vineyard operations manager at one of Shaw’s companies, Shaw Vineyards in Benton City, Washington. “It’s a huge loss for our company and for our industry.”

Shaw began his grape-growing career in Washington over 40 years ago, planting a 100-acre vineyard. At the time of his death, Shaw farmed over 3,500 acres across seven appellations.

Shaw was Red Mountain’s largest grower. He farmed over 625 acres there, accounting for approximately one quarter of all plantings.

At Shaw Vineyards, Shaw and his wife Wendy worked with over 100 wineries, about 1 in every 10 in the state. The couple were named Honorary Growers in 2015 by the Auction of Washington Wines*. The Shaws were inducted into the Legends of Washington Wine Hall of Fame in 2018. Shaw was also involved in numerous other businesses.

“He was truly larger than life,” says Charlie Hoppes, owner and winemaker at Fidélitas Wines on Red Mountain. “He was iconic.”

From banker to grape grower

Richard ‘Dick’ Henry Shaw was born June 10th, 1939 in Tacoma, Washington. He was the son of Henry Wilson Shaw and Pearl Shaw (née Emery). Shaw graduated from Lincoln High School in 1957.

Shaw started his career at a Tacoma mill on a “glue gang.” He soon quit to follow a life-long calling as an entrepreneur.

Before he was 30 years old, Shaw was one of the founders of the Bank of Tacoma. He was also chairman of the board. Shaw became integrally involved in the Tacoma business community.

Come 1981, Shaw started out in the wine industry, growing grapes with a group of investors. It would come to define a large part of his life.

“It was a mistake,” Shaw once jokingly told me with an ever-present gleam in his eye.

At the time, Shaw had no experience growing grapes. Walter Clore, officially declared the father of Washington wine, advised Shaw and his group to plant a vineyard in Mattawa on the Wahluke Slope.

Over time, Shaw’s investors dropped out, but he continued on. Forty years later, his plantings on the Wahluke Slope blossomed from the original 100 acres to over 1,250 today.

“I admired him,” says Dick Boushey, owner of Boushey Vineyards in Yakima Valley. “He had no fear. He would visualize something and then make it happen.”

Expanding to Red Mountain

Dick Shaw and Marshall Edwards

Marshall Edwards (left) and Dick Shaw. Copyright Richard Duval.

Shaw branched out to other regions beyond Wahluke Slope, most notably Red Mountain. The area is considered by many to be Washington’s most prestigious appellation. Shaw played a large role in its development and ascendance.

“Red Mountain, it wouldn’t be the same place without him,” Boushey says.

Almost half of Shaw’s plantings on the mountain are at Quintessence Vineyard. Shaw partnered with Paul Kaltinick, a former executive at J.C. Penney, to plant the site.

Their timing was terrible. Shaw and his partner began planting in 2010, when the world economy was still in the doldrums of the Great Recession. Once the site was planted, Shaw found wineries to buy the fruit and also helped market the site.

“I don’t know who else could have done that,” Boushey says.

Quintessence Vineyard quickly made a name for itself offering top-end Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard provides fruit to a who’s who list of wineries that includes Mark Ryan, DeLille, Fidélitas, and numerous others.

“They really wanted to make a statement with that vineyard,” says Hoppes, whose winery makes a Quintessence Vineyard designated wine. “Now it’s a mainstay for a lot of wineries.”

Providing custom plantings at Red Mountain and beyond

Shaw took the grower-winemaker partnership that exists in Washington to its logical extreme. He worked with wineries on custom plantings at Quintessence and elsewhere. Wineries could be involved in site selection and decisions on row density, orientation, irrigation, clonal selection, and other matters typically left to the grower.

“It really opened up my ideas to what was possible as far as directing our vineyard opportunities,” says Mark McNeilly, owner of Mark Ryan Winery. The winery contracted with Shaw to plant on Red Mountain and Candy Mountain.

In addition to his acreage on Red Mountain and Wahluke Slope, Shaw farmed hundreds of acres in the Columbia Valley, Horse Heaven Hills, Goose Gap, White Bluffs, and Candy Mountain. Many of these vineyards are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon.

A gift for thinking big and getting things done

More than anything, Shaw thought big picture and long-term. He inspired confidence and was a leader and mentor. Where some people talked about what was, Shaw talked about what would be.

“He was always thinking so big,” says McNeilly. “He was planning so far out. It was impressive to me.”

One of Shaw’s greatest gifts was bringing groups of people together, finding common ground, and motivating people to drive projects forward. The sky was the limit.

“He knew how to get things done and make things happen,” Boushey says.

Part of Shaw’s ability to do so was his understanding of people’s motivations and his ability to negotiate. He was also unassuming but whip smart.

“You’d go to these meetings and he’d be in his tennis shoes and jeans and sweatshirt, but he was the sharpest guy in the room,” Boushey says.

Shaw also had a rare talent for communicating with a broad range of people. He was equally adept in the boardroom and in the vineyard.

“We would have meetings with bankers, and they would be hanging on every word,” says Edwards, who has worked for Shaw for nearly 15 years. “Then he could jump into the pickup truck, go out into the field, and he could talk to the workers as if he was one of them.”

A lifelong partnership with his wife

Shaw married Wendy Shannon West January 22nd, 1995. Wendy, who for a time ran a custom vineyard harvesting business, has been intimately involved in Shaw Vineyards.

In 2013, the couple started their own winery, Henry Earl Estates. The winery, which has a tasting room in Walla Walla, is named after Dick and Wendy’s fathers.

Shaw was involved in numerous other businesses and partnerships. These include Foss Harbor Marina, the Dock building in Tacoma, and vineyards on Red Mountain, Candy Mountain, and in the Horse Heaven Hills. He was also a partner in a custom crush facility in Mattawa, Washington that is the third largest in the state.

“Every time I would talk to him, he had some other idea,” says Boushey. “He just kept going.”

Working until the very end

As much as spending time on his island, which he bought in 1995, or on his boat at his own marina in Gig Harbor, Shaw enjoyed working. He did so almost until the day he died.

“It was what he loved to do, buying and developing land, developing vineyards,” says Edwards.

Shaw was a world-class story teller, with a memory that stretched back to the early days of the industry. Ultimately, for his many ventures and stories though, Shaw was a grape grower’s grower. He cared about the Washington wine industry, and he worked continuously to move it forward. He also always kept a positive attitude.

“He was an inspiration to me in terms of growing this industry and doing it at his age,” says Boushey. “We were fortunate that he landed in the wine business. He made us better.”

Shaw is survived by his wife, their son, two daughters, his brother, a nephew, two nieces, and three grandchildren.

* Full disclosure: My wife works for the Auction of Washington wines.

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