Continuing our journey through Interview Week here at WWB we bring you one of the pioneer woman winemakers in Washington. Mary Derby has nearly two decades of experience in the Washington wine industry. Mary has endured everything from incredible business success to personal tragedy, losing her husband many years ago. Her winery, DAMA, located in downtown Walla Walla, crafts a very serious lineup of wines, from Rose to Merlot. Mary is an outstanding winemaker and a downright awesome person to chat wine with. I think you will enjoy hearing more about her history in the wine industry. Here is my interview with Mary Derby, Winemaker and Owner of DAMA Wines.
WWB: You have a longstanding history in the Washington wine industry, starting Spring Valley Vineyards (SVV) in 2000 and later DAMA years later. How have you seen the Washington wine industry evolve over the past 18 years?
MD: Lordy, did you really have to put a number to my Walla Walla years? Yes, you are correct .. it will be 18 years this Fall and I only know that since my son Simon is turning 18 in September and we had moved here when he was a month old! Though, I do remember that day like it was yesterday. And that certainly is the case for those first four years of our time here in Walla Walla. How have I seen the industry change? Well I can't speak about the change unless I speak of what it was like back in the early days between 2000-2004 (my SVV time with Devin) all I can really say is that it was very special. Those first years were very special and are very near and dear to my heart. I look back and it is hard to imagine that we were so young ..not necessarily in age but within our ideals, within our naivete' in understanding the business of it all. I'm not sure any of us understood the grand possibilities that were heading our way. I guess Christophe & Charles knew what was to come. You have to understand that at that time there was no Walla Walla Enology Progam and so many of us just learned along the way — through the school of hard knocks. But what we did do is lean on each other, so we shared whatever information & knowledge and passed on our intimate passions on how we believed in our wines, in our valley and our brands. Though we were not the true pioneers of WWV we were the new generation with different ideas of what we thought we could create here.
During those first few years between 2000-2008 there really was not too many women winemakers...I can only think of a handful. So looking around today I see so many more women going through the program and working in the production side to becoming full on winemakers. A couple of years ago, I began the process of creating the Walla Walla Women in Wine Calendar and it was so wonderful to see that we could fill up 12 months! It's an exciting time in this industry for all of us! But then again it is still a quiet challenge for us women in the industry. We do not portray ourselves as the public "rock star" winemaker that many of our male colleague do and if we ever did go that direction I do believe we would get nailed for it...so the double standards have been there but perhaps they are not as prevalent today. And perhaps that is a whole other topic that could be discussed with a group of women who are in the industry.
WWB: What changes have you seen in the Walla Walla Valley?
MD: My generation of winemakers have all grown up and with that growth there comes an inherent knowledge that we can no longer be what we once were. We have made it through the lean years, the freeze years, wondering why I planted what I did. There were many years where I missed the hell out of my husband, Devin, and there have been many years where I have missed my friend, Eric Dunham. Those first years starting SVV (Spring Valley Vineyards) were beautiful early days. But now I love what the Walla Walla Valley has become which is a major wine force in the wine industry. I finally no longer hear ‘What side of the Potomac are you on’? It is just crazy how long I would hear that. I am so very proud of where we are and so very excited to for the growth to come. There is such a wonderful strength & unity to the Walla Walla Valley that has shined on through the years and will continue to do so.
WWB: How do you see Walla Walla evolving in the future?
MD: Change…you really never want it to happen but it is constantly happening all around you! Our little sleepy village in 2000 is now a very active prospering one! There is so much growth and big money coming in that at times I do worry about what will happen to the overall feel of the town. Are we really ready for the changes that seem to be in our future? Who knows? But I do think Walla Walla will always maintain it's small town atmosphere where life's pace is just a bit slower and we who have been here for a while embrace that to no end!
WWB: Your DAMA lineup is fantastic across the board, including a bright, dazzling 2017 Rose that has both poise, weight and range. What is your philosophy when crafting your Rose wine?
MD: Thank you for acknowledging my wines. It's been a long and arduous road of fine-tuning the wines and vineyards that we deal with and as well as re-working the brand/logo. In regard to my Rose' I feel extremely proud and am very passionate on trying to create a wine that can be taken seriously. Years ago when Devin and I were traveling in the Loire Valley I feel in love with Cab Franc and especially the Roses. . I loved the richness and the acidity that were a part of these wines. So now 20 years later I have found CF through the Chelle den Millie Vineyard that I believe creates a non nonsense wine. The CF from these particular rows have been trained and cropped to allow longer hang time which in turn creates amazing flavors and characteristics. Believe me, it is always a moment or two of questioning the hang time duration but I have found more success in being patient. We usually always schedule a predawn picking time ( machine harvested) and it's lightly crushed at this time. It takes about 2 hours to get back to Artifex where we will let it cold soak for another hour or so and then it gets pressed and in tank. I have experimented with a couple of yeasts that help bring out the floral aspects of the wine and I really think this year we hit the mark!
WWB: As a winemaker you have a strong handle on a great red wine portfolio. These wines have wonderful richness and tension in the glass. When creating Bordeaux style reds, how do you describe your winemaking style?
MD: I guess when I start to analyze my idea of what I ultimately want in my bottle as a DAMA Wines. I try to stay as true to the varietal as possible without having to manipulate too much along the way. My relationship with the vineyards & managers have only improved over the last couple of years so hopefully my wines have reflected that hard work that is done during the growing season. Personally, I love to keep a "soft" touch if you will on my wines and that means a few different things...not overly & aggressively pressing the grapes to using less new oak at times to making sure they are in good balance. Perhaps, my style all stems from my years of training as an opera singer. You learn to pay attention to the nuances, the subtleties, the highs and the lows to ultimately keep the vibration of the voice moving even after you have stopped singing...in Italian it's called scquillo...and that is what I want in my wines.
WWB: What are some of your favorite wines of the world and some recent wines that you have enjoyed:
MD: I am so bad with remembering what I drank the other day let alone last week or month! But my summer love right now is JF's sauvignon blanc! It's reminiscent of the late Didier Dagineau's wines....