Willamette Valley Vintners Expands in Walla Walla

Oregon-based company to close on a 45-acre property in the next two weeks

by Peter Mitham
wine vineyard Willamette Valley Vineyards Walla Walla deals
The property being acquired by Willamette Valley Vineyards includes 20 plantable acres. Photo: Google Maps

Milton-Freewater, Ore.—Willamette Valley Vineyards Inc. is steadily expanding its presence in eastern Oregon, adding to its holdings in the Walla Walla Valley.

Based in Turner, Ore., the winery is set to exercise an option to acquire a 45-acre parcel from the SeVein partnership, bringing its holdings in the area to approximately 129 acres.

Willamette Valley Vineyards winery director Christine Collier said site topography means the property has just 20 plantable acres, however it also enjoys good air drainage. Indeed, the basalt that characterizes local soils is exposed rather than layered with deposits of wind-blown loess.

“It’s very similar to the Ferguson (Ridge) vineyard that L’Ecole No. 41 has, where there’s really no loess that sits on top of the basalt. It’s just a very, very rocky site,” Collier explained to Wines & Vines.

This distinguishes it from an initial purchase of 42 acres in 2015, a property with several feet of loess that will serve as the basis for its Pambrun winery project (see “Strong Market for Walla Walla Land”). https://www.winesandvines.com/template.cfm?section=news&content=152115 The profile of the latest acquisition promises to yield grapes that contribute to the complexity of the wines planned for Pambrun.

“We’re happy to have two different soil types that will really contribute to having a lot of complexity and options when we’re looking at wine blending,” Collier said.

The purchase follows the acquisition of 37 acres in the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA from the Roloff family at the end of December. Planting is set for spring 2018.

The property will operate separately from the SeVein purchases and support a second Walla Walla label for Willamette Valley Vineyards focused on Rhône varieties.

“When we look at Eastern Oregon, Washington, what they do best, it really comes down to Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, so we’ll be able to have both focuses but with separate brands,” Collier said.

The new plantings and additional wineries are testimony to the vision of local pioneers such as Norm McKibben, who led the team behind the SeVein project.

“The folks who have been out there—Norm McKibben, Marty and Megan Clubb—the folks that have been there to develop the quality and to bring the professionalism, they have set the stage,” Heather Unwin, executive director of the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, told Wines & Vines.

The new plantings will address what she calls “a tremendous scarcity” of fruit to fill the fermentors of local wineries and help winemakers to give further expression to the local terroir.

“There’s more planting going in now. People are starting to really be able to come in and grow the industry,” she said.

Willamette Valley Vineyards’ acquisitions will not only benefit the interstate Walla Walla Valley AVA but add diversity to Oregon’s wine identity. Its initial acquisition in SeVein coincided with the launch of its Oregon Vineyard Estates initiative, which includes Elton Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA.

“Our vision going forward with the Oregon Estate Vineyards through Willamette Valley Vineyards is to establish small estate wineries at some of Oregon’s most intriguing vineyard sites,” Collier told Wines & Vines in 2015, noting that the name reflects the company’s expansion beyond the Willamette Valley.
Working with local talent familiar with each of the properties is part of the plan. Pambrun’s winemaker, for example, is Walla Walla’s Jon Meuret. Elton Vineyard focuses on small-lot Pinot Noir and Chardonnay under the direction of winemaker Isabelle Meunier.

SeVein owner North Slope Management LLC manages Pambrun, while Walla Walla veteran viticulturist Chris Banek will oversee the Rocks property.

Don’t expect to see wineries sprouting on either property in the immediate future, however.

Seattle architecture firm Boxwood has drafted plans for Pambrun, but high construction costs have put plans on hold.

“With the boom of construction, everything was priced very high,” Collier said, pegging the increases at 25% to 50% from when Willamette Valley Vineyards main facility undertook renovations in 2014. “We hope to go back and rebid those plans this year.”

A similar obstacle faced its Elton project in the Willamette Valley, which was set to open this spring.

“The project was costed out much higher than we initially budgeted,” Collier said. “Subcontractors have a lot of work that’s coming into them. It’s hard to get on their schedules, and so bidding just isn’t very accurate.”

Still, the lack of construction allowed Willamette Valley Vineyards to concentrate on land acquisitions to support its winemaking program. In addition to the Walla Walla purchases, it recently acquired 40 acres in the Ribbon Ridge AVA.


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