Horse Heaven Hills land to be auctioned

Tri-City Herald Staff WriterFebruary 24, 2014 

— Almost 700 acres of the Horse Heaven Hills including two active vineyards are being offered for sale.

Musser Bros. Auctions and Real Estate of Pasco will auction off Windy Ridge and Aldercreek vineyards in up to four parcels April 4.

The Klickitat County vineyards are in an optimum growing area for wine grapes, said Scott Musser. The vineyards are in the Horse Heaven Hills just across the border from Benton County.

It’s the second large swatch of prime wine grape-growing land being put up for auction in recent months.

Kennewick Irrigation District recently sold 670 acres of undeveloped Red Mountain land to Aquilini Properties for $8.3 million. The land will receive Yakima River water as soon as this summer.

Musser Bros. also led that auction, where 16 grape growers and companies bid during a five-hour live auction.

Musser said he expects to see the same bidders for the Horse Heaven Hills vineyards.

Unlike Red Mountain, the new owners will be buying into an existing income stream. They will take over mid-growing season and benefit from the 2014 harvest, Musser said.

But while Red Mountain is the state’s smallest wine grape-growing area, Horse Heaven Hills is the state’s largest. It has more than 11,000 acres of active vineyards — about a quarter of the state’s acreage.

Wines from Horse Heaven Hills have received acclaim, and Forbes recently named the area one of the top six “exciting” wine grape-growing regions to explore this year.

Musser said the results of the recent Red Mountain auction inspired the current owners to use an auction to sell the land.

A farm management company has been running the vineyards. The property has been under the receivership of Shelly Crocker, a Seattle consultant. She has been in charge of operations and marketing the property for two years.

The vineyards are in good shape and ready to produce grapes, Musser said. The wine grapes are under contract with Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Of the 694 acres, about 335 are already planted with grape vines, Musser said.

There is room to plant more, but only a little well water remains available on the permit, Musser said. More water would need to be applied for in order to plant all the available land.

Some vineyards date back to the mid- to late-90s, Musser said. About 70 acres were planted as recently as last year.

Parcel 3, which includes about 76 acres and more than 63 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, is the one with the new plantings, Musser said. The harvest in 2014 will be negligible.

Parcel 1, which includes about 201 acres, features a home, two shops, a well site and about 83 acres of vineyards, said the company. There are about 30 acres each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, with the rest of the acres including Malbec, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Sangiovese.

Parcel 2, with about 120 acres, includes about 79 acres of vineyards planted with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

Parcel 4, with almost 298 acres, includes about 117 acres of wine grapes. More than 36 of the acres are Merlot. Also planted are Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.

Those who are interested in the properties can bid on one parcel, any combination of the four or on all four parcels. The auction will be at the Musser Bros. Pasco office.

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