Wines & Vines Home
Welcome Guest
June 2010 Issue of Wines & Vines

Grapegrower Interview: Kent Waliser

Farming boutique-style in Washington with 900 acres

by Laurie Daniel
Kent Waliser
Kent Waliser
As general manager of Sagemoor Vineyards in Pasco, Wash., Kent Waliser oversees about 900 acres of vineyard in the Columbia Valley and Wahluke Slope AVAs. The company sells to 75-plus wineries, ranging from large (Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, which buys about 30% of Sagemoor’s production) to smaller (L’Ecole No. 41, Reininger, DeLille). Sagemoor is one of Washington’s largest growers without an associated winery.

Waliser, who has been with Sagemoor since 2002, has a background in growing tree fruit—both in his own farming business and as manager of northwest operations for Dole Foods. (He also manages Sagemoor’s 400-acre tree fruit business.) A 1976 graduate of Oregon State University with a degree in horticulture, Waliser is vice chair of the Washington State Wine Commission.

Wines & Vines: You’ve described your operation as an “oversized boutique vineyard.” What do you mean?

Kent Waliser: The Sagemoor Group is comprised of four companies with vineyards: Sagemoor, Bacchus, Dionysus and Weinbau make up the group. Bacchus and Dionysus are adjacent properties with 350 acres overlooking the Columbia River on a west-facing slope in the Columbia Valley AVA. These vineyards were located by Walter Clore in the early ’70s, and planting began in 1972. We still produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and White Riesling from those original plantings.

Our challenge with these sites is the lack of uniformity of soils, which creates challenges and opportunities at the same time. Most of the blocks in these vineyards cannot be farmed for tonnage contracts with large wineries due to the soil inconsistencies. We manage the inconsistency by variable-rate ¬irrigation and fertilization. We sell the fruit on acreage contracts to boutique wineries. This allows us essentially to make blocks of 10 to 20 acres into smaller management units, and within those areas we can customize crop yield, canopy management and harvest to meet our wineries’ needs.

Our Weinbau Vineyard in the Wahluke Slope AVA is about 450 acres and about 50-50 white and red varieties. Original plantings of Chardonnay and Riesling from 1981 are largely farmed for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. We also have sizable acreages of Cabernet, Merlot and Cab Franc. The soil at Weinbau is very consistent and allows us to satisfy large customers and small, boutique customers—the best of both worlds.

The Sagemoor Vineyard of 110 acres is in the Columbia Valley on a southwest-facing slope overlooking the Columbia River and the Tri-Cities. We raise mainly Chardonnay and Cabernet but also some Sangiovese, Malbec, Barbera, Roussanne, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc in small-acreage units to take advantage of the variations in site and soils.

Our approach is much like that of a barista serving customers exactly how they want their coffee, except this is “How do you want your grapes today?” Our complexity in management revolves around our approach to Cabernet, Merlot and Cab Franc. We have three tiers of farming that involve slightly different viticulture. The tiers revolve around a matrix that includes wine style, tons per acre, price-point of the wine and grapes.

We are able to offer a customer the option of several sites, thereby bringing complexity of flavor and consistency year after year. Wines made from Weinbau fruit tend to be more tannic and structured if the winery chooses to make that style, while wines made from Bacchus, Dionysus and Sagemoor offer a more elegant style.

Own-rooted vines hardy in a freeze

Most vines in Washington are own-rooted, because phylloxera has never established itself there. That’s at least in part because of the sandy soils and Washington’s extreme winters.
Those winters cause other problems for the vines: A severe freeze at the wrong time can kill the above-ground part of the plant. Luckily, a vine on its own roots can come back. “If this happens, we remove the top to the ground and regrow the top, getting back into production one year later,” Waliser says. “Using own-rooted vines might not work in many parts of the world, but for now we think it is an advantage.”
Waliser also thinks a vine grown on its own roots yields “true varietal character without rootstock influence.”
Sagemoor Vineyards has some Barbera vines on rootstock, Waliser adds, because that variety wasn’t readily available in Washington. He had to get the vines from California, and they were already grafted.
He notes that some wineries are experimenting with rootstock for drought tolerance or vigor control. “There is some interest in rootstocks in Washington, but it is limited at this time,” Waliser says.


W&V: Your website,, includes a lot of information for your clients, such as current and historical data for your vineyard blocks. Why do you provide that information online?

Waliser: When you serve 75-plus customers, there is a lot of communication needed before and during harvest. One way we have helped serve all those customers was to develop our website. We sample Brix, pH and TA for each block twice per week and post the data on our site. This allows us to do our job of data collection and let the site do the communication.

Our customers can access the information anytime after 4 p.m. at their convenience. They use trend lines to determine when they have to come to the vineyard to do more extensive sampling and tasting. We are in the center of the state, but we have customers from Walla Walla, Spokane, Woodinville and other places, which is a problem for travel and time. If the winemaker can get accurate information and save some trips to the vineyard, it then becomes a more valuable service.

We have data going back to 2000, which helps winemakers plan and understand our grapes from a historical basis. We aren’t worried about other people seeing the data—rather, I would encourage it. It is a commitment to transparency. This is a small in dustry, and being open with this type of data is an asset to our program.

W&V: You farm some Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling vines that are close to 40 years old. What sort of challenges do the older vines present?

Waliser: Older vines, especially Cabernet, are a real asset if the fruit is great. Our challenges with old blocks can be several. With plant spacing of 8 feet by 10 feet, the cordons are big when they fill the space. Large cordons require a different style of pruning to get the clusters away from the cordon to prevent shading. Tonnages for these old vines usually are 3-4 tons per acre for red grapes. So you are compelled to make the fruit good and sell to wineries making higher-end wine, because yields are a limiting factor. You can do better with whites, but it is still a challenge.

Older blocks can also have leafroll virus, which can hamper ripening. If this becomes a problem, you have no choice but to pull out the block and start over. So management has to be very good with old vines. Pruning, crop load and canopy management are all more difficult to get right. We have filled in missing spaces with a layering program. The market has really embraced Washington Cabernet Sauvignon, and some of the best comes from old vines. So since these old blocks are paid for, why not take advantage of the great wines they still produce, even with low tonnages? Wines made from these blocks typically score in the 90s with critics.

W&V: You’ve been using a horticultural product called Extenday that reflects light back up into the canopy from the ground. Why did you decide to use it, and what have the results been?

Waliser: We have a 10-acre block of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in 1972, planted at 8 feet by 10 feet, 545 plants per acre. At this spacing, and by producing a balanced crop, we have found it difficult to grow more than 4 tons per acre. It works out better to target 3-3.5 tons per acre, charge more for the fruit and make sure it is of very high quality. We have undertaken two procedures to make this possible on a yearly basis, even with different growing seasons.

Derek Way, the vineyard manager, has changed the pruning, canopy management and crop-thinning procedure to expose the fruit as much as possible without negative effects. We also started using a white reflective material called Extenday. On this site, our typical ripening date for Cabernet might be Oct. 20 to Nov. 5. This presents a challenge if it freezes like it did on Oct. 11, 2009. So with Extenday, we can advance maturity by one to two weeks. We have measured this over three years with treated and non-treated sampling. We have one winery working with both treated and non-treated fruit to validate what we see with advanced Brix measurement.

We almost replanted this block before we changed our viticulture practices and added the Extenday. So far, it is the only block where we use Extenday. The material is expensive—$2,500 per acre, although it should last six to seven years—so you really have to have a good reason to try it. Growers should experiment with the material before assuming it is going to make a huge change in the vineyard. I got the idea from using it in sweet cherries and advancing maturity in cherries by three to four days in a 70-day season.

A resident of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Laurie Daniel has been a journalist for more than 25 years. She has been writing about wine for publications for nearly 15 years and has been a Wines & Vines contributor since 2006. To contact her or comment on this article, e-mail

Print this page   PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION   »
E-mail this article   E-MAIL THIS ARTICLE   »
Currently no comments posted for this article.

Wines & Vines Home
866.453.9701 | 415.453.9700 | Fax: 415.453.2517
65 Mitchell Blvd., Ste. A San Rafael, CA 94903
Wine Industry Metrics
Off-Premise Sales » Month   12 Months  
January 2015 $623 million
$7,912 million
January 2014 $583 million $7,514 million
Direct-to-Consumer Shipments » Month   12 Months  
January 2015 $75 million
$1,818 million
January 2014 $77 million $1,584 million
Winery Job Index » Month   12 Months  
January 2015 259
January 2014 205 203
MORE » Released on 02.13.2015
Direct To Consumer
Wine Shipping Report
Download full report »

Practical Winery & Vineyard Library
Search the PWV archive »

  • March 2-5
    Decouvertes en Vallee du Rhone
  • March 4
    Innovation + Quality
  • March 4-6
    Michigan Wine & Grape Conference
  • March 12
    Central Coast Insights
  • MORE »

Article: Scurlock joins wine hall of fame »
Congratulations David!
Reader: Guest
Article: Wineries Cautioned About Internet 'Ads' »
I guess my first question would be why is there a three tier system to...
Reader: Guest
Article: Wine on the Rocks »
Great potential! Mineralities are sought after and can be found in these rock formations with...
Reader: Bruce Coulthard
Article: 90% of U.S. Consumers Can Buy Wine Direct »
You say that 90% of the consumers can buy wine direct. Really? In most cases...
Reader: Guest
Article: Wineries Cautioned About Internet 'Ads' »
It is an unfortunate fact that the regulations have no understanding of modern technology and...
Reader: Paul Mabray

Directory/Buyer's Guide — Your Wine Industry Marketplace
Advanced Search »
   by Product
 by Company Name or Brand
Browse by Category »
2015 Directory/Buyer's Guide
The Wines & Vines Directory and Buyer's Guide
Wines & Vines Magazine
Digital Edition Now Available!
Wines & Vines Digital Edition Now Available
The Wines & Vines Online Marketing System
The Industry Standard winery marketing application
Latest Job Listings
 Tasting Room Manager
 Napa, CA
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 Sales Representative
 St.Simons/Brunswick, GA
Sales and Marketing
 Bookkeeper Full Charge
 Los Gatos, CA
 Bottling Line Mechanic
 Healdsburg, CA
Winemaking and Production
 Wine Sales Representat...
 Upstate & Western, NY
Sales and Marketing
 Customer Happiness Tea...
 Napa, CA
General Administration and
 Tasting Room Position
 Sonoma, CA
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 Assistant Wine Directo...
 Los Angeles, CA
Winemaking and Production
 Vp Of Winemaking
 Central Coast, CA
Winemaking and Production
 2015 Harvest Intern
 Sebastopol, CA
Winemaking and Production
More Job Listings >>
Follow Us On:

Home  |  About Us  |  Editors  |  Subscribe  |  Print Edition  |  Digital Edition

Advertise  |  Site Map  |  Contact Us  |  Privacy Policy
Copyright © 2001-2015 by Wine Communications Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
No material may be reproduced without written permission of the Publisher.
Wines&Vines does not assume any responsibility for any unsolicited manuscripts or materials.