One of the most recognized vineyards in the state will be under new ownership.
Conner Lee Vineyards — the property outside of Othello whose grapes have produced wines for more than 60 wineries over the years, including Walla Walla’s Abeja, Buty and Long Shadows Vintners — will be acquired by Josh Lawrence and Tom Merkle.
Financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed by METIS, the Walla Walla-based firm that was transactional adviser on the deal.
First planted in 1980, the Conner Lee Vineyards are now widely considered one of the top chardonnay sites in the Pacific Northwest, the announcement said. Bordeaux varietal bottlings from the vineyard have been among the state’s highest scored wines.
The vineyard is characterized by its fine sandy loam soils and a relatively cool, long ripening season.
Grapes were first planted there by Dick and Louis Owings under the instruction of the late Walter Clore, the Washington State University viticulturist and researcher. The property got is name when Rhoady Lee, Bill Conner and Jack Sullivan joined as partners.
For the last 30 years it has been managed by Tom Thorsen, the announcement said.
“This vineyard has been a partnership of families for quite some time,” said Bill Conner’s son Charlie in a prepared statement. “We are excited to be handing it over to two other families who plan to continue it as their own family partnership. We have every confidence in Josh and Tom and their commitment and ability to build upon the legacy of quality that our parents worked hard to establish for the vineyard these many years.”
Lawrence was raised in an Eastern Washington farm family and became head of the business, Lawrence Enterprises. The outfit owns and manages a portfolio of vineyards on the Royal Slope, as well as Gard Vintners in Walla Walla.
“The opportunity to purchase a vineyard of this size, age and reputation does not come around often and we felt it would be a great complement to our current vineyards on the Royal Slope,” he said in the announcement.
He invited longtime friend and grower Merkle to join him in the acquisition.
Merkle is a second-generation Washington wine grape grower who owns Wautoma Springs Vineyard and Wautoma Springs Wines, along with winemaker Jessica Munnell. He was named Honorary Grower of the Year by the Auction of Washington Wines in 2017.
“Conner Lee has an excellent reputation for quality and adds diversity in locations and options for our winery, as well as other wineries we will be working with in the future,” he said in the announcement.
Those interested in purchasing fruit from Conner Lee Vineyard should contact Merkle or Lawrence.