Investor Purchases Swath of Walla Walla AVA

California's Farmland LP gets 6,000 acres at auction to grow wine grapes and other crops

by Peter Mitham
wine winery vineyard walla walla auction
Farmland LP was the winner of a property auction in the Walla Walla Valley.

Touchet, Wash.—California real estate investment trust Farmland LP is the successful bidder for the 6,000-acre Weidert property on the western edge of the Walla Walla Valley AVA.

The massive property went to auction Nov. 10 and was tipped as having significant vineyard potential as well as opportunities for tree fruits, hops and other crops (see “Auction Could Change Face of Walla Walla”).

Craig Wichner, managing partner of Farmland LP, told Wines & Vines that the company typically adds value to properties by converting them to organic production. Under the Weidert family’s management, the property was planted to row crops with a view to eventually establishing permanent production systems. “We have several hundred vineyards acres in Oregon: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay,” he said.

“Though the deal hasn’t closed yet, this property’s soils, water and climate present us with a wonderful opportunity for vineyards, apples, blueberries, hops and other organic and sustainably grown crops,” Wichner said.

Steve Bruere, president of Iowa-based auctioneer Peoples Co., said there were “several significant bids” from local farmers to major investors, but Farmland’s offer was the most competitive in terms of both price and long-term vision for the property.

Organic production is a key focus for Farmland, whose holdings will include close to 20,000 acres when the Walla Walla deal closes. Being a REIT, Farmland draws its financial backing from several sources who effectively partner with it on acquisitions. Based in San Francisco, it is a subsidiary of Vital Farmland Holdings LLC.

Farmland made headlines in 2015, when it acquired more than 6,000 acres in the Willamette Valley from Olsen Agricultural Enterprises with a view to transitioning operations “from commodity crops to higher value certified organic, sustainable and local food production.”

Olsen previously had specialized in blueberries, hazelnuts, grass seed and peppermint, and was one of Oregon’s largest wine grape growers. The transaction has not had a negative impact on the local wine industry, which has seen significant investment from California in recent years, including this week’s purchase of Benton-Lane Winery near Monroe, Ore., by Napa-based Huneeus Vintners LLC.

A comment was not immediately forthcoming from the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance regarding Farmland’s move into Washington, pending further details of the transaction. However, alliance president Muriel Kenyon previously told Wines & Vines that development of the property could “potentially change a lot in Walla Walla.”

While the deal for the Walla Walla property has yet to close (exact terms are not disclosed), Wichner says plans for the property include a significant vineyard component.

“We believe the property’s potential for 1,600 acres of vineyards supports our focus on sustainable and organic farmland management, while enabling our partners to focus on producing extraordinary wine at a world-class location in the Walla Walla AVA,” he said. “We look forward to working with local farmers, packers and more to bring this property to its full potential.”


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