Seven Springs/Anden Vineyards Leased Longterm to CA Winery
by Jean Yates & Christina Kelly, April, 2007©
The grapes of Seven Springs and Anden Vineyard, a longtime key vineyard source for several flagship Willamette Valley Oregon wineries, have been contracted for by a California winery. The contract is for at least ten years and includes an option to purchase the vineyard. After years of working with the vineyard's fruit, making highly rated Pinot noir and Chardonnay, Oregon wineries who have purchased Seven Springs and Anden fruit in the past will undoubtedly have to source fruit elsewhere in the future.
In negotiations with the owners, representatives of Oregon's longtime purchasers of Seven Springs and Anden fruit were unsuccessful in renewing their contracts, even after matching prices and various terms. Mark Tarlov, managing partner of California winery The Evening Lands (TEL), obtained a longterm lease for the property with an offer to buy in February, 2007.
Tarlov says TEL will produce Pinot noir from their three vineyards - a vineyard in California's Santa Rita Hills, the Occidental Vineyard on the Sonoma Coast, (source for famed Kistler Cuvee Elizabeth's before the acquisition), and now, the Seven Springs Vineyard in Oregon.
Members of the business partnership include French partners who own a Domaine in Burgundy, a restauranteur from New York, sommeliers who will make wine from Oregon Pinot noir for their restaurants, and Dorothy Cann Hamilton, founder and CEO of the James Beard Foundation.
Flagship Oregon wineries including Bethel Heights, St Innocent, and Evesham Wood will be sold limited amounts of or no grapes for their top rated Pinot noirs and Chardonnays. Adelsheim, Domaine Drouhin, and Rex Hill also made top rated wines with Seven Springs grapes in the past. Cristom's contract provides grapes through 2008.
Seven Springs Fruit in Many Well Regarded Wines
Seven Springs Vineyard, (planted 1982 - 1989), was owned by husband and wife Al MacDonald and Joni Witherspoon until their divorce in 2001. At the time of the divorce, the vineyard ownership was divided into Al's part, the older, lower elevation 50 acre section renamed "Anden Vineyard," and Joni retained the name "Seven Springs" for the newer, approximately 25 acre upper section. With Joni's death in 2003, the Seven Springs portion passed to the children, Kristen and Andrew. Now, both portions are reunited under one longterm lease to winery TEL.
Marilyn Webb, business manager and co-owner of Bethel Heights, described the change as "bittersweet." The owners of Bethel Heights and the owners of Seven Springs are longtime friends.
"In the big picture, pulling those two vineyards back under one management makes sense, says Webb. "I wish it was someone from Oregon (leasing the vineyard), but Steve Price will do an excellent job. Joni and Al's kids need time - it's dissappointing to lose the fruit, but in the big picture, it's probably what's best for the family." (Steve Price, a vineyard management consultant based in Corvallis, will manage the property for The Evening Lands).
"Our Bethel Heights Casteel Reserve Pinot noir uses Seven Springs fruit as one component of its blend," says winemaker and co-owner Terry Casteel. "It looks like we'll get a bit of fruit from Seven Springs this year. If we can get a few tons, it will allow us to transition out of the Seven Springs fruit and move to a new vineyard source."
Although Cristom had a grandfather clause giving them two years of grapes should someone take over the vineyard, Bethel Heights had a less formal agreement.
"We were so close to Joni and the kids, it seemed almost inappropriate to be so businesslike, but I guess we should have been," says Casteel. "We made our first wine from Seven Springs in 2002, and Seven Springs has become important to Bethel Heights."
Steve Doerner, winemaker at Cristom, says he's fortunate he had a more formal contract. "We've been a client of Seven Springs since 1992," said Doermer.
Doerner is already looking for other options after the 2008 vintage, the last fruit he will get Seven Springs. "It's a seller's market right now" said Doerner.
Possibilities for new fruit sources include expanding Cristom's own vineyard, or leasing from Premier Pacific, a new and large developer of Oregon vineyards with thousands of acres coming to maturity in the next few years.
Big Changes for St Innocent
Perhaps the most affected winery is St Innocent. Over a third of the Seven Springs Vineyard fruit was purchased by St Innocent in the past, along with fruit from the Anden Vineyard. Mark Vlossak, in a recent blog post, said, "I appreciate the loyalty of our customers and am very sad that the two vineyard sites will no longer be part of our portfolio. The fact that the real losers are those of you who have bought those wines loyally for years was specifically expressed to all the owners of Seven Springs and Anden. I am sorry and hope you will find pleasure in my other offerings."
Vlossak describes the events leading up to the changes: "Al MacDonald has been trying to sell Anden for several years. We tried to buy it 15 months ago, but he raised the price by 66% and I declined. I also tried to buy Seven Springs, but Andrew and Kristen had hopes to buy their fatherÕs portion and re-unify the vineyard. I had a verbal commitment from the kids to sell fruit from Seven Springs to us long-term, but was unable to get a written contract after our last one expired in 2005."
In fact, Vlossak continued to negotiate with the family for a longterm contract.
"In late January, the owner of Justice Vineyard - one of the brothers of Bethel Heights, and a fellow producer of Seven Springs - called to say that Andrew and Kristen were entertaining an offer to lease their vineyard (Seven Springs) along with their fatherÕs (Anden) on a long-term basis. Together, we began vigorous negotiations with the kids for St. Innocent to lease Seven Springs under identical terms (with our promise to sell to the other clients of Seven Springs). Anden was a done deal, I had no options there. Complicated family dynamics, shadowed communications, and behind the scenes events of operatic proportions occurred over the next two weeks."
Tarlov was negotiating for the vineyards as well, says Vlossak. "The end result was that Mark Tarlov appears to have been successful in leasing both Anden and Seven Springs for 15 years." No one from Seven Springs or Anden Vineyard has been in communication with St Innocent since the vineyard was leased to Tarlov.
The Evening Lands
Unique, Intriguing, Promising
The Evening Lands Winery has now completed its goal of acquiring three of the best Pinot noir properties in the United States from three different growing regions. Now the process of making the best possible wine from each begins.
According to Tarlov, his goal is to farm Seven Springs at the highest possible level. The phylloxera damaged sections of the vineyard will be replaced with vertically trellised, closely spaced vines. The most advanced methods of vineyard management will be implemented.
Highly regarded consultants have been involved throughout the development process. Steve Price, a respected vineyard consultant from Corvallis, has assisted in acqusition and planning, and will manage the vineyard. Tarlov is interviewing potetntial winemakers for the property, including at least one Burgundian. Dominique Lafon, a highly respected winemaker from Mersault famous for his white Burgundies has been approached to make The Evening Lands' Oregon wines. Several other Burgundian and American winemakers are also under consideration.
In 2006, The Evening Lands made a small amount of a village level Pinot noir from all three vineyards' fruit, to be called "The Evening Coast". Tarlov says, "from our Santa Rita Vineyard comes ripeness, from our Sonoma coast vineyard come wild herbal notes, and from our new Oregon property, Seven Springs, come the structure and natural acidity of Oregon Pinot noir." He says it's "quite amazing tasting".
We'll post more about this major new winery as developments occur. With their clear dedication to quality, The Evening Lands is a winery worth watching.