Good Fruit Grower

February 1

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Viticulture LIVING A Victor Palencia and Paula Ramirez stand in front of the Palencia Winery incubator at the Walla Walla airport. Ramirez, director of sales and marketing for the winery, has a decade of banking experience. Victor Palencia uses a barrel thief to check on the progress of Cabernet Sauvignon from Red Mountain. ictor Palencia dreams big. He's already fulfilled his dreams of being a winemaker and winery owner, before turning 30, and is now focusing on reaching Hispanic consumers with his wines. Palencia launched his own winery last fall in Walla Walla, Washington, about a decade after he attended Walla Walla Community College's viticulture and enology program. A spring grand opening is planned for the upstart winery called Palencia Wine Company, located in one of five wine incubators at the Walla Walla airport. "My long-term goal in life was to be a winemaker," he said. "When I was young, I thought it was just a pipe dream." Palencia began living that dream before he was old enough to legally taste wine. He made national news in the New York Times, being featured in a story about his underage role as assistant winemaker at Willow Crest in Prosser, Washington. Since 2008, he's been head winemaker at J & S Crushing and winemaker for Jones of Washington winery. J & S, a custom crush facility, is one of the largest wineries in the state. The Jones winery is housed within the J & S winery. (see "From vineyard to winery," by Melissa Hansen December 2006 issue of Good Fruit Grower and "Making wines in a big way," December 2011.) "I always thought owning my own winery was out of the question," Palencia said. "It was when I worked at Willow Crest after college that I realized I wanted to own a winery someday. But it was always just a dream." Palencia produced 600 cases of wines for the launch of his new winery and will produce about 1,200 cases from the 2013 crush—all without any bank loans, a feat in itself. "I still have to pinch myself to know I'm not dreaming and remind myself that I'm 'the owner,'" he said. V Victor Palencia is one of the youngest winery owners in Washington's wine industry. Journey Palencia's winemaking path was not an easy one. He was brought to the United States around the age of two years old when his family left Mexico to start a new life. The family settled in Yakima Valley, and his father worked as a farmworker in crops like mint and corn, later shifting to vineyards and orchards. Today, his father is a vineyard foreman. The family gained legal status in the late 1980s, thanks to immigration reform legislation passed in 1982. 28 FEBRUARY 1, 2014 GOOD FRUIT GROWER As a teenager, he followed in his father's footsteps, working in the vineyards. At 16, he worked in the wine cellar for Dave Minick at Willow Crest, doing a variety of jobs around the winery. "When I was young, I wanted to be like my father and work with grapes," said Palencia, adding that his home was in the middle of a vineyard. However, his mother was not thrilled about work in the winery. "She thought I'd become an alcoholic if I was a winemaker." Palencia, who has seven siblings, was the first in his family to attend college. He received a scholarship to attend the Walla Walla viticulture and enology program and graduated in 2005. While at Walla Walla College, he interned for top wineries, including Saviah Cellars and Basel Cellars. "I grew up in very humble surroundings," he said. "I went to college in part to encourage my siblings and cousins to reach for their dreams." In less than a decade, Palencia became head winemaker at the custom crush facility in Mattawa owned by Jack Jones and Dick Shaw. He joined J & S as the custom crush project broke ground. Last year, the winery processed more than three million gallons of wine. J & S and Jones of Washington are his first priority, he said. "Those two wineries are my full-time, day job, and I greatly appreciate what they've [Jones and Shaw] done for me." Initially, Palencia Winery will be a custom-crush client at J & S, which allows him to use equipment at the Mattawa facility and keep his overhead low. As his winery grows, his plans are to have all winemaking equipment at the Walla Walla location. Under terms of the incubator lease, Palencia has six years before he must move the winery out of the airport facility.

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