Red Mountain vineyard sells to Kiona owner

By Andy Perdue

One of the most important vineyards on Red Mountain has been sold.

Artz Vineyard, planted in 1997, was bought this spring by Scott Williams, second-generation winemaker of Kiona Vineyards & Winery. Williams and his wife Vicky already own several top vineyards on the ridge that many winemakers consider the top grape region in Washington. Their other properties include the Ranch at the End of the Road, the venerable Heart of the Hill and Kiona Estate, the original vineyard planted in 1976.

The Williams family also helped plant Ciel Du Cheval, considered one of the state’s top vineyards.

Artz Vineyard is named for Fred Artz, a legendary grape grower on the mountain who helped plant and manage famed Klipsun Vineyard for more than 20 years, before buying adjacent land and planting his own vineyard. The Pasco native and Richland High graduate was held in high regard by the wine industry and received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009 by the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers. He died in 2015.

The majority of Artz’s 20 acres are planted to Bordeaux varieties, including 6.5 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon. Among these are some acres of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, two white wine grapes rarely planted on Red Mountain, a region best known for red wine varieties.

Artz is planted on the lower bench of Red Mountain, overlooking the Yakima River.

Casey McClelland of Seven Hills Winery in Walla Walla, who bought grapes from Artz for more than a decade, said they were among the best grapes he got each vintage, often making it into his reserve blend. He described the resulting wines as classic Red Mountain, with ripe, red and black fruit with powerful structure and a line of dusty minerality running through it.

Currently, about 20 winemakers from both sides of the Cascades buy grapes from Artz, said J.J. Williams, Kiona’s manager, adding that a few of Artz’s customers overlap with Kiona’s. The Williams family has no plans to change the vineyard name, preferring to honor Fred Artz, considered a Red Mountain pioneer.

Williams said the winery plans to keep a few grapes for Kiona, planning to produce a line of vineyard-designated Cabs from Kiona’s estate vineyards.

To buy the vineyard, the Williams family sold two estate vineyards near Finley, Vista and Nine Canyons Vineyards, totaling nearly 90 acres of vines. Selling these makes perfect sense.

First of all, the Williams family’s narrative is on Red Mountain, where they planted the first grapes and launched the first winery. This is where three generations farm and make wine together. Having these wines 40 minutes away never helped tell the bigger story.

“The Williams story is about Red Mountain; this clarifies our story,” J.J. Williams said.

Having another vineyard three minutes away makes more sense from a farming operation, when it comes to picking decisions, work crews and equipment.

The two Finley vineyards will be replanted by the new owners with Cosmic Crisp apples, a highly anticipated new variety expected to be for sale this fall.

The negotiations for the Artz Vineyard sales began two years ago, and is important because land and vineyards don’t become available on Red Mountain very often. About 60 percent of the region is now under vines, leaving very little space or opportunity for future plantings. In 2017, Klipsun Vineyard was sold to Chicago-based Terlato Wines International. In recent years, Red Mountain land has sold to companies based in British Columbia and Napa Valley.

The Williams family now has 270 acres of mature vines planted on Red Mountain, and the acquisition of Artz Vineyard solidifies them as among the most important growers in the region. This fall, the Auction of Washington Wines is honoring Scott Williams as their honorary grower of the year.

A new study shows that the economic impact of the Walla Walla wine industry is big.  According to the study, released in April, the Walla Walla wine industry generates more than 2,500 jobs, equaling $25 million in labor income. Last year, the wine industry generated $115 million in retail sales, and  wine tourists spent more than $145 million last year

Acclaimed Conner-Lee Vineyard near Othello is under new ownership. The 150-acre vineyard planted in 1980 is considered one of the prize properties in the Columbia Basin by more than 60 winemakers from both sides of the Cascades. The new owners are Josh Lawrence of Lawrence Vineyards near Royal City and Tom Merkle of Wautoma Springs Vineyard, north of Benton City along Highway 240.

A Prosser winery won top honors at the seventh annual Cascadia International Wine Competition, held in April at the Courtyard Marriott in Richland.

Coyote Canyon Winery won best in show for its 2015 Sangiovese, using estate grapes grown in the Horse Heaven Hills. It was judged the best wine out of more than 1,000 entries from Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho.

Kiona Vineyards Winery on Red Mountain won best dessert wine for its 2018 Chenin Blanc Ice Wine. Kennewick winemaker Victor Palencia won best white wine for his Jones of Washington 2017 Reserve Chardonnay. Jones of Washington is based in Quincy.

Andy Perdue, editor and publisher of Great Northwest Wine and founding editor of Wine Press Northwest magazine, is the wine columnist for The Seattle Times.

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