Business

Longtime Whatcom winery up for sale

eabell@bhamherald.com

After leaving his mark in two very different industries, Randy Finley is ready to retire and try to relax on the weekends.

Finley, who operates Mount Baker Vineyards & Winery with his wife, Patricia Clark-Finley, has decided to put the business and property up for sale. The asking price for the property, which includes a vineyard, tasting room and operating facilities, is $1.3 million. The listing agent for the property is Eric Larson of Coldwell Banker Bain.

I’ve had a wonderful time making wine, dinners and meeting so many people. It’s been a blast.

Randy Finley, Mount Baker Vineyards & Winery

Finley bought the vineyard in 1989 and has become known for successfully growing grapes in Western Washington, a challenging task in the cold, wet climate. In Seattle, he is perhaps better known for building a movie theater company that, at its peak, operated 26 independent movie theaters in the Northwest in the 1970s and ’80s.

“I’ve had a wonderful time making wine, dinners and meeting so many people,” said Finley, 73. “It’s been a blast.”

Finley is the latest to announce he is retiring in what is becoming a year of change for many longtime Whatcom County businesses. The transitions include The Bagelry, which changed ownership in January, along with the recent announced sales of Greenhouse and BelleWood Acres.

Both Finley and Larson believe a buyer can be found who would continue the winery, and said there’s plenty of opportunity for growth, including adding a brewery. Larson said that while it’s not figured into the asking price, the Mount Baker brand itself has value.

In operating the winery for more than 25 years, Finley kept production levels relatively small and aimed for quality and variety, making wine with no added chemicals. Along with reds and whites, Mount Baker also makes dessert and sparkling wines, as well as a plum wine. The winery has the capacity to make about 20,000 cases a year.

Many people might not have realized they drank a glass of Mount Baker wine. For years, the vineyard was a major supplier to Seattle’s Space Needle, and has supplied private-label bottles to a variety of regional restaurants and stores, including D’Anna’s Cafe Italiano and Everybody’s Store.

Clark-Finley creates the unique artwork for the various labels. Many of those restaurants and stores created customers for Mount Baker, Finley said.

After people discovered the wine, many have traveled to Deming to visit the tasting room, saying they had tried the wine elsewhere or heard about it through friends, he said.

All of the grapes grown at Mount Baker are early-ripening and acclimated to colder climates, Finley said. Even so, growing grapes there is risky because one badly timed rainstorm around harvest time could ruin the crop.

The winery also brings in grapes from Eastern Washington, which is crucial during the bad growing years. When buying from other growers, a good reputation is crucial.

“You have to convince growers that you won’t ruin their reputation,” Finley said.

BIG ROLE IN SEATTLE MOVIE SCENE

People who meet Finley quickly learn that his other passion is movies, particularly foreign films, and literature. He opened a bookstore in Seattle in the 1960s, but saw the possibility of making money showing foreign films. He was part of a group that opened the Movie House in Seattle’s University district, which was a small theater that couldn’t make much money on its own.

He continued to expand, growing to 26 theaters that became known for showing foreign films. According to Historylink.org, Finley was also successful getting films seen by moviegoers. The article says he purchased a French film, “King of Hearts,” for $25,000. Finley developed an ad campaign and traveled the country promoting the film. According to the article, the movie grossed more than $4 million, of which Finley’s company kept about $1 million.

By the 1980s he began clashing with bigger movie chains, and filed an anti-trust lawsuit claiming he was being denied a chance to show first-run films. Finley ended being one of the few to win such a case, but was worn out from it and the industry and decided to buy the Mount Baker Winery in 1989.

He felt good about leaving what he felt at the time was a tough, cut-throat industry, but the wine industry also has its challenges.

“There is too much competition,” he said. “I thought it would be much easier.”

If a new buyer is found, Finley is open to the idea of helping for a while, but he is also looking forward to a break.

The one piece of advice he would offer whoever takes it over would be to keep the integrity of the brand.

“The one thing that makes us attractive is that we don’t use chemicals,” Finley said, adding that’s what many customers have come to appreciate.

RELATED VIDEO: Promotional sport for Mount Baker Vineyards

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

  Comments