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California’s Vintage Wine Estates Buys Historic Washington Winery Tamarack Cellars

The Sonoma-based wine company was looking for a Walla Walla brand with history and quality
Tamarack’s winery is located on the grounds of an old airport in Walla Walla.
Photo by: Courtesy Tamarack Wine Cellars
Tamarack’s winery is located on the grounds of an old airport in Walla Walla.

Bryce Wiatrak
Posted: January 17, 2018

California wineries continue to look northward for expansion, this time to Washington state. Sonoma-based wine group Vintage Wine Estates has acquired the historic Walla Walla winery Tamarack Cellars for an undisclosed amount. The sale closed Jan. 16.

The deal includes Tamarack Cellars’ production facilities, tasting room and inventory. The winemaking team, led by Danny Gordon, and the rest of Tamarack Cellars’ employees, will stay on through the transition. Vintage Wine Estates will also maintain Tamarack Cellars’ long-term grower relationships. Tamarack does not own any vineyards.

The change of hands also marks the retirement of Ron Coleman, founder and longtime winemaker at Tamarack Cellars. “The time was right. I had a good run—I just turned 66 this week,” Coleman told Wine Spectator. He added that he’s looking forward to taking more time to travel with his wife, Jamie.

Ron and Jamie moved to Walla Walla in 1993, when the wine region was in its infancy, founding Tamarack Cellars five years later. “When we moved to Walla Walla in 1993, there were 5 wineries in town,” said Ron. “When we started the winery in 1998 there were only 10 or 12, and I thought we might be too late. No one saw it coming.” Today, there are more than 60 wineries in the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance alone, representing an AVA that traverses the Washington-Oregon border.

Coleman launched the winery inside a 1940s firehouse at a refurbished airport, where the Tamarack Cellars’ facilities remain today. The site gives its name to Tamarack Cellars’ popular Firehouse Red, a blend of predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot that has been included twice among Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the Year. (Tamarack has made the list a total of three times).

While Coleman no longer holds a position with the winery he created, he is confident to have left Tamarack Cellars in capable hands. “They will bring the resources needed to continue to build the brand,” he said.

Pat Roney, president and founding partner of Vintage Wine Estates, says that the short term will remain “business as usual” at Tamarack Cellars. The Vintage Wine Estates sales team will aim to expand Tamarack Cellars’ distribution around the country. In addition, Vintage Wine Estates will be consolidating some of their other Washington state projects at the Tamarack Cellars facilities.

Production at Tamarack Cellars is currently about 25,000 cases a year. “We’d like to ramp that up to 50,000 cases over the next few years,” said Roney.

The Tamarack Cellars acquisition comes off a string of recent purchases by Vintage Wine Estates. It purchased the Layer Cake, Cherry Pie, and If You See Kay brands this past December. It bought Willamette Valley property Firesteed this past June, as well as the Cameron Hughes brand in January 2017. The company now owns more than two dozen brands.

According to Roney, the company looked at several wineries in Washington over the past year. Roney points to increasing market recognition of Washington wine as one of the company’s chief motivations. “Consumers all over the country want wines from Washington, and we want to participate in that,” he said.

As for what drew the company to Tamarack Cellars, “They’ve got history, they’ve been in the market a long time, and they have great quality wines,” noted Roney.

Tamarack Cellars is not the first pioneering Walla Walla winery to change ownership within the past few years. Seven Hills Winery, founded in 1988, was acquired by Napa-based Crimson Wine Group in 2016, and Myles Anderson, who established Walla Walla Vintners in 1995, sold his share of the company to a Portland software developer last February.

“You’re going to see more of that, because these wineries are getting to the point where it’s time to pass the baton,” said Coleman.

Coleman views this new era for Walla Walla as a positive development in a natural maturation for the region. “Having an entity like Vintage enter Walla Walla is beneficial to the whole industry,” he said. “Their sales team is all over the country and they will be building not just the Tamarack brand, but also the Walla Walla and Washington State brand.”

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