Close Menu

Napa wineries invest big in Washington

With wildfires becoming an increasing issue in California, big names in the Napa Valley are snapping up prized vineyard sites in Washington to hedge their bets.

Abeja in Mill Creek, Washington

In April 2022 Jackson Family Wines bolstered its presence in the Pacific Northwest with the purchase of a 61-acre plot in Washington’s Walla Walla Valley.

Buying the land in Mill Creek from a 117-acre property owned by Abeja, the estates will soon jointly announce the name of the vineyard project.

The vineyard plot is located at the base of the Blue Mountains on the east side of the Walla Walla Valley, which is cooler than the south side, leading to grapes that are prized for their natural acidity and bright fruit flavours.

Now other producers are increasingly following suit and Abeja’s winemaker, Dan Wampfler, sees Napa’s interest in Washington as a golden opportunity for the state to grow its international presence.

“We’ll ride on Napa’s coattails until we can knock people’s socks off on the world stage; we just need to elbow our way onto the table first,” he he told db.

“Napa sees us as competition now and big Napa names want a slice of the Washington pie as our land prices are cheaper in comparison to theirs. Things are really starting to move here. Having estates like Jackson Family Wines and Cakebread Cellars invest in Washington sends out a strong message about the quality of our wines,” Wampfler added.

But in order for Washington to be able to compete with the Napa Valley on the wine tourism front, Wampfler believes it needs to up its game when it comes to hospitality.

“We’re seeing more private planes diverting from Napa to Walla Walla and we need to be able to meet these people’s expectations or we’ll lose them. There’s no Michelin guide in Washington yet but we’re working on it,” he said.

In 2012 Cakebread Cellars launched its Washington wine venture, Mullan Road Cellars, in Walla Walla with the aim of making terroir-driven Cabernet in what has since become the Royal Slope AVA.

A year later, Duckhorn jumped on the bandwagon with a 20-acre vineyard just above Antinori’s Col Solare in Washington’s acclaimed Red Mountain AVA.

While the emergence of the California contingent is great for building Washington’s reputation as a quality wine region, it is leading to increased competition on the grape sourcing front.

Andrew Latta, chief winemaker and owner of Latta Wines, which makes 10,000 cases a year at its urban winery in Seattle, told db about his concerns.

“Grower relationships are really important in Washington. Now that there’s more interest from the outside and international investment from the likes of Jackson, Duckhorn and Cakebread, the need to secure our grape sourcing is greater than ever. I know and trust my growers, but if someone else comes in and makes a higher offer then it would be stupid for them not to take it, so I feel the pressure is coming on that front,” he said.

It looks like you're in Asia, would you like to be redirected to the Drinks Business Asia edition?

Yes, take me to the Asia edition No