Canoe Ridge Winery, Walla Walla Washington

An old winery under new management

Canoe Ridge Winery began when a group of investors in the Chalone Wine Group created a cooperative with farmers. In 1989, these farmers planted the first acres of grapes in the uttermost southeast of Washington State, near Lowden, Washington, in the Horse Heaven Hills appellate. In 2001 Chalone Wine group bought out the other investors, and expanded the winery. By 2003, they had over fifty investors and 143 acres of grapes in the Canoe Ridge area. Their neighbor on the south west of Canoe Ridge was Chateau Ste. Michelle. (I should note that Chalone Wine Group used the name Canoe Ridge Vineyard and Chateau Ste. Michelle uses Canoe Ridge Estate.) Canoe Ridge grew several acres of Cabernet Sauvignon specifically for Woodward Canyon and Hogue Cellars. Chalone established the Cano Ridge winery with a modern facility and a tasting room in Walla Walla. Canoe Ridge rapidly established a reputation for the quality of their wines, especially their Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

But in 2004 Chalone Wine Group was acquired by beverage giant Diageo. Diageo, based in Lodon and a giant beverage conglomerate didn't really seem to be aware that they even owned Washington wineries, and in July of 2010, the Canoe Ridge Winery tasting room was closed for economic reasons. In February of 2011, Precept Wines of Seattle made public their purchase of Canoe Ridge Vineyard (as well as Sagelands Vineyard in Wapato, formerly also owned by the Chalone Wine Group) from Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines. Precept is the second largest winemaker in Washington, after Chateau Ste. Michelle. They currently own over 30 labels, including Apex, Avery Lane, Pine & Post, Waterbrook, and Washington Hills.

Precept CEO Andrew Brown stated in an interview by Paul Gregutt that both wineries participated in the 2010 crush, that Canoe Ridge would be a premier label alongside Precept's Waterbrook label, and that Bill Murray would move from Precept's Sawtooth winery to become the new Canoe Ridge winemaker. Brown also said that Precept "will continue to sell the inventory for both brands in the Northwest and other key markets in the US." Precept has already moved the Canoe Ridge Web site to Precept's site

At least one of those "key markets" was apparently the Bargain Grocery Outlet. As part of the annual spring 20% off wine sale at BGO, we picked up Canoe Ridge Dry Riesling 2007, and Canoe Ridge Cabernet Franc 2005. While I was delighted to be able to pick up bottles of both these wines for incredible prices, it is disheartening in the extreme to see yet another Washington winery be gobbled up by a conglomerate. That said, I notice that Paul Gregutt seems hopeful that Precept's interest in their new properties will mean a revival for both wineries.

I certainly hope so.