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Red Mountain Property Sells

Court slated to approve $4 million purchase of 174 vineyard acres

by Peter Mitham
red mountain vineyard blackwood canyon
A rare opportunity to acquire a tract of Red Mountain vineyard got the attention of Michael Corliss, who is boosting his acreage in the AVA to 350 acres through the acquistion of vineyards formerly owned by Michael T. Moore.
Benton City, Wash.—A veteran of the Washington state wine industry has picked up the vineyards of Red Mountain’s Blackwood Canyon Vintners, whose owner Michael T. Moore died a year ago.

Blackwood Canyon Partners LLC, a venture of Michael Corliss, will acquire approximately 174 acres of vineyard property from Green Vineyard LLC for $4 million. The deal, which is subject to court approval on Sept. 11, will satisfy various obligations of Moore’s estate, including $52,441 owed to Benton County for taxes and mortgage amounts totalling $944,251 owed to Inland Desert Nursery Inc.

Property timeline
(Green Vineyard filed in May 2011for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a move that typically allows time for companies to restructure their debts. Moore’s death triggered the liquidation of assets to satisfy those debts.)

The opportunity to buy Moore’s vineyard was attractive to Corliss, owner with Lauri Darneille of Corliss Estates and Tranche Cellars in Walla Walla, Wash. Six years ago, Corliss acquired 139 acres adjacent to the current tract.

“We entered into contracts related to my rights to purchase additional properties, should he put that property up for sale,” Corliss told Wines & Vines. “This is something that we’ve considered since the time we purchased the 139 acres.”

Together with Sandhill Winery, rebranded as RMV Cellars following its acquisition in 2007, Corliss will have 350 acres of vineyard on Red Mountain following court approval of his offer.

Focusing on the vineyard
Corliss isn’t planning to develop a new winery on the site, focussing instead on realizing the potential of the existing vineyard.

“It’s a unique parcel on Red Mountain, in that the 175-acre parcel had some plantings back to 1983 for Cabernet,” he said. “We even found as we were walking in the vineyard last week a section of Nebbiolo.”

While a chunk of the 100 acres currently planted may need to be redeveloped, Corliss plans to take it slow—determining what’s actually on site, how they’re doing and what (if any) replanting should occur.

“We plan to take a couple of years to assess,” he said.

In the meantime production will be channeled toward his existing wineries as well as other wineries to which Corliss supplies grapes.

Corliss wasn’t looking for additional properties, but the chance to acquire a vineyard on Red Mountain was a rare opportunity in one of the state’s most sought-after AVAs.

The property was initially slated for auction Sept. 13 through Booker Auction, but the offer from Corliss pre-empted the proceedings despite strong interest.

“We had inquiries from all over the place, including some foreign,” broker Ted Potter told Wines & Vines. “We don’t take a deal unless we feel it’s going to be successful.”

In this case, it was—and at just short of $30,000 per acre, reflected the strength of demand for properties in Red Mountain and the agriculture sector generally.

Red Mountain popularity
“It’s the strongest that I’ve ever seen in 35 years,” Potter said of agricultural land sales in Eastern Washington. And when it comes to vineyard properties, “Red Mountain is probably the hottest location in Washington.”

While few sales have taken place in recent years, the Blackwood Canyon sale confirms the buzz around the value of Red Mountain’s dirt.

“The prices that we’ve seen in Red Mountain are the strongest,” Potter said.

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