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Washington State Vineyards Attract Immigrant Investment

January 2017
by Peter Mitham

Walla Walla, Wash.—A little-known financing vehicle that garners funding from immigrant investors is fueling a 368-acre vineyard-oriented enclave in Eastern Washington.

E’ritage, located north of Walla Walla in the Palouse, will have 180 acres of vineyard planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Malbec. Development began in 2013, and the first phase (a bed and breakfast with 10 rooms and on-site restaurants) is set to wrap up in early 2017. Commercial cottages as well as a winery, tasting room and event/tourism center also are planned.

Up to 10,000 immigrant investors are granted EB-5 visas annually in exchange for significant U.S. investments in new businesses, an existing business undertaking an expansion, or a troubled business with the net result of 10 full-time jobs being created (or, in the case of a troubled business, saved). The investments set visa holders on a path to permanent residency.

Documentation associated with the project indicates that E’ritage, which received approval from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in May 2015, will create 288 jobs in Walla Walla, backed by at least $14.5 million in immigrant investment. (Total development costs are $24 million.)

Justin Wylie, winemaker at Va Piano and the project’s onsite manager, gave media a preview of the ambitious project this past summer. He declined to speak to Wines & Vines for this article, explaining, “It’s too early in the building process for me to talk about the investors.” However, approximately 90% of EB-5 participants are from China.

Several Chinese-language websites address the project, indicating that developers are seeking 29 investors willing to contribute at least $500,000 each.

Documents filed in support of the vineyard project outline plans to buy 500 acres adjacent to Wallula Vineyards, acquired by Long Shadows Vintners. Allen Shoup of Long Shadows was a partner in the project, which would see 400 acres of vineyard developed.

According to Tobin Butcher, principal of Bridge Capital in Seattle, which originally set up Farm for America to finance vineyard ventures, pairing a long-term investment from wealthy immigrants seeking permanent residency fits the needs of vineyard operators who also have a long-term view for capital investments in their operations.

“People realize that vineyards are one of those investments where you need a lot of money to start it up and you’re not going to have any revenue for the first three to five, maybe seven years,” Butcher said.

The E’ritage advisory board includes geologist Kevin Pogue, Garrett Buckland, Ben Sinner and former California lawmaker Bruce Thompson, who through Business Growth Capital LLC acquired the site out of bankruptcy proceedings in early 2013 for approximately $2 million.

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