Seattle's Precept Wine purchases Idaho winery

By Tri-City Herald staffMay 15, 2012 

Washington's second-largest wine producer has purchased Idaho's largest and oldest winery.

Precept Wine in Seattle has purchased Ste. Chapelle in Caldwell from Ascentia Wine Estates in Healdsburg, Calif.

Ascentia purchased Ste. Chapelle in 2008 from Constellation, one of the largest wine companies in the world. Ascentia also owns Columbia Winery in Woodinville and Covey Run Winery, which produces wine in Sunnyside and West Richland.

Last week, Wine Business, a California wine industry publication, reported that E&J Gallo in Modesto, Calif., is expected to purchase Columbia and Covey Run.

Gallo would neither confirm nor deny the report. Gallo does not currently own any wineries in Washington.

Precept was launched in 2003 by Andrew Browne and the Baty family. The Baty family, with Browne at the helm, owned Corus Brands from 1980 to 2001, when it sold most of its wineries to Constellation. Amid those brands was Ste. Chapelle.

Today, Precept is second in size only to Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in Washington. It owns such wineries as Waterbrook and Canoe Ridge in Walla Walla, Washington Hills and Apex in Prosser and Sagelands in Zillah. It also owns such brands as Pine & Post, Primarius, Alder Ridge and Chocolate Shop.

Last week, Precept opened a new tasting room in Walla Walla for Canoe Ridge Vineyard, a year after the company purchased the winery from Diageo, an international drinks company that had allowed the brand to languish and the tasting room to close. It also opened a tasting room in downtown Walla Walla for The Chocolate Shop, a chocolate-flavored wine.

Precept also owns more than 3,700 acres of vineyards, mostly in Washington's Horse Heaven Hills. In Idaho, Precept owns Sawtooth Estate Winery in Nampa, as well as nearly 500 acres of wine grapes.

Ste. Chapelle began in 1976 and now makes 130,000 cases, making it the state's oldest and largest winery. It is best known for Riesling and off-dry red wines.

The transaction resulted in the dismissal of Brad Pintler as general manager. Pintler was hired by Ascentia earlier this winter. He was fired in 2009 by Precept as winemaker at Sawtooth, which he founded in 1987. Pintler sold the family vineyards and the Pintler Cellar label to the Baty family in 1999.

"Brad Pintler and two cellar staff were not included in the acquisition and were relieved from duties by Ascentia yesterday before our team arrived," Precept communications director Heidi Witherspoon told Wine Press Northwest via email. "A duplication of duties drove this decision."

Witherspoon noted that all but three members of Ste. Chapelle's 19-person staff will remain, including winemaker Maurine Johnson, who has been with the winery for 25 years and took over as head winemaker just before the 2011 harvest.

-- The Idaho Statesman in Boise contributed to this report.

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