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Originally published Friday, December 14, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Columbia Winery announces move

Columbia Winery, one of Woodinville's top tourist draws, will leave its iconic building next year and move its winemaking and bottling operations...

Seattle Times business reporter

Columbia Winery, one of Woodinville's top tourist draws, will leave its iconic building next year and move its winemaking and bottling operations to Eastern Washington.

The winery is looking for space in or near Woodinville for its retail and hospitality facilities and does not know yet what will happen to its 54 employees. About 20 work in bottling and winemaking, which will move to Sunnyside in the Yakima Valley, where most of Columbia's wines are made.

The move has nothing to do with the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train eliminating its Columbia Winery stop earlier this year, said Glenn Coogan, vice president of Northwest operations for Icon Estates, which runs Columbia, Hogue Cellars and Covey Run wineries. Icon is owned by the alcoholic-beverage conglomerate Constellation Brands in upstate New York.

"That didn't affect sales," Coogan said. "We thought it would make a difference, but it gave us the opportunity to tailor smaller events, including tastings, local jazz artists and consumer events, that were made difficult while tending to a train with a couple of hundred people."

Columbia, which has been at the Woodinville location nearly 20 years, was not able to reach a new lease agreement with the building's owners, he said. Its lease ends April 30.

Stan Baty, who owns the building with his brother, Brandon, said Columbia chose not to exercise a five-year lease extension.

"We're looking to replace them with another winery tenant and are in discussions with several at the moment," Baty said.

Owns brands

His father, Dan, was the majority owner of Columbia, Covey Run and other wine brands when Constellation bought them in 2001. The family still owns several wine brands under the Corus Estates & Vineyards umbrella.

Baty wouldn't comment on whether Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, which sits across the street, is eyeing the Columbia space. Ste. Michelle spokesman Keith Love said it has no plans to expand there.

Columbia's decision to leave surprised Woodinville's business community, which counts on the winery as an anchor for its burgeoning wine and tourism business.

"They've been a stable point here in Woodinville, so to lose them is kind of a shock," said John Erdman, executive director of the Woodinville Chamber of Commerce.

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Sold to restaurants

Most of Columbia's wine is sold to restaurants and retailers rather than directly to consumers, Coogan said.

The Woodinville building, which appears on many of Columbia's bottle labels, attracted tourists, weddings and other events, but "in the end, the weddings and meetings are not our core business," he said. "We're a wine-making operation."

Columbia shares a winery in Sunnyside with Covey Run, and Coogan said it will be more efficient to have all of Columbia's winemaking and bottling in one location. It will also be closer to the grapes.

"We have a very small amount of production over here," Coogan said of Woodinville. "The economics and logistics and quality support the move."

This will be Columbia's fifth move since it began in 1962 in the Seattle garage of a founder.

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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