Precept buys 2 Washington wineries

Washington's second-largest wine producer just got a little bigger.

Precept Wines in Seattle announced Monday the purchase of Canoe Ridge Vineyard in Walla Walla and Sagelands Vineyard in Wapato from Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines, based in London. The price was not disclosed.

As part of the deal, Precept also now owns Canoe Ridge's 153-acre vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills. Precept already owns the nearby Alder Ridge Vineyard, and this acquisition will give Precept about 1,000 acres of grapes in the highly touted region. Precept also owns Canyon Ranch Vineyard near Prosser, which is about 267 acres in size. Overall, Precept owns 2,698 acres of vines in Washington, as well as another 1,048 in Oregon and Idaho.

Sagelands was founded in 1984 as Staton Hills Winery and was bought by Chalone Wine Group in 1999. Chalone, based in California, launched Canoe Ridge in 1994.

Diageo bought both brands in 2004 and shut down both wineries' tasting rooms last spring. Andrew Browne, who founded Precept in 2003, said the company intends to reopen Canoe Ridge's Walla Walla tasting room this spring. Plans to reopen Sagelands' tasting room are in the works, too, he said, adding that probably won't happen this spring or summer.

Bill Murray, winemaker for Precept-owned Sawtooth Winery in Idaho's Snake River Valley, will move to Walla Walla to take over winemaking for Canoe Ridge. He will continue to oversee winemaking at Sawtooth.

Browne said Canoe Ridge will produce about 25,000 cases of wine, primarily using estate grapes, and Sagelands will produce about 85,000 cases with a goal of building into a six-figure brand.

"We're absolutely thrilled to take on these two heritage brands in Washington state," Browne said.

Precept is Washington's second-largest wine company after Ste. Michelle Wine Estates -- and the state's largest privately owned producer. It makes nearly 900,000 cases of wine and owns about 30 brands, including Waterbrook, Apex, Washington Hills, Avery Lane and Pine & Post.

In 2009, Precept opened a winemaking facility west of Walla Walla with a tasting room for Waterbrook Winery. The 53,000-square-foot facility produces 300,000 cases of wine for Precept, including 70,000 for Waterbrook.

A year ago, Precept merged with Corus Estates & Vineyards, which at one time owned such producers as Columbia Winery, Covey Run and Paul Thomas in Washington and Ste. Chapelle in Idaho. It sold most of its holdings to Constellation in 2001, then began to build new brands.

Owner Dan Baty helped found Precept in 2003 with Andrew Browne, who had been his CEO at Corus. The focus at Precept has been on lower-priced wines, with the majority of the brands under $15 per bottle.

While most of Precept's wines are from Washington, the company also produces wines from Idaho, Oregon, Australia and Germany.

Washington is the second-largest wine-producing state, crushing a record 160,000 tons of grapes last fall.