Mazama-based winery changes hands 20 years after founding
In a sense, the new owners of Lost River Winery were part of the business even before the sale of the 20-year-old operation closed in late February.
Rick and Joanne Coursey sold the first crop of grapes they’ve been growing near their home in Milton-Freewater, Oregon, to the longtime owners of the Mazama-based winery — John Morgan, his ex-wife Barbara and marketing/sales manager Liam Doyle — last summer, and so contributed directly to the 2021 vintages.
At the time, the Courseys and Lost River’s then-owners were in negotiations over sale of the winery, and getting to know each other in the process. Each side came away impressed.
“It’s a terrific fit,” John Morgan said of the Courseys. “They’re very nice folks. I’m really pleased to have somebody who is such a good fit.”
“He [Morgan] has done a great job,” Rick Coursey said in an interview this week. “That’s what attracted us.”
The sale closed Feb. 28. Morgan, who announced the owners’ intentions to sell the winery in January 2021, called the sale process “a roller coaster” because of all its business and regulatory complexities.
He said two “serious” potential buyers, including the Courseys, emerged through the efforts of Oliver Kotelnikov of IBA business brokers in Seattle. Kotelnikov’s firm has facilitated the sale of other local businesses, Morgan said.
Coursey said he and his wife began researching wineries for sale in the region about a year ago, and came across the Lost River listing. “We were definitely excited,” he said.
No big changes
The winery’s current employees are being kept on through the transition, Morgan said. He said the now-previous owners will provide help as needed. Coursey said he doesn’t anticipate many near-term changes in the winery’s operations. “They sell a great product at a reasonable price,” Coursey said of Lost River.
Coursey said about 50% of Lost River’s sales are in grocery stores and restaurants. “We’ll be focusing on those retail accounts,” he said.
Having completed the legal sales documents, Coursey said what now remains is regulatory approval of the sale. “Hopefully, that won’t take much longer,” he said.
Coursey said he’s looking forward to the new business as a “retirement” venture, after having worked previously as an international adviser with the U.S. State Department, for the state of Oregon, and as a beer and wine distributor in Alaska.
The Courseys intend to move to the Methow Valley as soon as possible, and are looking for housing. They will be assisted here by daughter Christie Gilbert, who will be working at the Winthrop tasting room. Joanne Coursey has a background in restaurants, retail and beverage sales, her husband said, and will be involved in that aspect of the business.
Coursey has been accumulating a variety of winemaking training, including online courses at Purdue University and gaining certification from the University of California at Davis, a highly regarded resource for aspiring vintners. Morgan also took courses at UC Davis.
As for the 6-acre vineyard the Courseys have been cultivating near their Oregon home, it’s already part of the Lost River legacy thanks to last summer’s harvest ending up in the Methow. “Everything we grew, we shipped to Winthrop, and John made wine out of them,” Coursey said.
Appreciation for wine
Lost River Wines was launched in 2002 by Morgan and his ex-wife, Barbara. Morgan was a civil engineer specializing in road construction, and had no background in wine-making. But he grew up a family that appreciated wines. His father was a collector of distinct vintages.
Doyle arrived in the valley in 2004 after working in the restaurant industry in Connecticut and became a vital factor in the company’s success, Morgan said in an interview last year.
Morgan said in 2021 that while Lost River had grown every year since its inception — including during coronavirus pandemic — it was time to part with the winery and look for new challenges.
The “boutique” winery’s production has grown from about 400 cases (4,800 bottles) in 2002 to more than 4,000 cases/48,000 bottles in 2020. Its proprietary blends include Cedarosa, Community Red, Massif, Rainshadow and Cote-Wall.
The winery has production facilities in the Mazama area, and owns a warehouse on Horizon Flats Road in Winthrop. At one time, Lost River had its own tasting room near the Pike Place Market in Seattle, but now shares a tasting room with other wineries in the market’s Post Alley.
Lost River wines are sold at dozens of retail outlets around the state and throughout the valley, but its high-profile tasting room in Winthrop has been the introductory point for many fans.
“It was a great run,” Morgan said of his two decades of winemaking. “I have no regrets. I’ve met a lot of terrific people over the years.”
Morgan said he intends to stay in the valley for the “foreseeable future” and work on some “bucket list” trips he has in mind. “I don’t play to retire,” he said. “I’ll stay active.”