Louie Wagoner was a pioneer in expanding the state’s wine culture and industry to North Central Washington at a time when such thoughts were folly. Wagoner was a pioneer in many other ways, as well.
His ability to take his own path while never backing down on an opportunity to support others made him many friends, as attested by a standing-room-only attendance for his memorial at the Leavenworth Festhalle. He died Dec. 1 at the age of 76 due to complications with Parkinson’s disease. The memorial was held Dec. 13.
I really only knew Louie slightly, as I did his father, Louie Sr. and mom Esther, better known by many as Babe. They were well-loved icons of the Leavenworth community as was their son, who played high school football, worked at the Peshastin mill, took off to pursue his identity in Alaska and then returned to reclaim local heritage.
He bought the orchard on North Road in Peshastin where I first worked for previous owner Al Sax. I have great memories of those days picking pears on Goat Hill and floating in a rowboat in the lagoon where Louie Jr. and his wife Judy subsequently built their dream log home, later to become one of the region’s first wineries and popular music venues.
Always looking forward, Louie was one of the first organic pear growers in the valley. He took flack from many growers around him for that but the venture proved him wise, profitable and far-thinking.
In 1999 he planted vineyards, some of the first in the region. He would gather with others — such as Warren Moyles, who started La Toscana Winery; Charlie McKee, who created Wedge Mountain Winery; Ed Rutledge at Eagle Creek Winery; and Rob Newsom, who would create Boudreaux Cellars — to talk about their fledgling amateur wines. All became among the first North Central Washington wineries in 2001-2002.
I knew Louie from that winery history and tangential ties before. He made fine wine at Icicle Ridge Winery, and with help of his family, three daughters and especially his son-in-law, winemaker and musician Don Wood, created one of the most beloved and successful wineries and wine and entertainment venues in the region, all overlooking that little lagoon where I would row out and steal duck eggs from tule-hidden nests. This was well before the two dozen or more tasting rooms in Leavenworth would establish that nearby town as a wine tourism destination along with all the other things the Bavarian-themed village is known for.
Many of those of 700-plus folks at his memorial last month knew him for many more reasons than his wine. In earlier years, he was a celebrated skier and ski jumper, a ski instructor, multi-sport coach, school board member, an avid outdoorsman and a man who never was afraid to offer a hug or helping hand.
He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2003 but always had plenty to offer to anyone who stopped by for a glass of wine or a need to talk.
Louie was a fine winemaker, man, role model —yes, perhaps a legend — who will be missed by many. Quite a legacy.