Woodinville’s Columbia Winery announced this week that it will be closing its tasting room. The news came in an email to list members on Wednesday.
“Reluctantly, we must share with you that we will be closing our tasting room here in Woodinville,” the email reads. “We are so very grateful for the memories shared within these walls and will never forget the enthusiasm that is felt when you, a valued club member, enter our doors.”
The tasting room will remain open until December 22nd. A representative from the winery’s parent company, E. & J. Gallo Winery, says there are no plans to open a new tasting room for Columbia at present.
“Business has evolved and…the difficult decision has been made to close the Columbia Winery tasting room in Woodinville, Washington,” Krista Noonan, senior manager, corporate communications and PR, said via email. “As part of this consideration, E. & J. Gallo Winery spent over a year exploring options in the region for an alternate tasting room site, and we were not able to find a combination of location and business plan that would be viable.”
Columbia has been using the Woodinville building as a tasting facility since 1988. All Columbia employees will be retained through the end of the year. Columbia wines will continue to be distributed through retailers nationally. The winery also plans to maintain its wine club virtually. All of Columbia’s winemaking currently takes place in eastern Washington.
There is no news at present on what comes next for the property, which is privately owned. There are unconfirmed reports that Gallo’s lease on the property expires at the end of the calendar year.
The news of Columbia closing its tasting room comes at a transitional moment for Woodinville. Earlier this year, Chateau Ste Michelle, located across the street from Columbia, put its Woodinville property up for sale in whole or in part. Ste Michelle was the first winery in Woodinville, relocating to the town from Seattle, building a chateau, and rebranding from Ste Michelle Vintners to Chateau Ste Michelle in 1976.
Even if the sale of Ste Michelle’s Woodinville property happens, CEO David Dearie stated in September that the company plans to retain a strong Woodinville presence. However, Dearie resigned from the company shortly thereafter, and Ste Michelle is currently being run by an executive leadership team reporting to a board of directors. Ste Michelle was purchased by Sycamore Partners, a private equity firm, for $1.3B in 2021. Company officials have, however, reiterated Ste Michelle’s commitment to Woodinville.
Indeed, there has also been strong recent growth in other areas of Woodinville. Walla Walla-based Valdemar Estates and L’Ecole No. 41 recently opened tasting rooms downtown. Walla Walla Steak Co. and Crossbuck Brewing joined them.
A group of wineries, including Long Shadows, Fidélitas, and Mark Ryan are constructing tasting rooms nearby Columbia and Ste Michelle. Other areas of the town are bustling with development. Still, the loss of Columbia’s tasting room will be a significant one for the town.
Columbia Winery was originally founded in 1962 as Associated Vintners. In 1979, the winery hired Master of Wine David Lake as its winemaker. Lake would go on to have a profound effect on Washington wine – most significantly partnering with Red Willow Vineyard to plant the state’s first Syrah in 1986 – before passing in 2009. Syrah is now Washington’s third most planted red grape variety.
Seattle businessman Dan Baty, originally an investor in Associated Vintners, took over management of the company in 1981. Two years later, the winery was rebranded as Columbia. The Baty family subsequently formed Corus Brands in 1998, with Columbia and sister winery Covey Run part of the portfolio. In 2001, Constellation Brands purchased Columbia Winery and most of Corus’s other wineries.
Columbia Winery, Covey Run, and six other brands were sold to Ascentia Wine Estates in 2008 for $209M. E. & J. Gallo subsequently purchased both wineries from Ascentia in 2012. The wineries were Gallo’s first foray into Washington.
Covey Run was subsequently decommissioned. Columbia has at times seemed on uncertain footing itself, with two major label changes in the 10 years since Gallo purchased the winery.
Baty, meanwhile, went on to co-found Precept Wine Brands in 2003. (The company was subsequently rebranded Precept Wine.) Precept continues to own the name and brand for Associated Vintners. The Baty family is also believed to own Columbia’s Woodinville property.
This article has been updated. Image by Richard Duval.