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harvey steiman at large

Precept Swallows Waterbrook

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Dec 4, 2006 12:56am ET

From the beginning in 1983, Eric Rindal always focused on producing good value wines at his Waterbrook winery. Only the fourth winery bonded in Walla Walla, it didn't even have a public tasting room until recently. Instead, Rindal kept turning out one good wine after another in a no-nonsense winemaking facility hardly visible from the same highway that goes past fellow Washington state stalwarts L'Ecole No. 41 and Woodward Canyon.

As announced Friday, Rindal sold Waterbrook to Precept Brands, a fast-growing wine company started by former Corus Brands CEO Andrew Browne. Rindal will stay on, as will winemaker John Freeman, according to the announcement. He sees the sale as a partnership that will allow the brand to grow faster than it could without the infusion of Precept's cash and distribution.

Waterbrook's sprightly style favors bright flavors and open textures. I generally rate the wines in the mid- to high 80s, with occasional forays into the 90s, not bad for wines that usually cost less than $20. The value quotient has gotten some of the wines into the Top 100 in previous years, most recently with Mélange 2003, a red blend that sells for $13.

Precept has quietly grown into a major player. Although it's based in Washington, it has additional products coming from Australia, France, Germany, Chile, Spain and New Zealand. Although it tries to deliver better quality than you would expect for the price, Waterbrook does that even better.

This acquisition makes an interesting fit with another recent Washington purchase by Precept, the Magnificent Wine Company. Charles Smith, whose K Vintners aims for high-end Syrah, started Magnificent to make moderately priced wines from purchased grapes.

Precept's own négociant brands include Avery Lane, Pavin & Riley, Sockeye and Pine & Post, made to sell at single-digit prices. Red Knot from Australia, Red Beret from France, El Paseo from Spain and Pinot Black from Chile are also in the portfolio.

Waterbrook fits into the company's prestige level, which includes Sol Duc and Pendulum from Washington, neither of which have made a consistently solid impression yet. Waterbrook should help.

Jared Wagner
Maple Valley, WA —  December 5, 2006 12:52pm ET
Harvey,Thanks for the blog on Waterbrook. I've always enjoyed serving their Melange for larger groups and around the holidays. As far as the Magnificent Wine Company goes, does Charles still make the wine or is he completely out of the picture now? Also, do you have an estimate when you will have a tasting report of the 2004 Cayuse lineup? Thanks for all you do for Washington wine!

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