Rand Sealey, founder of Washington’s oldest independent wine store and later author of a local wine review newsletter, passed away October 17th in Walla Walla. He was 79 years old.
Sealey founded Esquin Wine Merchants in Seattle in 1969. Over the 28 years he owned the company, Esquin had a profound impact on the Seattle area wine scene.
“His store was exceedingly important,” says Jay Soloff, who co-founded Woodinville’s DeLille Cellars in 1992 and worked in the restaurant industry and as a wine broker in Esquin’s early decades. “Stores like Esquin were equally important to any restaurant as far as the exposure that they were giving all of the brands they had.”
A little over a decade after selling Esquin, Sealey founded Rand Sealey’s Review of Washington Wines, a wine review site. At Esquin and on his own site, Sealey’s wine descriptions have been among the most poetic in the local industry. Sealey continued writing and reviewing until the end of his life.
John Randolph Sealey was born December 13, 1943 in Kansas City, Missouri. He was the child of John Leon Sealey and Jane Sealey.
Sealey lived most of his life in the Seattle area. He attended Lakeside School. Sealey went on to receive a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College in New York City in 1966. He subsequently earned a master’s degree in history from the University of Washington in Seattle in 1969.
That same year, Sealey founded Esquin Wine Merchants, at the time on 1st Avenue in Seattle. This was early days for the Seattle area wine scene and equally early for the Washington wine industry. Ste Michelle Vineyards (now Chateau Ste. Michelle), Washington’s founding winery, made its first wine only two years prior.
Over the next several decades, the Northwest wine industry grew slowly. During this time, Esquin largely focused on imports and other domestic wine. This, however, says more about the state of the industry at that point than anything about Sealey specifically.
“Rand did buy, but only if he really, really, really liked the wine,” says Soloff of his experiences selling the DeLille wines. “He didn’t do it because it was Washington and he was promoting Washington. He did it because he liked the wine, and he could stand behind it.”
Sealey married Lynn Morgan Beaty (now Lynn Beaty Sealey) in 1974 in Aspen, Colorado. The couple remained married throughout Sealey’s life.
Esquin Wine & Spirits (renamed after spirits privatization in 2011) remains one of the most important wine retailers in Washington. It has been a critical outlet for wine lovers and also the state’s wine industry, which has grown exponentially over the last 26 years. Many, including myself, have had formative wine experiences at Esquin and from wines purchased there.
In 2008, Sealey started Rand Sealey’s Review of Washington Wines. The on-line site published a monthly newsletter of reviews of local wines using the 20-point scale. Sealey also wrote regular blog articles, the last of which was published earlier this month.
In the late aughts, the Sealeys moved to Walla Walla. The move put the couple in the heart of wine country, with the valley currently home to more than 120 wineries and tasting rooms. They embraced the community as much as it embraced them.
Sealey regularly visited local wineries and would write about them in his newsletter. If there was an important wine event, Sealey and his wife were there. He was widely known and universally liked.
“He was such a consistent, kind, thoughtful supporter of people in the wine industry,” says Erik McLaughlin, CEO at Metis, a Walla Walla-based mergers and acquisitions firm. “He also had a real talent for finding the gems in the rough and being able to find greatness in places other people didn’t necessarily expect.”
Sealey was also a regular participant of a prominent Walla Walla tasting group. He shared his insights with those who took the time to listen.
“He always was so soft spoken but often had the most thoughtful things to say,” McLaughlin says.
Sealey remained active in the industry until the very end of his life. He was scheduled to give the introduction at the inaugural Grenache Festival occurring in Walla Walla at the beginning of next month on Fall Release weekend.
“Rand’s writing was always so thoughtful and descriptive, and he really made the wines in his reviews sound delicious,” says Carrie Alexander, one of the founders of the festival and owner of Atelier Freewater. “But besides that, he was just a wonderful person.”
NB: This post has been updated to correctly list Rand Sealey’s age as 79.
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