Scaling the Peaks
Eric Murphy remains committed to doing extreme mountain climbing and guiding, and making wine for Ott & Murphy, in which he’s a founding partner.
But during the last 15 years, the Whidbey Island resident has spent more than 1,200 field days on more than 30 climbing expeditions in Alaska, Canada, Antarctica, Nepal, Tibet, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Kenya and Tanzania.
“A distinct focus of mine has been high-altitude ascents,” says Murphy, who’s reached more than 80 summits over 19,000 feet, including Mount Everest, Mount Lhotse, Denali and the highest summits in Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Antarctica.
His interest in winemaking evolved gradually. He first worked crush at Napa’s Chateau Montelena and Barnett Vineyards, practiced with friends on Whidbey, and finally, seven years ago, bonded Ott & Murphy.
“The partnerships, intensity, passion and focus that climbing expeditions require remind me a lot of harvest, and the overall winemaking process from vineyard to bottle,” says Murphy. “Winemaking is hard work that requires passion, dedication and focus.”
Murphy doesn’t downplay the dangers of mountaineering—he’s seen many friends die over the years. Yet, the most difficult aspect of guiding, he believes, is being responsible for another person’s well-being in a very dynamic and dangerous environment.
“The mountains are always changing—you never really know what you’ll get for conditions until you’re there,” he says. “If you’re taking that kind of risk, it’s because doing those kinds of things is burning in your soul. Otherwise, you won’t have the focus it takes to do it.”
What is similar about winemaking, he says, is the focus on working with the earth.
“You’re very connected to nature and your environment,” says Murphy. “Great wines are made in the vineyard. If you don’t have that focus and connection to the beginning of the process, growing the fruit and being involved in a very gentle way in the evolution of the wine to bottle, you won’t make great wine.”