Some of the old vines at Sagemoor Vineyards are big enough for a group to stand behind. From left to right: Sagemoor employees Victor Perez; Carmen Rodriguez; Kent Waliser, general manager; Servando Rodriguez, orchard manager; Sagemoor co-owner John Vitalich; and Derek Way, vineyard manager. (Courtesy Sagemoor Farms)
Good land with water rights is getting scarce in Washington State. So when a piece comes up for sale that seems to have everything—early season cherries, the latest apple varieties, coveted wine grapes, and excellent orchard and vineyard management—it’s not hard to find a buyer.
Allan Brothers, with a century of farming history in the Yakima Valley, recently purchased Sagemoor Farms and Sagemoor Vineyards located in Pasco. The Allan family, headquartered in Naches, grows, packs, and ships apples and cherries. The Sagemoor acquisition totals 880 acres of wine grapes, 230 acres of cherries, and 190 acres of apples, bringing Allan Brothers’s holdings to around 2,400 acres. Terms of the sale were undisclosed.
Dave Allan told Good Fruit Grower they were attracted to the Sagemoor properties for several reasons. “The land is very good ground in a good growing location; it came with excellent managers; gives us diversity in the wine business; expands our early cherry program; and, it has new apple varieties like Jazz, Envy, and SweeTango.”
An early cherry program was missing from the Allan Brothers portfolio, he said, adding that the established Sagemoor cherries expands their early variety acreage. “That was a huge part of our consideration and discussions. This will allow us to extend our cherry packing window and help us recapture capital that’s required for cherry packing and spread overhead across more tonnage.”
Also, Allan believes their new presence on the front end of the cherry market will help them attract and retain customers.
Another positive that helped sweeten the sale was young SweetTango apple acreage planted at Sagemoor.
“This gives an entry into the SweetTango market,” said Allan. SweetTango, a cross between Honeycrisp and Zestar!, is managed by Next Big Thing, a growers cooperative.
And then, there’s the wine component of Sagemoor.
“There aren’t many suitable pieces of ground left in the state, especially for wine grapes,” he said, noting that wine grapes have more specific soil and microclimate needs than do apples or cherries. “We’re really optimistic about the wine grape business and believe the state has great potential for red varieties. We think Washington wines are very good and it’s a good business to get into. We like that Sagemoor has been selling grapes to medium- and small-sized wineries and are diversified in their marketing of grapes.”
In the mid-1970s, when European varieties of wine grapes were beginning to be planted in the state, Allan says he considered planting a vineyard. “But I had enough trouble growing tree fruit, so I didn’t get into it,” he said. Forty years later he’s taking the step.
The Sagemoor management team will remain in place, said Kent Waliser, general manager of Sagemoor. He noted that the sale was part of the exit strategy for the founding partners of Sagemoor.
“I’ve known George and Dave Allan for around 30 years and have served with them on various tree fruit industry organizations and boards,” Waliser told Good Fruit Grower. “Through the years, I’ve admired their progressiveness, honesty, integrity, and counsel. It’s a comfortable fit, and we have an excellent relationship.”
The linkage between Sagemoor and Allan Brothers goes beyond personal relationships. Both companies grow Jazz, Pacific Rose, and Envy, apple varieties that are part of the managed variety program of ENZA, a New Zealand apple and pear company. Allan Brothers packs the ENZA varieties for Sagemoor and has packed some of Sagemoor’s cherries in the past.
Sagemoor was founded in 1968 by prominent Seattle attorney Alec Bayless and played a pioneering role in helping establish Washington’s wine industry, supplying early wineries with grapes. Many of the company’s initial vineyards planted in 1972 are still producing. Today, some 70 wineries purchase fruit from Sagemoor’s vineyards.
International Wine Associates of Healdsburg, California, and The West One Group in Walla Walla, Washington, served as exclusive advisors and represented Sagemoor in the transaction. International Wine Associates says it has handled transactions involving Washington wine in excess of $100 million in the past 12 years. •
Melissa Hansen is the research program director for the Washington Wine Commission. Hansen previously was an associate editor at Good Fruit Grower from 1996 through 2015. Read her stories: Author Index