Founder & Winemaker: Mary Derby

Mary is a riddle. Mary is a passionate romantic. Mary is an artist, idealist and dreamer—a magician who feels she can always pull something positive out of nothing. And Mary is a wine-loving, family-doting, opera singing food fanatic from rural Minnesota.

Here’s the most revealing thing you could possibly know about Mary Tuuri Derby, when wants to communicate something important, like who she is and what DAMA is all about, she uses her own fingers to hold an actual pen, forming words by moving it across real paper. No texting or email at moments like that. “I’m an old-fashioned gal at heart,”, she says. And for the record, she has excellent penmanship.

Mary is a riddle. Mary is a passionate romantic. Mary is an artist, idealist, and dreamer – a magician who feels she can always pull something positive out of nothing. And Mary is a wine-loving, family-doting, opera-singing, food fanatic from rural Minnesota.

Her journey to the world of wine and food started back in 1989, when she left the Midwest for San Francisco on a whim—suitcase in one hand, lucky red rally bike in the other. There, she worked with some of the best people in the restaurant business, luminaries like Judy Rodgers and Sylvie Laly of Zuni Café and Jeremiah Tower of Stars.

After moving to Chicago, Mary joined forces with Brian Duncan of Spruce Restaurant and now the renowned Bin 36. He became her mentor and good friend, helping open doors for her not typically available to women at the time. He taught her to experience wine without all the pomp and circumstance—to think “outside the bottle.”

Her next move was to the Walla Walla Valley, a burgeoning region gaining rapid respect for its world-class wines. From 2000 to 2004, she and her late husband, Devin, created the indelible brand and wines of Spring Valley Vineyard, which were among the highest scoring in Washington State and nationally.

Devin’s tragic death sent shockwaves through her life, and it took some time to decide what to do next—whether to leave Walla Walla or stay, whether to get back on the proverbial horse again. But when nine local wineries got together and donated a large quantity of wine to Mary and her son, the future became clear. “It was a very large barrel of love that helped us survive financially, and ultimately to start DAMA,” she says. “I realized I was one lucky woman to live in a community that was so supportive.”

Looking back now, Mary sees how all her life experiences—the good, the bad, the crazy, and sad times—have made her who she is, are reflected in everything she does, and are central to the DAMA philosophy.
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