KIONA, Wash. – Precept Wine, the Pacific Northwest’s largest privately owned winery, said Friday that it has purchased 174 acres of land just southwest of Washington state’s famed Red Mountain American Viticultural Area.
David Minick, vice president of vineyards for Precept and a longtime Yakima Valley winemaker, told Great Northwest Wine he expects Skyfall Vineyard near Benton City will be the earliest ripening site in the company’s expanding portfolio.
“I know the Sauvignon Blanc from that site is one of the first grapes in the state of Washington to get picked, and it will probably be the first site that we own to get picked each year,” Minick said. “Our Canoe Ridge Vineyard is picked fairly early, but that’s in the Horse Heaven Hills, so this will probably beat it.”
Last month, Precept purchased Yamhela Vineyard, a Pinot Noir site in Oregon’s Yamhill-Carlton AVA. The two acquisitions boost Precept’s total to 16 vineyards covering 4,200 acres in Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
“We’re still missing out by not being on the Wahluke Slope,” Minick said. “We’d love to find a vineyard there some day. We just haven’t found the opportunity yet.”
Skyfall, which is in the Yakima Valley AVA about a mile east of Chandler Reach Vineyard, has 32 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.
“I was born and raised as a Yakima Valley boy, and I still love the acidity, so what I’m hoping for is Yakima Valley acidity, only with a warmer site,” Minick said.
Precept’s newest parcel also comes with 66 acres of cherries and 22 acres of other fruit. Minick declined to disclose terms of the sale, announced by CEO Andrew Browne.
“Two brothers out of California named Malli owned the property for three years,” Minick said. “They bought it for the cherry orchards but found it too hard to be absentee owners, so they decided to sell it.”
At this point, Minick said Precept plans to keep 15-20 acres of the cherry orchard for additional revenue. Skyfall’s original vineyard plantings date to 1999, with blocks added in 2000 and 2001. Minick envisions a three-year conversion plan, which includes introducing Chardonnay.
“I want to play with a little bit of the Chardonnay down the road,” he said. “We have some high-end Chardonnay programs that are just gathering steam.”
And expect there to be vineyard-designate wines from Precept’s latest acquisition.
“You know Andrew Browne, so we’ll definitely have a Skyfall label somewhere down the line,” Minick chuckled.
The vineyard is in the tiny town of Kiona off Jacobs Road. Just to the north of Interstate 84 are Red Mountain properties such as Col Solare, Fidelitas, Hedges, Kiona and Terra Blanca as well as renowned vineyards Ciel du Cheval and Klipsun.
“This is a lot less expensive than those, but I think it’s probably as hot as Red Mountain,” Minick said. “There’s a little bit of a north slope and all the dry hills behind it reflect the heat down onto it, and there are lots of thermals there that always drift downhill onto the property. The grapes have skins that are a bit thicker and there will be a little more tannin.”
Skyfall also will be important for workflow each fall at Waterbrook, Precept’s production facility in Walla Walla.
“One of the reasons I picked that site and pushed for that site is because in the cherry world, they are one of the first to pick cherries there,” Minick said. “It’s a very warm site that ripens very early. I’m looking for bigger-style reds, so I’m looking for that heat and that wind. And as a growing company, we’ve got to spread out our fermentations. We have to start thinking about crushing 45 days during harvest, not 20 days.”
While Skyfall stretches 175 acres, Minick said the property comes with just 145 acres of water rights.
“Right now, there are 125 acres planted in vineyards and orchard trees,” Minick said. “I don’t know if we’ll ever get to 145 acres because there are some pretty deep canyons. We’ll see.”
There are no plans for a winery or tasting room, but Minick hopes to show off unique features of the property.
“There’s some neat geology there,” he said. “On the very top, there’s a granite erratic the size of a Volkswagen with a third of it sticking out of the ground near what will be a parking area, and there are lots of basketball-size granite on the lot. It’s Montana granite brought here by the glaciers.”
Minick said he offered up a few suggestions for the vineyard’s name by pointing out daredevils take to the skies in the hills above the site, but he deflected credit toward Browne.
“Skyfall sort of fell out of the sky. What really grabbed him was when I mentioned the hang gliding and paragliding, but the name wasn’t sent to me until 10 o’clock at night, so I’m not sure what kind of adult beverage was involved,” Minick chuckled. “We are a company that does not sleep.”