Sagemoor enters Walla Walla Valley grape market with Southwind Vineyard purchase

By on June 4, 2021
The Glass House at Southwind Vineyard is an iconic setting for Walla Walla Valley wine touring. (Richard Duval Images)

It’s a good thing viticulturists Kent Waliser and Lacey Lybeck live in the Tri-Cities because their commutes on behalf of Sagemoor Vineyards clients took an additional turn with this week’s acquisition of Southwind Vineyard on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley.

The 70-acre vineyard was established in 2007 by Rick Middleton, who co-founded Artifex Wine Co., and led the Middleton Family Wines portfolio which included the Cadaretta brand in Walla Walla, Buried Cane in Washington and Clayhouse in California. Some of the Northwest’s top winemakers produced wines for the Middletons, including Brian Rudin, Kendall Mix, Jessica Munnell and Peter Devison. 

In 2016, the Middletons sold Buried Cane and Clayhouse to Vintage Wine Estates. Within four years of that, Cadaretta closed and Southwind went on the market. Officially, the new owner of Southwind is Horizon Vineyards, a partnership between Sagemoor Vineyards — owned by Allan Brothers in Naches — and Denver-based private equity firm Resource Land Holdings.

That collaboration will soon be expanding Southwind, already the largest planting in the famed SeVein Vineyards development. The Southwind parcel spans 330 acres — about 260 of which are not planted.

“Yes, we have plans to plant more acres over the next two years,” Waliser, director of wine and grape sales for Sagemooor, told Great Northwest Wine via email.

Previous customers of Southwind Vineyard worked with Banek Winegrower Management in Milton-Freewater, Ore. Now, Waliser and Lybeck can offer their list of clients — which is more than 100 producers — grapes from six vineyards in three American Viticultural Areas. Soon, the number of AVAs should soon grow as Bacchus, Dionysus, Gamache and the namesake Sagemoor will be within the proposed White Bluffs AVA. That is expected to be established by the federal government any day.

Weinbau on the Wahluke Slope is Sagemoor’s most northerly vineyard. It is 106 miles, a two-hour drive from Southwind to Weinbau, and the latest acquisition gives Lybeck about 1,100 acres of vines to oversee. 

“Southwind Vineyard is a gorgeous site, with varied terrain from shallow soils with fractured basalt to deeper windblown loess,” said Lybeck, a graduate of Washington State University’s agriculture program. “I look forward to learning more about the site as we begin managing this vineyard and providing top-tier grapes with a unique flavor profile to our customers.” 

New owners plan to reopen Glass House atop SeVein

Southwind Vineyard, founded by the Middleton family, is the highest-elevation site in the 2,700-acre SeVein development near Milton-Freewater, Ore. (Richard Duval Images)

A year ago, Lybeck, vineyard manager for Sagemoor, made headlines by landing a spot on Wine Enthusiast magazine’s 40 Under 40 Tastemaker List. In the short-term, however, Lybeck will remain focused at Sagemoor, while Banek will continue to manage Southwind, Waliser said.

“It’s similar in terms of varieties we grow and are at Southwind,” Waliser said. “With the varied aspects of Southwind and elevation differences, the styles from Southwind vary in its own right. I think we will learn the similarities and differences as time goes by. Lacey will be our leading expert on Southwind characteristics.”

And while Sagemoor/Horizon Vineyards welcome new customers, there will be some familiar faces at Southwind, including Dusted Valley Vintners, which is one of the more than 30 Walla Walla Valley producers who were customers of Sagemoor and already knows Southwind — with its phylloxera-resistant rootstock — as well as anyone. In fact, the winemakers from Wisconsin group brand Southwind as one of their three estate vineyards.

“The five vineyard-designate Dusted Valley wines crafted from Southwind always display Old World sensibilities with a core of New World fruit, deeply concentrated with a breadth of flavors and amazing structure,” noted Chad Johnson, winegrower/owner of Dusted Valley. “We are excited to continue our long working relationship with Sagemoor Vineyards and their fantastic viticulture team.”

Southwind’s picturesque Glass House will stand as a lasting tribute to the Middletons and their work in the Walla Walla Valley. Fortunately, the new partners expect wine lovers will be easily lured back to the high-elevation site as fears of the pandemic subside and travel returns to normal.

“We see the Glass House as one of the Walla Walla Valley’s iconic places and as such will be used for trade, media and industry events,” noted Waliser, who grew up in Milton-Freewater. “Some consumer events are being planned. The view from there makes telling the Walla Walla story very compelling.”

About Eric Degerman

Eric Degerman is the President and CEO of Great Northwest Wine. He is a journalist with more than 30 years of daily newspaper experience and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Andy Perdue and served as its managing editor for a decade. He is a frequent wine judge at international wine competitions throughout North America and orchestrates 10 Northwest competitions each year.

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