Lifting Her Voice

Mary Derby and Judith Shulman

Posted on March 21, 2021

More than two decades ago, Mary Derby was a classically trained opera singer waiting tables while she built an impressive resume of performances. She worked in acclaimed restaurants where a love of wine quickly bloomed. Soon, she was also working grape harvests in Washington State.

In 2007, Mary founded DAMA as one of Washington’s few certified woman-owned and managed wineries. As distinctive and stunning as the labels, DAMA wines engage both senses and imagination. They invite you to  feel, and feel deeply. In our modern world, that’s a daring accomplishment.

“Winemaking, like singing, is very mathematical—but without the artistry of your personality, a wine becomes one dimensional. And like with singing, you need to have a strong base so that your artistry shines through.”

How did you get your start in the wine world? Take us back to the early days.

My journey into the wine world began when I was a waiter at Zuni Café back in the early ‘90’s while I trained as an opera singer.  Little did I know then that I would start up a winery here in Walla Walla. Looking back at all my experiences and trainingswhether in food and wine, or as a singerI realize that all of those components have made me and my company who we are today. I am so incredibly thankful for all the interesting, smart and talented people who helped me pave my way, whether they knew it or not at the time.

What is your role at the winery? Tell us about your usual day.

As business owner and winemaker, I oversee so much of the day to day business from within in the tasting room to the winery. I wear many hats. This all keeps me on my toes and never leads me to boredom.

A typical day is checking in with my tasting room manager in creating great experiences that are so important to us and our brand. There are other times where I am needed in the winery for blending, bottling, or if it is harvest time I am running between vineyards checking on the fruit to processing the fruit for a future vintage. As I said, never a dull moment.

How is your music training useful in the cellar?

My classical training as a singer has given back to me in so many ways within my life now as a winemaker. One of the greatest lessons I have learned is that this business takes an orchestra to make wine. I have learned how to collaborate, not unlike performing a duet or trio with other singers. To work in harmony to create the ultimate goal of a great piece or wine! Or at  times I am the conductor, managing all the players.

I have also learned what it means to be a diva and to let my own voice shine through while making sure that all who make this all possible have their light as well.

How might winemaking be like singing?

One of the most interesting coincidences that I found within singing and wines is the acknowledgement  that I strive to have “squillo” in both.

What does this mean? As a singer, we strive to create that the vibration of the voice that can be heard after a note has been sung. This is not unlike wine in regard to the flavors that keep on flowing within your palate after you taste. When I finally made that connection between my  two different worlds I knew I was on the right path of combining my love of singing with my love of wine.

Winemaking like singing is very mathematical but without the artistry of your personality I believe a wine becomes one dimensional. And like singing you need to understand & have a strong base so that your artistry shine through.