Strong Market for Walla Walla Land

Willamette Valley Vineyards closes on vineyard in Pacific Northwest appellation

by Peter Mitham
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Properties like this 114-acre ranch near Walla Walla, Wash., are drawing strong interest from companies seeking to develop new vineyards.
Milton-Freewater, Ore.—Willamette Valley Vineyards Inc. is looking beyond the Willamette Valley with its purchase of 42 acres in the Walla Walla Valley AVA from North Slope Management LLC’s SeVein Vineyards.

A deal for the property closed at the end of April, to the tune of $736,250, or approximately $17,530 an acre for the serviced but undeveloped tract. The arrangement includes an option to purchase a further 45 acres at SeVein for $433,000.

Planting with Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varieties will begin next year, with an initial release of wines under the Pambrun name — which honors Walla Walla pioneer Pierre Pambrun, an ancestor of Willamette Valley Vineyards founder Jim Bernau. “We went up and visited in January and really fell in love with the development and what they were doing up there, and by April we were part of the hill,” said Christine Collier, winery director for Willamette Valley Vineyards, which is based in Turner, Ore.

Public filings describe the SeVein acquisition as “part of the company’s plan to broaden its product and brand line of ultra-premium wines.”

New ‘Oregon Vineyard Estates’ venture
Pambrun will be a cornerstone of Willamette Valley Vineyards’ newly formed Oregon Vineyard Estates, which announced a partnership this week with winemaker Isabelle Meunier to produce small-lot Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Elton Vineyard near Hopewell, Ore., 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 said, noting that the name reflects the company’s expansion beyond the Willamette Valley. “When we were looking at that, Elton is a vineyard that we’ve had a long-term contract on since 2007. … It really made sense for it to come to center stage on the label and be its own brand.”

Meunier’s wines for Willamette Valley Vineyards will bear the Elton Vineyard name, with a winery to follow in spring 2017. An arrangement allows Willamette Valley Vineyards to acquire the vineyard on the death of owners Dick and Betty O’Brien, with the proceeds donated to viticultural programs at Oregon State University and Chemeketa Community College.

Pambrun and Elton Vineyard will release wines from the 2015 vintage. Carlton Winemakers Studio in Carlton, Ore., will host the Elton project until its premises are complete in 2017, while, Jon Meuret, a local Walla Walla winemaker will oversee production for Pambrun.

North Slope will oversee management of the Pambrun vineyard, as it does for the Leonetti Serra Pedace Vineyard, Doubleback McQueen and others at SeVein. The sale to Willamette Valley Vineyards is North Slope’s second deal at SeVein in the past six months. In December, it announced the sale of approximately 40 acres to V Squared LLC, a partnership between Betz Family Winery of Redmond, Wash., and Kevin Brown of Siren Song Wines in Chelan, Wash. (see Wines & Vines headline, “Betz Purchases 40 Acres of SeVein Vineyards,” December 16, 2014)

More properties hitting the market
North Slope principal Norm McKibben told Wines & Vines at the time that he anticipated more deals in 2015, given the volume of queries received through 2014. The activity is encouraging other property owners, too.

Walla Walla wheat and pea farmer David Valdez is hoping buyers will be keen on 114 acres he’s offering northeast of the city of Walla Walla near Spring Valley Vineyards, an area home not only to Spring Valley’s plantings but Precept Wine’s 140-acre Waterbrook Estate vineyard. Conditions, according to geologist Kevin Pogue of VinTerra Consulting, are “essentially identical” to these nearby plantings.

While hidden away in a quiet corner of the Walla Walla Valley, Valdez said interest since the offering went public earlier this month, “has been surprisingly high.” The majority has come from existing grapegrowers seeking to expand their holdings.

“There is no question that Walla Walla will continue to attract those interested in successfully growing the kinds of grapes that have made the region famous for great wines, and this parcel is rather ideally suited to that use,” Valdez told Wines & Vines. “Our goal right now is to share information about the property so that we can find the right buyer over the long term.” 

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