Precept Wines buys Canoe Ridge

The company reportedly plans to reopen the tasting room.

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WALLA WALLA -- One of the largest wine companies in the Northwest has purchased Canoe Ridge Vineyard and reportedly plans to reopen the Walla Walla winery's shuttered tasting room this spring.

Seattle-based Precept Wines announced Monday it has purchased Canoe Ridge, as well as Sagelands Vineyard in the Yakima Valley, from London-based alcoholic beverage company Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines.

Terms of the purchase were not disclosed in the announcement. Precept Wines' founder and Chief Executive Officer Andrew Browne said in a release the company is "dedicated to investing in both brands for the foreseeable future."

"The addition of Canoe Ridge and Sagelands to our portfolio of wines greatly strengthens our commitment to quality winemaking in Washington state," Browne said in the announcement.

A spokeswoman for the company was not available for comment this morning. But according to other news reports, Canoe Ridge's tasting room in the refurbished engine house at 1905 Cherry St. is expected to reopen this spring. The reopening of the Sagelands tasting room is also reportedly in the works.

The acquisition also includes the Canoe Ridge estate vineyard located in the Horse Heaven Hills American Viticultural Area. That vineyard include 153 planted vinifera acres, which will bring the company's total in the Horse Heaven Hills area to about 1,000 acres.

"We view the Horse Heaven Hills as a premier grape growing region in the state," said Browne. "We are excited to take a more active role in the development and marketing of this premier vineyard."

Precept's total acreage in Washington state is about 2,700. The company also owns more than 1,000 acres in Oregon.

Canoe Ridge is the third Walla Walla brand in the Precept portfolio. The company also offers labels under The Magnificent Wine Company, including House Wine, the flagship brand originally started by Walla Walla winemaker Charles Smith. It is also the owner and operator of Waterbrook Winery, the 53,000-square-foot winemaking facility at 10518 W. U.S. Highway 12.

Known as the largest privately owned wine-production company in Washington, Precept makes about 900,000 cases of wine annually for just under 30 brands. The majority of those are based in Washington, but others are from Oregon, Idaho, Germany and Australia.

The addition of the two Washington wineries not only builds on Precept's portfolio of brands, it also gives new potential life to Canoe Ridge and Sagelands.

The public tasting rooms for both operations were closed last summer as part of a cost-cutting initiative by Diageo, the international drinks company that also owns Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, Guinness, Captain Morgan and Jos?© Cuervo. At that time a spokeswoman for the company told "Wine Spectator" the company wanted to explore options for its non-core assets, including selling them.

The closure of the tasting room brought an end to the public face of a brand that was launched by local investors into one of Walla Walla's first large-scale wineries.

Opened in 1994, Canoe Ridge was a partnership between a group of local investors and California wine company Chalone Wine Group. The partnership reportedly represented the first investment by a California wine firm in Washington state. The production area and tasting room were based at the Cherry Street property that had once served as a garage and maintenance facility for a streetcar and inter-urban train system that traveled between Walla Walla and Milton-Freewater. The passenger service continued until 1931. In the early 1950s it was converted to diesel and used primarily for transporting agricultural products. The line was retired in 1985.

In early 2001, the Chalone Wine Group bought out the winery and vineyards from its minority partners for about $4 million plus the assumption of about $2 million debt. An expansion already under way at that time added the freestanding 19,000-square-foot building for offices and wine production. The winery, as well as Sagelands, was sold to Diageo in 2004.

According to a report in the Tri-City Herald, Bill Murray, winemaker for Precept's Sawtooth Winery in Idaho, will move to Walla Walla to take over winemaking for Canoe Ridge. He will continue to oversee winemaking at Sawtooth. Browne told the Herald, Canoe Ridge will produce about 25,000 cases of wine annually, primarily using estate grapes.

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