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Wise Words: Psychologist and academic pursued hobby, creating successful second career and legacy

Myles Anderson, enjoying a glass of his merlot on Aug. 9 in Spokane, is the 2011 inductee to the Washington Wine Hall of Fame. “Having wine at the table is a celebratory experience. Embracing people with wine is something I’ve always done,” he says. (Christopher Anderson)
Myles Anderson, enjoying a glass of his merlot on Aug. 9 in Spokane, is the 2011 inductee to the Washington Wine Hall of Fame. “Having wine at the table is a celebratory experience. Embracing people with wine is something I’ve always done,” he says. (Christopher Anderson)

Myles Anderson, 70, was inducted last month into the Washington Wine Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center in Prosser, Wash.

Anderson, co-owner of Walla Walla Vintners, has lived in Walla Walla since 1977, but his Spokane connections run deep. He was a popular Gonzaga University administrator, and his wine is sold in Spokane’s best restaurants.

In a recent Wise Words interview, Anderson talked about what it takes to turn a hobby into a second career, in good economic times and bad.

• I grew up in Pennsylvania. I was born to a biological mother who birthed me and died that day. I was raised by a number of wonderful women. I had a great-aunt, and my mother’s mother raised me in the summers. When I was 3, my father married a woman who took care of me and my older brother.

• My father was a very hard worker. He worked for Gulf Oil as an accountant. When I was 17, he died of a heart attack. He was 45. I am the oldest living male in my family. No one has lived as long as I have.

So life is something I cherish. I figure any time in the next 12 months might be my last 12 months. So I make decisions around the fact that maybe life is limited, and I’m being chased, maybe, by death. I need to honor that every day. And not waste what I’m doing.

• I got to Gonzaga in 1969 and left in 1974. I was a Methodist, not a Catholic, and I had no reason to become a Catholic, and I needed to make sure the student body and faculty supported my employment, and they did.

It helped that when I (grew up) my mother’s mother had a boarding house and in that boarding house were her brother and her sister. Her sister was a Christian Scientist, and her brother was a Lutheran, and he married a lovely woman who was a Seventh Day Adventist.

And my grandmother was a Lutheran some of the time and a Methodist at other times, depending on who was visiting. And then my other grandmother, my father’s mother, was a Jehovah’s Witness.

So I grew up with all these different belief systems. Therefore, coming to Gonzaga and embracing human beings who were Catholic, or even nonbelievers, was easy. It was in my background.

• How did I get into wine? In 1967, when I finished my graduate degree from the University of Wyoming in counseling psychology, my dear wife Myrna said, “You need a hobby. All you do is read psych books.”

She gave me the “Encyclopedia of Wine and Spirits” by Alexis Lichine. Alexis suggests you taste wines every day. So every week I would go to the liquor store and buy wines and taste them.

During my studies at University of Wyoming, I met a person who collected wines and served wonderfully delicious wines. When I came to Gonzaga, we used to have an underground university. They were hobby courses, fun courses. I taught wine appreciation the entire time I was here.

Greg Lipsker, of Barrister Winery, was in one of my classes. And today he and his business partner have a very successful winery here in Spokane.

• In 1976, at Regis University, recovering (from a serious car accident) I realized how much I missed the Northwest. Before that time, my ambition was to become a significant university or college administrator. I decided no, that’s not where I want to go. My heart is not in that.

I was offered a job at Walla Walla Community College. We had a daughter, then 6, and we wanted her to be in a small town, like the ones we grew up in in Pennsylvania. There was one winery in 1977, Leonetti Cellar. I met (owners) Gary and Nancy Figgins, and they both had their day jobs in those years, and had this tiny but wonderful winery. We became dear friends.

I met my business partner, Gordy Venneri, and in 1981, he and I began to make wine together, some serious kind of wine. We also made wine that is in the sanitary landfill in Walla Walla because it wasn’t that good.

We did most of our winemaking on weekends. These were high-energy weekends, but we had a great time doing it. We didn’t make more than about 800 gallons. There were four families involved, and each of us could make 200 gallons a year under the law as homemade winemakers.

• When we started Walla Walla Vintners in 1995, Gordy and I kept our day jobs, because we knew we should plan on not making any money for at least six years. We had a dream. And we fed it.

We were very conservative. We made a pledge not to use money that our families depended upon. So we set aside funds I earned in consulting, and Gordy had some funds he set aside. We made sure that if the business failed, our families would not be affected at all.

• My advice for others with dreams? It’s a long haul. Keep your day job. And hang around people who can be your best mentors.

• Am I surprised at the winery’s success? Oh my gosh, yes! It was sheer creative arrogance that caused us to do this.

• What will matter most at the end of my life? The footprints I leave behind. In 2000, I was asked to create the Institute for Enology and Viticulture. I decided the reason I was doing this was to leave footprints.

And the footprints had to do with teaching others about raising wonderful grapes and learning how to make the highest quality wines in the world.

• I’ve had remarkable good fortune in my life. Things have come my way that were mysterious, unexpected, serendipitous. Some people would call that spiritual, something God has created for you. I’ve had things happen that are very great mysteries. I recognize, most of the time, that it is my destiny to embrace those moments.