Walla Walla wine industry to be documented in new Whitman archive

Penrose LibraryThe history of winemaking in the Walla Walla Valley is coming to Whitman, thanks to a new archive that will be housed in Penrose Library.

In the late 1980s, Whitman College archivist Larry Dodd - recognizing the importance of the growing wine industry in Walla Walla - began collecting documents about the establishment of the Walla Walla Valley American Viticultural Area and the workings of the original Walla Walla wineries. This new project will build on Dodd's original archive.

According to current Whitman Archivist and Special Collections Librarian Melissa Salrin, "Library Director Dalia Corkrum has been a strong advocate of this initiative. The campus visit of Eric Asimov, chief wine critic for ‘The New York Times,' in spring 2013 gave us the right opportunity to revitalize support for this effort."

Salrin and her team have already begun interviewing Walla Walla winemakers and winery owners, including some from the original five local wineries.

"This past week we completed eight oral histories of some leaders of the local wine industry; we also surveyed records and digitized a selection of photographs, wine labels and promotional materials," Salrin said.

"It has been a delight getting to know some of the first winemakers in the Walla Walla Valley. Throughout the interviews there has been a real emphasis on the collaborative spirit and hard work that animated the efforts of the first generation of winemakers and winegrowers."

Salrin and the library team have collaborated in the initial stages of the project with Rachael Cristine Woody, archivist at Linfield College. Woody and Salrin met at a conference this spring, where Woody presented on the Oregon Wine History Archive, a project she spearheads at Linfield. The OWHA collects and preserves information on the history of the wine industry in Oregon.

"Linfield received a grant from the Oregon Wine Board to document the industry in the Walla Walla area, and a partnership with Whitman was an obvious choice," Woody said.

Whitman's new archive will be housed at Penrose Library. Digital versions of many of the materials in the archive will also be made available through both the Linfield College Archive's website and the Whitman College and Northwest Archives' sites.

"Whitman's archives can provide unfettered access to business records for transparency, legacy materials for marketing, and regional history for current and future historians," Woody said. "This is quickly becoming one of the most important industries in the region, and capturing its history is invaluable to the wine industry and local community."

According to Salrin, the archive will help promote and celebrate a unique part of Walla Walla history and help create interdisciplinary research opportunities.

"Ultimately, we hope it will lead to strengthened ties and collaboration between the college and the local community," Salrin said.

Go to digitalcommons.linfield.edu/owha for more information on the Oregon Wine History Archive, and to whitman.edu/archives for more on Whitman's archives.