Betz Purchases 40 Acres of SeVein Vineyards

5,200-case winery to develop estate property in Walla Walla Valley

by Peter Mitham
Steve and Bridgit Griessel purchased 40 acres of North Slope’s SeVein Vineyard (seen above, purchased property not shown) to create an estate for their Betz Family Winery.
Milton-Freewater, Ore.—One small deal in the Walla Walla Valley AVA marks a major milestone for North Slope Management LLC, owners of Sevein Vineyards, and Betz Family Winery of Redmond, Wash.

North Slope announced the sale this week of 40 acres of land at its SeVein Vineyard site, on the south side of the Walla Walla Valley, to Betz, which acquired the tract for an undisclosed sum through V Squared LLC, a partnership with Kevin Brown of Siren Song Wines in Chelan, Wash.

The purchase gives Betz its first estate after years of contracting for fruit. It will develop approximately 24 acres of vineyard on the parcel, half of which will serve its own needs, and the other half will feed Siren Song.

Planting will occur in 2016, with the first wines not available until at least 2021.

“It’s a long-term play…but we’re willing to be patient,” said Steve Griessel, who with his wife Bridgit Griessel purchased the winery from founders Bob and Cathy Betz in 2011. “We believe that a few small strategic vineyards are very important for us going forward.”

Griessel considers the acquisition of an estate vineyard a “natural progression” of the vision for the winery, which has grown to produce 5,200 cases annually from its start in Woodinville’s industrial precinct in 1997.

Bob Betz, who continues to serve as winemaker, and the Griessels began considering an acquisition two years ago with a view to having more control over incoming fruit and the character of the wines it produces.

Beginning in 2012, for example, Betz reduced production of its flagship wines by 30% and channelled the excess wine into blends, the first of which was released in April 2014 as Cuvée Frangin.

“We’ve actually shrunk our flagship wines in order to take them to an even higher quality level, and then created this declassified blend,” Griessel explained. “These vineyards will be another step in that process.”

On one hand, having an estate vineyard will give it a secure supply of grapes in an increasingly competitive market; on another, it hopes to secure some unique sites.

“As Washington state becomes more famous, I think there’s going to be more and more pressure on land, and water,” Griessel told Wines & Vines. “We haven’t got to that point, but we will at some point in the future. So defensively, we think it’s really important we secure a few small, critical vineyards—vineyards that will make a huge impact in our portfolio.”

Griessel wouldn’t disclose how much V Squared paid for the 40-acre parcel, saying only the price was “market related.”

While prime planted acreage can trade for upwards of $75,000 an acre, bare land typically sells for approximately $5,000 to $15,000 per acre in Washington state—prices that are appealing relative to sites in California.

North Slope partner Chris Figgins estimated comparable land in California commands 10 times the price of Washington state properties, noting that interest from California and elsewhere in SeVein’s parcels is increasing (see “Landowners Envision Walla Walla Vineyards”). 

The total site is approximately 2,700 acres, of which 1,800 acres are plantable. Approximately 1,200 acres have been planted to date or are under development, while 650 acres remain to be sold.

But the deal with V Squared is the first North Slope has closed since the recession.

“We basically backburnered any marketing efforts because there was softness in the overall vineyard market, and distressed vineyards,” Figgins said of the period of financial crisis that started in September 2008.

But when Betz was among the unsuccessful bidders as Canada’s Aquilini Investment Group trumped all comers at Kennewick Irrigation District’s auction of 670 acres on Red Mountain in November 2013, Figgins picked up the phone.

“They were an unsuccessful competitive bidder, and so I called up Steve Griessel,” Figgins said.

Wines from the site were tasted, due diligence was done, and a deal came together.

North Slope partner Norm McKibben, one of Walla Walla’s wine pioneers, said Betz fits in with the mix of wineries that have put down rootstock in Sevein.

“It is nice to move a parcel of vineyard property, but beyond that I have great respect for both Bob Betz, whom I have known for years, and for the reputation that Steve has built since he purchased the winery,” McKibben said. “I look forward to having them as neighbors and taking fruit from the Walla Walla Valley.”

McKibben expects more deals to follow in 2015, given queries received over the past year.

“We have been receiving inquiries of interest over the past 12 months, and I am quite sure that this next year will see additional activity,” he said.

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