Wine’s Most Inspirational People: Marty Clubb — Co-Owner, L’Ecole No. 41
A Walla Walla industry leader and community builder.
Ask Marty Clubb how a former corporate financial analyst ended up running a top-notch and well-respected winery in Washington state – for thirty years, no less – and he stops for a moment.
“I have never been so interested in the wine business,” says Clubb, longtime co-owner and winemaker director of School n ° 41 in Walla Walla in eastern Washington. “The opportunity has just presented itself.”
Which, three decades later, is an opportunity that Clubb has taken full advantage of. His accomplishments, not only at L’École, testify to his talent and his vision. The School, although approximately 50,000 cases in size, has a reputation that stretches across the country, and its various Merlots have long been recognized as among the best in the world. Plus, the winery made so many best-of and top this and that lists that it’s almost impossible to count them all.
Today, Clubb oversees wine operations, which include the estate’s two vineyards and the 30 wineries in the region that sell grapes to L’Ecole. He has been doing this since taking over from his wife Megan, Jean and Baker Ferguson’s parents in 1989, six years after the winery was founded. Megan and the children Riley and Rebecca are the other co-owners of the cellar.
It is all a testament to Clubb’s modesty as well. Ask him how he did it all, and he almost always gives people credit and terroir from Washington State, even using the word “utopia” to describe Walla Walla as a wine country.
“‘Quality’ defines Marty Clubb: as a person, colleague and winemaker,” says Jim Trezise, executive director of the WineAmerica Commercial Group. “I’ve known him for over a decade, through WineAmerica, and have only had great experiences with him. He still does the important financial work behind the scenes informally and without fanfare or recognition. The first time I tasted the wines of L’Ecole N ° 41, I was totally amazed, because I have tasted all tastes since. They are classy in a glass.
Regarding these achievements, consider that Clubb:
“Marty is smart in the industry,” says Mike Allen of Elliott Bay Distribution, the leading wholesaler of L’Ecole – and which remains today one of its distributors. “He understands what’s going on in each market and listens very well, and his wines are consistent year after year and he has managed to manage his prices to be very competitive in each market. In this, he reacts to situations just when they occur.
All of this, again, speaks to Clubb’s sense of what works, even if others disagree. He offers two examples:
The first came when Clubb went looking for a distributor in 1990, when the winery’s production was around 1,000 cases. He knew the business had grown too big for the tasting room and needed to expand into retail. “Selling live was crazy,” he says. “It wasn’t going to work in the long run.”
But 11 of Seattle’s 12 distributors rejected Clubb, dismissing it altogether. The only one who said yes was Elliot, “because they were willing to work with us. They weren’t too big and they weren’t too small. And they have helped fuel our success by bringing our wine to market.
The second concerns the prices, of which Clubb is particularly proud. The wines of L’Ecole, despite the rave reviews, remain eminently affordable. His premium labels cost up to half the price of what he says are comparable California wines – and he laughs when he says consumers tell him he should charge more. The key, Clubb says, is not to charge more, but to set the price for wines so that the people who buy them turn into enthusiastic wine advocates. What could be better, he asks, than asking a customer to sell the wine to another wine drinker?
Finally, says Allen, don’t think Clubb is all about growing grapes, winemaking, and running a business. He is also famous for the stories he tells, compiled over three decades in the field of wine.
“He is very familiar with the history of Walla Walla and the reasons why it is such a good region for growing grapes,” says Ryan. “And I never get tired of hearing the stories.”
Just like Clubb has never tired of helping others.
About the most inspiring people at Wine: Each year, Wine Industry Advisor selects 10 people from within the wine industry who demonstrate leadership, innovation and inspiration. For the first time in 2021, WIA opened the submission process to the entire industry. With over 100 nominees, the editorial team selected the top 10 people who they believe have had a truly positive impact on wine culture in the United States over the past year. Read more here.