Upland Winery, the first winery in Washington to bottle its own European-style wines, is founded in November 1934.
- By Trista Crossley
- Posted 5/11/2021
- HistoryLink.org Essay 21217
In November 1934, William Bridgman starts Upland Winery, one of the first wineries in Washington to take advantage of the December 1933 repeal of Prohibition. Upland is the first bonded winery east of the Cascades and the first Washington winery to bottle its own European-style wines. Bridgman produces 7,000 gallons of wine in 1934 using grapes grown on the winery’s 90 acres on Snipes Mountain near Sunnyside in Yakima County.
Heart of the Yakima Valley
William B. Bridgman (1878-1968) grew up in the Niagara Peninsula area of Ontario, Canada, where his family grew grapes, mainly Concords. He graduated from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, with degrees in the arts and sciences and law. He landed in Sunnyside in 1902, following a rail tour of the Pacific Northwest, and began to practice law. He would serve twice as mayor of Sunnyside. Using the proceeds from his law practice, he began buying farmland, including the future home of Upland Winery.
Upland was located on Snipes Mountain in the heart of the Yakima Valley. Snipes Mountain was named after cattle rancher Ben Snipes, one of the first non-Native settlers in the area. The mountain has an elevation of 750 to 1,300 feet. Soils range from ancient river gravel to sandy loam and basalt. Bridgman began planting wine grapes on the southeast slope in 1917 in an effort to capitalize on a growing demand for them, mostly from home winemakers. He became a committed advocate for the Washington wine industry, encouraging the use of European grape varietals to make traditional table wines. By the time the winery opened in 1934, less than a year after the repeal of Prohibition, his vineyards included plantings of Semillon, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Palomino, Thompson Seedless, Sauvignon Blanc, Sultana, Tokay, Zinfandel, Black Muscat, Black Monukka, Alicante Bouschet, Csaba, Muscat of Alexandria, Carignane, Black Malvoisie, and Ribier.
By 1938, there were 42 wineries bonded in Washington, producing 2 million gallons of wine annually. That same year, according to a state sales report, Upland Winery was responsible for 8.1 percent of all the wine sold in the state. However, only about 10 percent of Upland’s business came from the premium wines it produced, as at that time, most Washington consumers preferred sweeter, fortified wines (fortified wines, such as port and sherry, are wines that have had distilled spirits added to them either during or after the fermentation process). As a result, the winery began shifting more of its resources to meet this demand.
Upland Winery prospered through the late 1940s, even as World War II took a toll on other wineries. Upland’s winemaker, Erich Steenborg, invented a way to extract dry cream of tartar (a byproduct of winemaking) that was used in making explosives. The winery was given a special wartime status that made it easier to procure rationed supplies, such as sugar and bottles.
Reversal of Fortune
In 1946, Bridgman approved plans to expand Upland Winery, financing the construction and purchase of additional vineyards through loans and the winery’s sales. All seemed to be going well until 1948, when the Washington State Legislature changed the laws so that liquor could be sold by the drink in restaurants. Upland Winery’s sales of fortified wine began to decrease significantly, drying up cash flow so that Bridgman could no longer pay the financing on the expansion. The winery took another hit when frigid weather during the winters of 1948-1949 and 1949-1950 devastated Bridgman’s vineyards. The wine-grape varietals were hit especially hard.
Upland Winery struggled along for another 10 years before Bridgman sold it in 1960. The new owner changed the name to Santa Rosa Winery. In 1968, Bridgman died at 90 years of age.
Snipes Mountain AVA
In 1972, Santa Rosa Winery closed. That same year, Alfred Newhouse, a Yakima Valley farmer, bought the former winery’s holdings, which at that time consisted of 100 acres. Newhouse revived the vineyards, planted more wine grapes, and began selling them to other wineries under the name Upland Vineyards. In early 2009, Snipes Mountain was awarded its own American Viticultural Area, the 10th AVA in the state (an AVA is a designated wine grape-growing region with specific geographic or climatic features that can give wines made from grapes grown there distinctive characteristics).
In 2021, Upland Vineyards consists of more than 1,300 acres, with 700 of those being devoted to wine grapes; the family also grows other crops, such as tree fruits, Concord grapes, and apples. Some of Bridgman’s original grapevines were still bearing fruit. “Bridgman would be thrilled to see some of the grapes he planted still here,” said Todd Newhouse, grandson of Alfred Newhouse, in an interview with Great Northwest Wine. “I think Bridgman would be pleased. This is an extension of the dream he had. Little did he know it would be revived again. This is a special place” (“Washington’s Great Vineyards …”)
Ronald Irvine, The Wine Project (Vashon, Washington: Sketch Publications, 1997), 136-156, 409; “Upland Estates Winery,” Washington Wine website accessed March 31, 2021 (www.washingtonwine.org/wineries/upland-estates-winery/); “Upland Vineyard,” Wine Yakima Valley website accessed April 4, 2021 (https://wineyakimavalley.org/upland-vineyard-winery/); Tuck Russell, “The Titanic Forces of Upland Vineyard,” Washington Tasting Room, March 6, 2013 (https://www.washingtontastingroom.com/articles/tour/the-titanic-forces-of-upland-vineyard); Andy Perdue, “Washington’s Great Vineyards: Upland Vineyard,” Great Northwest Wine, August 20, 2013 (https://greatnorthwestwine.com/2013/08/20/upland-vineyard/).