By Emily Hamann
The Bellingham Business Journal
After making it big in the movie theater business in Seattle, then the wine business in Whatcom County, Randy Finley is ready to retire.
Finley has owned and operated Mount Baker Vineyards and Winery with his wife Patricia Clark-Finley for more than 25 years. Now it’s up for sale.
Finley manages to grow about 22 tons of grapes a year on the winery in Deming — a rare feat for this side of the mountains. Most grapes prefer the dry and hot weather in Eastern Washington.
“The oddball grapes are the only ones that survive over on the west side,” he said.
Since taking over the winery in 1989, he has added to the facility, including an event venue, two banquet rooms and a 17,000 square-foot refrigerated warehouse. That cold storage was a significant investment, but is important in making wine without preservatives, Finley said.
“I’m not trying to be organic,” he said, “But I’m trying to be chemical-free.”
His wines have won awards, including taking a gold in the San Francisco Wine Awards.
The property is listed at $1.3 million. The listing agent is Eric Larson of Coldwell Banker Bain.
Finley found a roundabout way into the wine business.
He started in the movie industry. Or more accurately, the book industry. His dream was to open a bookstore in the University District.
To draw people in, he showed movies that were based on books. It all grew from his first theater, The Movie House. At the peak of his movie career, Finley had 26 movie theaters, the Northwest’s largest chain of independent movie theaters.
“I was having a heck of a good time doing it,” he said. Then, he says, competitors started trying to muscle him out of the business.
They worked together to buy up all the rights to the good films, he said. In 1984, he filed an antitrust suit against the bigger chains, and he won. But, he was burnt out on the whole business.
He came to the county and met Al Stratton, the founder and then-owner of Mount Baker Winery.
He was looking to get out of the wine business and convinced Finley to take over the winery, despite knowing nothing about wine.
He remembers to himself, “It can’t be that hard. I’ve done a lot of hard stuff before.”
When he took it over, the winery was in bad shape.
“It was very nearly bankrupt,” he said. “They were going to close it down.”
The winery was only pulling in business from cars that passed by.
Finely developed contacts and got his wine in restaurants and stores up and down the I-5 corridor in Washington.
Mount Baker supplies wine to be sold under a private label to a variety of Seattle restaurants, including the Space Needle and Kaspars catering.
“It’s doing well,” Finley said. “It pays its bills.”
He said the winery has potential to expand even more, but that will be the job of the next person who runs it. Now, he and his wife are looking forward to retiring to the coast.
“I’m in my 70s now,” he said, “so I’m not really pushing to build an empire.”