Trade war? New owners of Mount Baker Vineyards ready to do business in China

Workers harvest pinot gris grapes at Mount Baker Vineyards  west of Deming on Nov. 1, 2011.
Workers harvest pinot gris grapes at Mount Baker Vineyards west of Deming on Nov. 1, 2011. The Bellingham Herald file

Baker Vineyards & Winery has a new owner who has big plans for the winery and the local community.

A company from China called Sunking Finance Group has purchased the facility from Randy Finley and Patricia Clark-Finley, who operated Mount Baker Vineyards for more than 25 years.

The new owners plan on adding a key component to the business: Exporting wine produced in the facility to China. The move would mean more jobs and a revitalized part of Whatcom County, said Hui Kok, CEO of Mount Baker Vineyards.

The winery at 4298 Mt. Baker Highway currently is closed for remodeling, but the tasting room is scheduled to open this summer, Kok said. As the grape production here gets on track, the owners also will buy grapes grown elsewhere in the state and turning it into wine this summer.

The vineyard is the first company Sunking has purchased in the U.S. The company first looked at wineries around the West Coast including California, said Jonathan Han, chairman of the company, through a translator at an event introducing the new owners at the winery on Tuesday.

However, they started zeroing in on Washington state because of the quality of grapes grown here. Han also has been impressed at how welcoming people are here, he said.

"We intend to work from the ground up to build relationships with this community," he said. That includes working with local companies on projects, as well as hiring workers.

One thing they aren't focused on is the growing trade war between China and the U.S., said Ron Lewis, business development director for Mount Baker Vineyards and Sunking.

"This is an effort to communicate between the business and people of the two countries," Lewis said. "It's about an opportunity, not politics."

At its peak, Mount Baker Vineyards had around 23 employees. The new ownership hopes to have more employees, but is still working on its business plan and doesn't yet have job projections, Han said.

Sunking is a global investment brokerage company that helps people open stock accounts, including for The Stock Exchange of Hong Kong, according to its website.

China is experiencing a wine boom, with retail sales increasing 20 percent a year, said Jeff Ou, senior vice president of Sunking, through a translator.

The new owners see other possible business opportunities in the area, including Whatcom County's growing raspberry and blueberry industries..

Randy Finley, co-owner and president of Mount Baker Vineyards and Winery, talks about the past and future of the business on Tuesday, May 3, in Deming, Wash. The winery is currently for sale.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz