The latest winery deal in the Pacific Northwest doesn't involve investors from California or Burgundy. Oregon's Willamette Valley Vineyards, known for Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, has purchased Maison Bleue, which makes wine in Oregon and Washington, for an undisclosed amount. The deal includes the winery's brand and inventory, as well as a tasting room it currently shares with Willamette Valley Vineyards in downtown Walla Walla. Founder Jon Meuret will continue to make the wines.
The deal cements a partnership between Willamette Valley Vineyards and Meuret, who has worked as consulting winemaker for the company's Cabernet-focused label, Pambrun Wines, since 2015. As part of the deal, Maison Bleue will make Syrah from a nearby vineyard that Willamette Valley Vineyards has been developing.
"The acquisition made a lot of sense for us," Meuret told Wine Spectator, adding that he wanted to step away from the business side of Maison Bleue to focus on the winemaking and viticulture. "It's going to allow us to have our own estate vineyards and have more control" over the grapes.
A decade ago, Meuret decided to shift from his career as a dentist to winemaking full-time after helping to establish a winery and vineyard near Kanas City, Mo., where his dental practice was located. He moved his family to Washington state and launched Maison Bleue with his wife, Amy, in 2007. The winery focuses on Rhône-style wines and Chardonnay, producing around 2,000 cases a year from vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley. His Syrahs have earned outstanding scores.
Willamette Valley Vineyards turned to Meuret to help them find a site to plant Syrah in The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater, a subappellation on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley. In 2016, the company purchased 36 acres on the eastern side of the appellation at an elevation of 940 feet. "It's a warmer site compared to other areas in The Rocks AVA," said Meuret. Willamette Valley Vineyards managers initially asked if he wanted to buy the grapes, but later offered to buy the winery and keep him on as winemaker for its Walla Walla projects.
According to Willamette Valley Vineyards winery director Christine Clair, 5 acres of their Walla Walla property is being planted to Syrah, with additional acreage planned over time. "We are growing [Maison Bleue] mainly as a direct-to-consumer brand," she said. Clair notes that there is the potential to increase production to 5,000 cases, with the focus on Syrah. They also plan to build a winery and tasting room for Maison Bleue and Pambrun on the property.
Willamette Valley Vineyards is a publicly traded company that was founded in 1983 by Jim Bernau, when he cleared a plum orchard and planted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In 2015, the company launched a new wine division and purchased 89 acres of land on the Oregon side of Walla Walla Valley for Pambrun Wines. "We wanted to tell the Oregon wine story by looking at new appellations," said Clair, who explained that the company was drawn by the region's reputation for Syrah and Cabernet. "We want to be a leader in [The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater]."