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$7 Million for Horse Heaven Vineyard

Aquilinis purchase nearly 700 more acres of prime vineyard land

by Peter Mitham
One of the vineyard parcels in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA that was sold at auction.
Prosser, Wash.—A half hour was all it took on Friday, April 4 for Musser Bros. to sell 694 acres of vineyard land in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA.

The transaction, which is set to close May 9, saw the Alder Creek and Windy Ridge vineyard properties — which include 335 acres of developed vineyard — sell out of receivership for $6.89 million.

137 acres of the planted acreage — more than one third — is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, with a further 77.9 acres planted to Syrah. The remainder is divided between red varieties. The sole white grape is Sauvignon Blanc, at 26.3 acres.

The buyer is the Aquilini Investment Group of British Columbia, according to industry sources and local media reports.

"We see the purchase in Horse Heaven Hills as a great compliment to the recent Red Mountain acquisition as both are located in the best growing regions in Washington. It is our intention to invest our resources and capital to maximize the opportunity," Luigi Aquilini, principal of the family-owned company told Wines & Vines.

The family-owned company outbid 38 bidders in a separate auction for several hundred acres of vineyard land in the Red Mountain AVA in November of 2013.

Shelly Crocker, the court-appointed receiver, was happy with the results, said Scott Musser, who was also responsible for the landmark sale of 670 acres to the Aquilini family in November of last year. “I received a big hug when she left,” he told Wines & Vines.

The deal completes a sale process that faltered as the financial crisis erupted in October 2008.

The former owner, Dave Groth, put the properties up for auction through Alabama-based J.P. King Auction Co. on Nov. 6, 2008 (see “Horse Heaven Vineyard Goes to Gavel,” Wines & Vines headline, Oct. 23, 2008). But no transactions completed at the time. Groth died suddenly in 2009, and auction documents indicate the vineyards were subsequently leased by Chuck Johnson and Columbia River Investment Co. for the 2010 season.

Columbia River lacked the resources to operate the property, however, and in 2012, a receiver was appointed and Northwest Vineyard Management LLC was picked to run the vineyard. Many improvements have taken place under the oversight of manager Marshall Edwards, including the planting of 71 acres.

The return of the properties to the market reflects the ongoing strong demand for vineyard land in the Northwest. Musser previously told media the success of the Red Mountain auction led Crocker to put the properties on the block.

With low interest rates, a strengthening environment for financing, and good pricing for vineyard land, the circumstances offered advantages for buyers and sellers.

The flood tide of vineyard and winery transactions across the Northwest in the past year have lent credence to the situation, with the largest wave of transactions in recent memory seeing thousands of acres change hands, not to mention a few venerable brands.


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