Tue. Jun 25th, 2024

Washington Wines Auction honored Matías Kúsulas with the Emerging Leader Award

By meerna Jun12,2024

Matías Kúsulas, winemaker/vinegrower at Gård Vintners, Desert Wind Winery, Massalto and Valo will receive the Emerging Leader Award at TOAST! Celebration of the 2024 Washington Wine Auction. (Photo courtesy of the Washington Wine Auction)

WOODINVILLE, Wash. – The Washington Wine Auction, one of the five largest charitable wine auctions in the U.S., has named Columbia Valley vintner/winegrower Matías Kúsulas as the recipient of one of its Emerging Leader awards.

This year marks the 37th annual Washington Wine Auction, which will include a presentation for Kúsulas – head winemaker at Gård Vintners and Desert Wind Winery, head viticulturist at Lawrence Vineyards and MLMG, and co-owner/winemaker of Valo and Massalto. 3rd annual TASTE! The honorary ceremony will be held on Thursday, August 8 at Sparkman Cellars in Woodinville.

The Winemaker Picnic & Barrel Holiday Auction – whose auction portion is sponsored by Seattle author/wine merchant Paul Zitarelli and his Full Pull Wines – will be held on Friday, August 9, on the Château Ste campus. Michelle in Woodinville, followed by an auction signing gala on Saturday, August 10. The online gala auction starts on Tuesday, August 6 and will last until August 10. Money raised will help support the Seattle Children’s wine and oenology program at the University of Washington and grant partner Vital Wines in the Walla Walla Valley.

The Washington Wine Auction has started its TOAST! program in 2022, and the 2023 recipients are listed here.

For the second year in a row, nine TOAST! recipients will be announced this week on

Monday – TOAST! Vine to Wine Award: Eduardo Enriquez, Corliss Estates
Monday – TOAST! Healthy Earth, Healthy Communities Award: Kiona Vineyards and Winery
Monday – TOAST! Award of Distinction: Markus Keller, Washington State University
Today – TOAST! Emerging Leader: Jordan Small, Woodward Canyon Winery
Today – TOAST! Emerging leader: Matías Kúsulas, Gård Vintners/Desert Wind Winery/Massalto/Valo
Today at 11:00 – TOAST! Emerging leader: TBA
9:00 a.m. Wednesday – TOAST! Wine Industry Champion: TBA
10:00 a.m. Wednesday – Washington Wines Star Award Auction: TBA
11:00 a.m. Wednesday – Lifetime Achievement Award: TBA

Previously announced honorees at the 2024 Washington Wine Auction are Leslie Sbrocco (honorary chair), Christophe Baron of Bionic Wines (honorary winemaker) and Robert Rivera of Goose Ridge Estate Vineyard (honorary grower). Co-chairs are Laura and Ian MacNeil and John and Deanna Oppenheimer.

“We are delighted to recognize these outstanding individuals for their significant contributions to the Washington wine industry,” says Jamie Peha, executive director of Auction of Washington Wines since 2019. “Their commitment, innovation and passion have played a key role in shaping the success and reputation of the entire region. “

TOAST Honoree Celebration sponsors include Republic National Distributing Co., Saxco, Woodinville Wine Country, Washington State Wine Commission, Château Ste. Michelle and Trysk Printing Solutions.

The Emerging Leader Award seeks to recognize those whose contributions, service or involvement in the Washington wine industry create pathways and provide a vision for the future. Given Kúsulas’ background and sense of adventure, this is one of the deepest “Experience” sections you’ll find on LinkedIn for a Washington winemaker.

His work for the Lawrence family is fascinating and extensive. He oversees viticulture in the Royal Slope, Wahluke Slope and The Rocks District areas of Milton-Freewater (Ore.) and produces wines in Prosser for the Gård Vintners and Desert Wind brands. His team produces more than 100 bottles of each vintage, and he helps manage 650 acres of vineyards throughout the Columbia Valley.

Kúsulas began working with Josh and Lisa Lawrence in 2016, when he came to Washington state to join the team of renowned winemaker Aryn Morell in Walla Walla.

It was while in Walla Walla that Kúsulas founded two boutique brands – Massalto and Valo – with Montana chef Michael Ruhland, whom he met while they were both working during the harvest season in New Zealand.

The immediate buzz and competition showings of their wines led Great Northwest Wine to select Valo as a Washington winery to watch in 2024. Valo and Massalto are poured in shared tasting rooms near the Columbia River in Vancouver and the Gorge town of Bingen, Washington. A third satellite tasting gallery is planned to open near the Gård tasting room in Ellensburg’s arts district.

Massalto’s slogan: “Be fearless. Drink without fear” – he lines up to see a parachuting instructor and a black belt in judo.

And Massalto’s self-proclaimed unconventional approach to winemaking appeals to critics and judges. It also fits Kúsulas, who traveled the world after retiring as a lieutenant as a Marine officer and naval engineer in his native Chile.

He served his country for seven years, then studied agricultural engineering at the University of Chile, graduating with honors from its school of viticulture and oenology. Kúsulas took this degree to Chilean cellars for several vintages. From there he began life as a globe-trotting winemaker. He obtained his master’s degree while studying at the University of Bordeaux and the University of Montpellier. Kúsulas’ experience in France included two years as maître de chai at Condrieu and Côte-Rôtie. Then came work in basements in South Africa and New Zealand.

There is no doubt that the life of Kúsulas is dominated by viticulture and wine production. Back in the Walla Walla Valley, he is involved with MLMG, a young vineyard development company with Tom Merkle (honorary grower at the 2017 Washington Wine Auction) and Lawrences, which is behind approximately 50 acres of plantings in The Rocks District at Desert Vineyard Elevator and historic Conner Lee Vineyard.

Kúsulas recently added two new concepts to his resume – Contact Natural Wines and Slope Life Wines. His community service activities include serving as a project advisor for the Washington Soil Health Initiative, a young partnership involving Washington State University, the Washington State Environmental Protection Commission and the state Department of Agriculture. He and renowned grower Dick Boushey helped plant an experimental vineyard near Prosser in 2023.

For those who are looking for balance in their lives and wine, Kúsulas offers another simple saying that seems to be relevant in his opinion: “Less Internet. More Cabernet.”

By meerna

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