WINERY AND INN
“It was a pleasure working with Erik and his team at Metis. They were able to find the right partners and help us structure a very complex and creative transaction with utmost professionalism and confidentiality,”
- Ken Harrison, Founder of Abeja Winery and Inn
The Abeja Winery and The Inn at Abeja were founded in 2000 by Ken and Ginger Harrison, who carefully renovated a century-old farmstead in the Walla Walla valley to create a remarkable estate home to private cottages, a working winery, vineyards, creeks, gardens, wildlife, and spectacular views of the Blue Mountains. Abeja Winery developed into a world-class producer of cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, along with small amounts of merlot, cabernet franc, viognier, and syrah crafted by veteran winemakers Daniel Wampfler and Amy Alvarez-Wampfler. The Inn at Abeja is a stunning, turn-of-the-century farmstead where original dwellings, barns, and outbuildings have been restored to offer tastefully luxurious guest accommodations. Together, the Abeja Winery and Inn form a unique property at the heart of the Walla Walla wine country.
After nearly two decades developing the must-visit destination in Walla Walla, Ken and Ginger sought a partner to further enhance Abeja’s offerings to both guests and wine collectors and secure the legacy of the property into future generations. They wanted an experienced hospitality partner with the skill and experience who would help grow and improve existing operations as well as secure the long-term legacy of Abeja.
Set on finding an operator who brought additional experience, expertise, and resources to Abeja, the Harrisons retained Metis to find the ideal candidate. Among the necessary criteria, Ken and Ginger wanted a partner that would embrace the current staff and continue the culture and spirit of Abeja. They needed a partner who not only appreciated both the Abeja Winery and The Inn at Abeja businesses individually, but also understood how each complimented the other. On top of these challenges, confidentiality was of utmost importance to protect the integrity of the world-renown organization and brand.
Understanding the Harrison’s desire for a thoughtful partner, well-versed in the luxury segment that would also be an outstanding employer the Metis team leveraged their deep knowledge of the market and identified a pool of buyers that met Ken and Ginger’s specifications. Taking into account the importance of discretion, Metis forewent the typical simultaneous market outreach approach and instead directly contacted the potential buyer at the top of the list, Columbia Hospitality.
The Seattle-based hospitality management and consulting company boasts an award-winning portfolio of hotels, golf facilities, conference centers, and residential properties known for providing best-in-class service to its guests. Under the keen eye of its founder and CEO, John Oppenheimer, Columbia Hospitality has won several awards and accolades, including best company to work for by Seattle Business magazine six years in a row. With the match made on paper, the real test came when it was time to meet in person.
From their first meeting, Ken and John found a deep connection in each other’s appreciation for the property’s unique and rich history and clear growth potential. Sitting around the fire at The Inn at Abeja, it was clear the deal was a step further to completion. With the foundation set, Metis began structuring a complex and creative transaction structure that addressed the myriad of financial, operational, and legal objectives of all of the parties involved.
The Inn at Abeja and Abeja Winery were each recapitalized in two separate transactions.
The new ownership group for The Inn at Abeja includes Columbia Hospitality CEO and founder John Oppenheimer, Arnie Prentice of USI Kibble & Prentice, as well as Ken and Ginger Harrison. John Oppenheimer is the new majority owner of The Inn and vineyards. Columbia Hospitality has been retained to manage and operate the inn and property.
In a simultaneous transaction, Ken and Ginger Harrison welcomed a group of local investors, including Arnie Prentice, as new partners to the continuing operations of the Abeja Winery. Abeja founders Ken and Ginger Harrison will remain equity partners in both the inn and the winery businesses.
All employees of Abeja have been retained, including longtime innkeeper Mary Besbris. Winemakers Daniel Wampfler and Amy Alvarez-Wampfler will continue to oversee Abeja Winery’s winemaking operations. Abeja founder Ken Harrison will continue to lead the businesses in tandem with his new partners. Under this new partnership, the team is looking forward to investing resources and expertise in creating an even greater experience for Abeja’s guests and wine lovers.