Precept Wine Brands is relatively young, as corporations go. It was formed in 2002 in Seattle by Andrew Browne. Browne was a wine veteran, having previously been the President and CEO of Corus, producer of Alice White, Covey Run, Columbia Winery and Ste. Chapelle, until Corus was acquired by Constellation Brands. Browne convinced his former Corus colleague, Dan Baty, to join him as a founding partner of Precept. Precepts' business model initially was to be a negociant, purchasing wine from other wineries and rebottling it under various brand names and labels. The current Washington sourced labels include Avery Lane, Barrelstone, Big Sky, Grizz, Pine and Post, Pavin and Riley, Washington Hills, Sol Duc, and Sweet Pea. In 2006, Precept Brands formed a partnership with Charles Smith's The Magnificent Wine Co. to concentrate on blending Washington Wines from the Columbia Valley.
Precept bought Waterbrook Winery in Walla Walla in 2006, and at about the same time, Precept began purchasing Washington vineyards. In 2009 Precept created a major winery, production facility and show room in Walla Walla Washington. The new winery, Walla Walla Wine Works, is a 53,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility capable of producing up to 250,000 cases of wine per year. That output far exceeds the possible production of any other winery in Walla Walla; the second largest facility, Canoe Ridge Vineyard, produced about 65,000 cases of wine in 2006, according to the state Liquor Control Board. Precept also owns vineyard property in Yakima, Washington.
In addition to owning 12 Washington wine labels, Precept also has partial ownership of Apex Cellars and related brands, as well as Willow Crest Winery and Red Door Cellars. Precept also owns Oregon wineries and labels, and imports wine from Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Italy. Currently, Precept Wine Brands is the largest privately held wine company in the state of Washington.
So what does this mean for those of us who like Washington wine? I'm not sure. Part of me looks at the grocery store and Washington State Liquor store shelves, stocked quite thoroughly with the Precept Brands consumer table wines, mostly under $8.00 retail, and I wonder how much difference can there be, really, between Avery Lane and Pine and Post and Washington Hills versions of the same varietal from the same year—or a NV blend? Are other Washington wines being pushed off the shelf because of the real estate claimed by Precept—a major name with a large sales force and distribution? Keeping that in mind, they've had a fair number of positive reviews for what are, quite honestly, budget priced wines. I note as well that Browne seems to be genuinely enthusiastic, and appreciative in very specific ways, about Washington wine and making quality Washington wines, but perhaps, more than anything else, focusing on marketing the wines made by others.