SONOMA — Racke Group, a German wine and spirits group that at one time owned the Haywood and Buena Vista brands, today announced the sale of The Donum Estate, a luxury-tier boutique pinot noir producer on the Sonoma County side of the Carneros appellation, to a partnership of Danish investors.
The purchase price wasn’t disclosed. The deal with Winside Inc. includes a 147-acre property with 45 acres of vineyards and several buildings, the Donum and Stemmler brands, and inventories.
The Donum Estate lead team will remain in place: Anne Moller-Racke, president and founding winegrower; Kenneth Juhasz, consulting winemaker; Frieda Guercio, national sales director; Lauro Servin, vineyard foreman; and other staff.
“We are delighted to secure both the land and the expertise behind the brands, including the person who planted these vineyards and has nurtured them for over 20 years,” said Trond Fredheim, a Winside partner. “Anne and her crew know how to coax every special nuance from these vines.”
The five Danish friends who formed Winside have a variety of business interests ranging from clothing to airlines, according to the announcement. Trond Fredheim and Daniel Aaxman met Ms. Moller-Racke after purchasing Donum’s lot at a Hospice of Sonoma auction four years ago, then brought other partners to visit.
The first release was 150 cases of 2001 Donum Carneros pinot noir retailing for $60 per bottle. Donum estate-grown wines now include one chardonnay and six pinot noir labels and retail for $50 to $100 a bottle. More than 2,500 cases are produced annually.
Donum will continue to make estate-grown pinot noir from the 11-acre Nugent Vineyard in the Russian River Valley, property has farmed since planting it to Dijon clones in 1997.
“Happily, we have always been totally quality-driven. Even with the recession, we’ve never jeopardized our ultimate goal,” said Ms. Moller-Racke. “Our new owners thoroughly appreciate and support this approach; it’s what interested them. As Europeans who are huge Burgundy lovers and collectors, they see the value of a brand connected to the land and devoted to quality.”
Donum’s potential for more estate plantings and bottlings was a consideration in the investment, according to Mr. Aaxman. “U.S. pinot noir, and Carneros wines in particular, have a bright future in the international market,” he said. “Stemmler also enjoys good brand recognition and can be further developed.”
As vice president of vineyard operations at Buena Vista Winery in 1989-90, Ms. Moller-Racke directed planting what was then called Tula Vista Ranch. Racke’s wine portfolio grew from Buena Vista, purchased in 1981, to the Robert Stemmler brand in 1989 and Haywood in 1991.
In 2001, Racke sold Haywood and Buena Vista but kept Tula Vista, renamed it The Donum Estate and put Ms. Moller-Racke in charge of an “ultimate pinot noir” project.
In the Oct. 15, 2011 issue of Wine Spectator magazine, Donum had three of the six top-ranked pinot noirs — all scoring 96 out of 100 points — and ranked among the 15 best vineyards and 20 favorite producers in Sonoma, which the publication called “California’s Burgundy.”
Ms. Moller-Racke recognized the enormous promise for pinot noir at Tula Vista, the first wind-swept hillsides rising from San Pablo Bay and developed it based on a Burgundian model. Every site was carefully matched to plant material chosen from an array of Dijon clones and heirloom selections, including Calera, Chalone, Hanzell, Martini, Swan and, especially, a Donum Roederer selection. All blocks were individually farmed, and each vine hand-worked to reach its greatest potential. Only when a site consistently yielded extraordinary quality would it be considered for designated bottling as, in effect, a grand cru.
The sale marks the end of 30 years of Racke involvement in Carneros. Anne Moller-Racke arrived in 1981 to help run the German firm’s new acquisition, Buena Vista. As Anne trained in viticulture with industry icons like Andre Tchelistcheff, she was actively involved in forming what is now the Carneros Wine Alliance and establishing Carneros as an American Viticultural Appellation.
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