Ste. Michelle buys Eola-Amity Hills vineyard for Erath Winery

By on March 12, 2014

Erath Winery winemaker Gary Horner works in Dundee, Oregon.

Gary Horner, head winemaker at Erath, stands in Prince Hill Vineyard in Oregon’s Dundee Hills. He will have his own estate vineyard with the purchase of Willakia. (Photo courtesy of Erath)

DUNDEE, Ore. – Erath winemaker Gary Horner has a new vineyard to play with.

Ste. Michelle Wine Estates has purchased Willakia Vineyard in Oregon’s Eola-Amity Hills for Erath, one of Oregon’s oldest and most respected wineries. Ste. Michelle purchased the winery from founder Dick Erath in 2006.

“Willakia Vineyard is a dream vineyard for a winemaker,” Horner said. “It offers this great combination of small blocks planted with diverse clones and rootstocks at different aspects, slopes and orientations. It will give me a broad array of fruit styles to craft beautiful estate wines.”

The Eola-Amity Hills is one of six small American Viticultural Areas in the northern Willamette Valley. It is northwest of the capital city of Salem and is distinctly different from the rest of the region. Cool afternoon winds drive through the Van Duzer corridor, a gap in the Coast Range that allows breezes directly from the ocean some 30 miles to the west.

The earliest plantings in the area go back to the early 1970s, when Myron Redford established Amity Vineyards. The AVA is 37,900 acres in size.

Willakia is on 298 acres of land, with 90 acres planted to Pinot Noir and 21 acres planted to Chardonnay. The vineyard, which is LIVE and Salmon-Safe certified, has another 30 acres of potential vineyard space.

Willakia first Oregon vineyard owned by Ste. Michelle

Erath Winery is in Oregon's Dundee Hills.

Erath Winery’s tasting room is in the Dundee Hills. Winemaker Gary Horner makes more than a dozen different Pinot Noirs here. (Photo courtesy of Erath)

This is Ste. Michelle’s first vineyard in Oregon. It owns more than 3,800 acres of vineyards in Washington and California but until now has relied on contracted acreage in Oregon — includes vineyards owned by Dick Erath that surrounded the Dundee Hills winery.

Ted Baseler, president and CEO of Ste. Michelle, called the Willakia Vineyard purchase part of the company’s commitment to crafting terroir-based wines.

“Erath is one of the founding wineries of the Oregon wine industry,” he said. “Our acquisition of the Willakia Vineyard demonstrates our commitment to upholding Erath’s legacy as the leading Pinot Noir producer in Oregon. We are very excited to expand Ste. Michelle’s vineyard holdings with a site that was planted to produce iconic wines and that also has the potential for a future winery.”

Horner added that the vineyard was planted with the intention of producing fruit for high-tier winemaking.

“I am excited to build its reputation in future single-vineyard bottlings for Erath,” he said.

erath-winery-signHorner already makes no fewer than 15 Pinot Noirs for Erath Winery, including four separate wines from Prince Hill Vineyard in the Dundee Hills. Horner’s current lineup does not include a wine designated from the Eola-Amity Hills. It and tiny Ribbon Ridge are the only two Willamette Valley AVAs not yet represented on an Erath Pinot Noir label.

Since purchasing Erath Winery, Ste. Michelle has given Horner all the equipment he could possibly want. As a result, the winery’s production has doubled to more than 150,000 cases, making it one of Oregon’s largest producers.

Ste. Michelle, which owns Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest, 14 Hands and other wineries, is Washington’s largest producer. It also owns two wineries in California and co-owns famed Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in Napa Valley with Marchese Antinori.

Baseler told Great Northwest Wine that he is thrilled with the direction Erath Winery has taken since the company purchased it.

“This winery for us is a home run,” he said. “It’s over the fence, beyond our expectations. We have been able to take the single-vineyard wines and dramatically increase the ratings and critical acclaim. Gary is making more of them than the old days.”

And now he is likely to add at least one more to his lineup.

About Andy Perdue

Andy Perdue is the editor and publisher of Great Northwest Wine. He is a third-generation journalist who has worked at newspapers since the mid-1980s and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Eric Degerman and served as its editor-in-chief for 15 years. He is a frequent judge at international wine competitions. He is the author of "The Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook" (Sasquatch, 2003) and has contributed to four other books. He writes about wine for The Seattle Times. You can find him on Twitter and .

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Afternoon Brief, March 12 : WIN Advisor

  2. Pingback: Elk Cove Vineyards adds 69-acre site in Yamhill-Carlton AVA - Great Northwest Wine

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