WALLA WALLA, Wash. — Wine industry icon Myles Anderson has been looking for someone to help Walla Walla Vintners take the next step as he moves aside. And the timing seems ideal for Portland software developer Scott Haladay to join co-founder Gordy Venneri as co-owner.
Today signals an ownership transition for one of Walla Walla Valley’s oldest producers, a winery bonded in 1995 that has served as a leader among the critical second wave of wineries. It has followed in the footsteps of Leonetti Cellar, Woodward Canyon, L’Ecole No. 41, Waterbrook and Seven Hills Winery.
“I needed to find a situation where I can complement the talent that’s already there,” Haladay told Great Northwest Wine. “Gordy and I are a good interpersonal fit as well. With his winemaking and sales skills, and my business operation skills, we will complement each other very well.”
Great Northwest Wine learned of the sale in advance of today’s announcement. Terms of the sale were not disclosed as Anderson, age 76, moves into a role described as “ambassador.”
“After over 35 years of making, serving and promoting wine, it’s time for me to focus on sharing it with friends, family and our customers,” Anderson said in a statement released today by the winery. “I’m thankful for what Walla Walla Vintners is today, and I am looking forward to enjoying its next chapter.”
Venneri, 63, said, “I am very grateful for all that Myles and I accomplished together. We founded Walla Walla’s eighth winery and helped make history in one of America’s most exciting and dynamic wine regions. I am also happy that Walla Walla Vintners will continue to be run as a partnership with the complementary and demonstrated business expertise brought by the Haladay family.”
Anderson played a critical role in establishing Walla Walla Community College’s viticulture and enology program in 2000. He was inducted into the Legends of Washington Wine Hall of Fame in 2011 and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers in 2014.
Last year, Wine Press Northwest magazine named Walla Walla Vintners its 2016 Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year.
There will be a public retirement celebration for Anderson on Saturday, Feb. 25, at Walla Walla Vintners. He and Venneri will open library wines and share stories with longtime supporters. Three generations of the Haladay family also will be there to welcome guests.
VonMetzger to remain as winemaker
Arguably the most important component of Walla Walla Vintners — head winemaker William vonMetzger — will remain in place, Haladay said.
“We looked at a lot of different properties, but Walla Walla Vintners stood out,” Haladay said. “I went back and forth to Walla Walla 11 times in six months. My goal is ‘Just don’t screw it up.’ It’s a pretty easy position to be in, and I have the right network in place.”
Meanwhile, many of the changes in store for Walla Walla Vintners are focused on enhancing the guest experience and heightening the awareness in the marketplace for the iconic red barn.
“It just needs some updating,” Haladay said. “Our customers will find a more comfortable and welcoming experience.”
In fact, work on remodeling the tasting room and the second floor is under way. Among the upgrades will be transitioning what Haladay jokingly referred to as the “bachelor pad” on the second floor into a special area for club members.
“The bones are beautiful,” Haladay said. “I’m excited that I didn’t inherit someone’s $2 million design that you don’t like. The view of the Blue Mountains with the snow is beautiful.”
Portland native looks forward to regional work
Haladay, 40, graduated from Lakeridge High School in the Portland suburb of Lake Oswego before he went to Georgetown University, where he earned a degree in computer science. He and his wife, Nici, have two small children, including a son born Jan. 29. Haladay’s new investment in Walla Walla Vintners and pending move to the Walla Walla Valley fits in with the next stage of his life.
“My desires are one) be a good father and two) find an opportunity to buy into other business opportunity and operate it with a partner for many years to come,” Haladay said.
Their separation of powers will be easy in many instances.
“Getting Gordy to handle purchasing orders and pay vendors is not the best use of his skills,” Haladay said. “He’s a salesperson and a wine guy. He’s great in front of customers and making them feel good about learning the process and the story behind the wine. They end up feeling part of the community.”
Haladay will continue to maintain a residence in the Portland area, primarily during the winter months when he can be closer to a major airport and work West Coast markets.
He considered exploring winery investment opportunities in the Willamette Valley, but the bucolic feel of the Walla Walla Valley and open spaces won out for Haladay and his family.
“Whereas the epicenter of the North Willamette Valley is Dundee, Newberg and McMinnville, the traffic is oppressive,” he said. “Trying to go through Dundee on (Highway) 99 is painful. It doesn’t matter when. Even on a Tuesday morning it still sucks.
“The Allison (Inn in Newberg) is beautiful and what the Austin family has created there is very special, but Walla Walla to me makes more sense,” Haladay added. “There’s a central downtown. It’s gentrified. There’s good infrastructure in place, and they are building more. Don’t get me wrong. I love their wines in the Willamette Valley, but Walla Walla has a lot of room to grow — and it will continue to be special.”
Portland family continues down entrepreneurial path
Haladay’s interest in the wine industry intensified during his work in Australia on behalf of Viewpoint Construction Software, a company his family sold in 2014 to Bain Capital for a reported $230 million.
Soon after, members of Haladay’s family created their own investment fund called 10 Branch to assist young regional startups.
“Our father allocated funds to give back to the tech investment community,” Haladay said.
Haladay’s father, Jay, was named the 2013 Oregon Tech Executive by the Oregonian newspaper.
While his brothers are involved with 10 Branch, Walla Walla Vintners “will be operated totally outside of it,” Scott Haladay said. “My father has always been an entrepreneur, and he’s proud to see me do my own thing.”
“I’m intimately familiar with how beer and wine wholesalers operate,” he said.
His role in the wine industry will be different.
“The story of Walla Walla Vintners is a great story, but not that many people know it in Portland, and that’s exciting for me,” Haladay said. “I’ll be looking to give more exposure in my hometown to a brand that I’m a co-owner of.”
‘Excitingly boring growth for Walla Walla Vintners’
Anderson and Venneri began making wine together in Walla Walla as a hobby during the early 1980s. The two Walla Walla Community College instructors went commercial in 1995 with 600 cases. Haladay said production from the 2014 vintage climbed toward 8,000 cases.
“It’s hard to say where we’ll grow,” he said. “The facility has its physical constraints, so I don’t see us materially growing in the near future, but there are adjustments that can be made to the business model.”
Among those changes will be expanded tasting room hours and seated tastings. When asked if he’ll explore some winemaking himself, Haladay said, “Definitely not. Critical acclaim has come for the wines, and why would I want to change that? That would just be stupid.
“There are places where I’ll have an impact, but I doubt the consumer will see much change other than the enhancement of the customers’ interaction,” he added.
Matchmaker for Haladay, Walla Walla Vintners
Mark Freund, now managing director of First Republic Bank in Napa, Calif., after more than a decade in the wine division of Silicon Valley Bank, and Erik McLaughlin, director of Exvere, Inc., helped orchestrate the transaction, according to Haladay.
“We first met the Haladays as potential buyers of a winery where we represented the seller,” McLaughlin wrote in an email to Great Northwest Wine. “Ultimately, they determined that though they wanted to be in the wine business, that particular winery wasn’t the right fit for them. Scott Haladay and his family then decided to retain Exvere to represent them in a search and targeted acquisition.”
Exvere operates offices in Seattle and Walla Walla, and its expertise played roles in winery/vineyard transactions involving Betz Family Winery, Big O Wines Co., Corus Brands and Crimson Wine Group.
A little more than a year ago, McLaughlin worked as vice president for Seven Hills Winery prior to Casey McClellan and wife Vicky selling their winery to Crimson. McLaughlin’s career also included several years as corporate wine buyer for Cost Plus World Market.
“Living and working in the wine country of the Northwest for so long, I have a pretty good feel for where various winery owners are at with regard to their business planning,” McLaughlin said. “Though Walla Walla Vintners was not for sale, we saw that it met all of the Haladay family’s criteria. We also believed that a properly structured deal could be the perfect solution for both Myles and Gordy.
“We approached Myles and Gordy and found them receptive, but there was one problem: Myles was ready to retire and Gordy was not,” McLaughlin added. “We proposed an acquisition that would allow for Myles to transition towards retirement while Gordy would re-invest as a partner with the Haladay family and continue to guide Walla Walla Vintners into the future.”
Haladay said, “I won’t speak to the split of ownership.”
Anderson didn’t sweat the fine-print portion of the transaction as final details were completed while he was on holiday in Hawaii.
“I’m very lucky that there is an industry icon associated with the brand,” Haladay said. “And I’m sure I will see him at Walla Walla Country Club.”