Red Mountain goes for millions at auction

Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldNovember 23, 2013 

Red Mountain Aerial Grapes

November 21, 2013 - An auction of land parcels in the Red Mountain American Viticultural Area is scheduled for Saturday. For more information, go to www.mbaction.com.

FILE — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

Bidders chatted and munched on cheese and finger foods, while listening to music from a piano player before Saturday's auction in Pasco.

But once the auctioneer came to the podium, the mood turned serious among those interested in some of the 670 acres of prime wine grape growing land on Red Mountain.

An early bid for all 31 parcels set the price at $4.5 million, and bidding went back and forth for hours among those looking to buy the entire area and others wanting just one or more parcels.

By 6 p.m., the board of the Kennewick Irrigation District, which is selling the soon-to-be irrigated land, announced after a closed session it would accept Saturday's bids and not let bidding continue into another day.

Bids totaled just more than $6.6 million by that point. But then the bidding continued until $8.3 million was raised.

"I'm surprised how slow it's proceeding," said Eric Hoppe of Richland, one of the bidders who put down a $10,000 deposit. "It's kind of agonizingly slow. I think people with deep pockets are sitting back waiting."

Hoppe said he "dabbles" in winemaking and was intrigued by the sale of the land near Benton City.

"It's Red Mountain," he said. "Red Mountain has a great reputation."

Throughout the event, auctioneer Scott Musser of Musser Bros. Auctions touted the features of the property, including its proximity to Interstate 82 and high scores from geologist Alan Busacca. He analyzed and rated each parcel based on slope, soil type, drainage, farmability and other factors.

"The old saying, 'Don't wait to buy land they're not making anymore,' holds true today," Musser told attendees.

KID board member Patrick McGuire said he couldn't comment on whether he was pleased with the amount of the bids two hours into the auction.

"I have a poker face," he said.

But board president Gene Huffman said after the auction that he was pleased with the sale of the property, which KID has owned since 1943.

"Proceeds from the sale give this district the opportunity to comprehensively plan our future, which includes meeting demands for better safety, water conservation and improving efficiency of operations," Huffman said in a news release.

Names of the winning bidders were not immediately released.

Officials declined to say where bidders came from, saying information on bidders was private, but said some came from Canada. Some bidders took orders by phone from people controlling the purse strings.

"They're spread from far and wide," said Josh Musser with Musser Brothers, where the action was held.

The land available Saturday was one-fifth of what's left of the 4,040-acre Red Mountain American Viticultural Area. About 1,400 of the acres are planted for vineyards and it's home to several wineries. Dozens more Washington winemakers use Red Mountain grapes.

All 31 parcels up for sale Saturday will receive Yakima River water through a $20.2 million local improvement district project.

The properties ranged from 20 to 44 acres, though not all of them were considered part of the viticultural area, a designated wine-grape growing region. About half of the land offered was north of Highway 224 and half south of the highway.

One grouping of several parcels, where much of the land fronted Sunset Road, saw bids reach more than $2 million for about 90 acres.

Bidders were able to try to buy any combination of parcels.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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