Former Patit Creek Cellars co-owner buys Trio Vintners

The winery, which was the first graduate of a Port of Walla Walla incubator, is now owned by Karn La Bonté

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WALLA WALLA -- Trio Vintners is starting the new year with a single owner. The Walla Walla winery that opened in 2006 and became known for its Italian varietals has changed hands.

Founders and co-winemakers Denise Slattery and Steve Michener have sold the business to Karen La Bont, a Walla Walla resident and former co-owner of Patit Creek Cellars. The purchase price was not disclosed.

"We have found in Karen a person who is as deeply passionate as we are about every aspect of the winemaking business, from continuing our personal style of winemaking and customer relations to growing the brand beyond the Pacific Northwest," Slattery said in a prepared statement.

Trio Vintners' downtown tasting room at 102 S. Second Ave. will re-open Feb. 17 after a brief winter break, according to the announcement. New hours of operation -- 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, or by appointment -- will begin then.

The winery was the first graduate of the Port of Walla Walla's winery incubator program. The new tasting room opened in the Drumheller Building last summer. Slattery said she and Michener had not been contemplating an ownership change until they were approached by La Bont.

"Life does kind of take funny turns," Slattery said this morning. "It seemed like in these times an offer was something to take a look at."

She and Michener had originally started the venture with a third partner, Tim Boushey, after making a move to Walla Walla from San Francisco. They became sole owners a couple of years ago. Over the course of the business they launched the wine brand, established retail and on-premise distribution in Seattle, Portland and Spokane and built production to about 1,500 cases annually of Sangiovese, Mourvedre, Tempranillo and more from Walla Walla and Eastern Washington vineyards.

La Bont joined Walla Walla's wine industry as co-owner of Patit Creek Cellars in 2008. She had retired from a 30-year corporate career where she worked as director of network engineering for Verizon Communications. With a long-range goal of owning a winery, she devoted weekends to learning about enology and viticulture and worked at various wineries among numerous appellations.

Slattery and Michener plan to continue to have a presence in the Walla Walla wine industry in a yet-to-be-determined role. Michener will continue as a registered nurse at Providence St. Mary Medical Center. Slattery may use her extensive background in marketing in a future role.

"We had a goal to start a winery and to take it through the incubator phase and move it out of there and really build a brand," Slattery said. "I think we achieved that and made some pretty good wine to boot. I feel really good about it."

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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