“Erik and the METIS team advised us expertly throughout the process. They brought multiple buyers to the table, found the right parties who would build on the legacy of the vineyard, and negotiated a deal that everyone was excited about. I don’t think this deal would have gotten done without their persistence, dedication to detail, and industry relationships.”
Charlie Conner, Conner Lee Vineyards
Conner Lee Vineyards is one of the most highly regarded and recognized vineyards in Washington State. First planted in 1980 under the careful instruction of Washington State University’s renown viticulturist and researcher, Dr. Walter Clore, it is widely regarded as one of the top Chardonnay sites in the Pacific Northwest. Bordeaux varietal bottlings from the vineyard have been amongst Washington’s highest scoring wines. Over 60 wineries have produced outstanding wines from the 150 acre vineyard over the years and the current client list includes such highly regarded producers as Abeja, Bookwalter, Buty, Gorman, and Long Shadows.
The Vineyard had been a partnership of multiple families for nearly 40 years and as the founders aged and their adult children had varying levels of interest in the property, it was decided the best solution was to sell the vineyard for estate planning purposes. The challenge was to find a buyer who could handle such a large, premium vineyard without disrupting fruit supply for the many winery partners who rely on the vineyard to produce some of their best wines. Conner Lee had always been a passion project for the founders and they wanted to hand it over to someone who was interested and capable of honoring and building upon the legacy of the property and the winemaker relationships built over the years. The challenge was further compounded by oversupply in the current Washington grape market, necessitating a buyer with a long-term, strategic vision for the property.
METIS conducted an extensive search of potential buyers which included wineries and growers from Washington, Oregon, California, Europe, and Asia as well as financial entities and agricultural enterprises looking to diversify into wine grapes. Several different business plans were explored including maintaining existing operations as a vineyard only, vertical integration, and multi-crop integration. The process resulted in multiple offers on the property, which proceeded to a very quick close.
The buyer ultimately selected is a partnership of grape growing and winemaking families from the area.
Ultimately, the buyer was a combination of two Parties, Josh Lawrence (of Lawrence Vineyards and Gård Vintners) and Tom Merkle (of Wautoma Springs Vineyard and Wautoma Springs Wines). The two multi-generational wine grape growers formed a partnership specifically to acquire and operate the historic Conner Lee Vineyard. Josh and Tom plan to maintain relationships with the existing winery clients as well as make wine from Conner Lee at their own wineries. Both have extensive farming operations in the area, so adding Conner Lee to their portfolios allowed them to leverage their existing teams and infrastructure while adding further diversity of terroir to the fruit available to themselves and their clients. Josh Lawrence said, “the opportunity to purchase a vineyard of this size, age, and reputation does not come around often and we felt it would be a great complement to our current vineyards on the Royal Slope.”