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North Bay Business Journal

Wednesday, July 25, 2012, 5:11 pm

Vintage Wine buys big Mendocino winery

Growing portfolio plans to shift production to expanded Hopland winery

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    HOPLAND — Santa Rosa-based Vintage Wine Estates, which has been purchasing a number of wineries in recent years, purchased a large-scale custom winemaking facility near Hopland in Mendocino County from Lodi-based Weibel Vineyards and Winery, the companies announced.

    The deal includes the 40,000-square-foot winery at 13300 Buckman Dr. and an a 24-acre estate vineyard in the McDowell Valley American Viticultural Area. Also on the property are a guest house and a facility annually capable of crushing 4,000 to 5,000 tons of grapes and bottling roughly 350,000 cases of wine. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

    Vintage Wine Estates had been looking for a larger main winery facility for a while to replace Grove Street Winery in Healdsburg, even considering the former Buena Vista winery on Ramal Road in Los Carneros appellation, according to managing partner Pat Roney. The company will look for another producer to take its place at Grove Street.

    “Zoning for ag and wineries in Mendocino doesn’t have use permits,” he said. “We have an opportunity to do tremendous expansion.”

    The Healdsburg winery also has an unlimited production permit, but the company doesn’t own the building and is constrained on adding to it, he said. Even though the new main winery will be farther north from the company’s administrative offices in north Santa Rosa, it still will be faster to get there than to the Girard and Cosentino wineries in Napa Valley — 35 minutes vs. one hour, Mr. Roney said.

    Production of Girard and Cosentino will remain where they are now, Mr. Roney said.

    Plans for the Hopland winery include adding wine storage and installing a state-of-the-art bottling line. It will be renamed Ray’s Station after one of four brands it acquired from Jackson Family Wines in September. The other three — Acre, Geode and Horse’s Play — are being used for private or control labels. Jackson sold the Camelot, Pepi and Tin Roof brands to O’Neill Vintners & Distillers at the same time.

    Grape sourcing for the Ray’s Station brand will be shifted from Sonoma County to Mendocino County, according to Mr. Roney.

    “With production business up 20 percent over the last few years, we decided that we needed to focus on our primary Weibel Family brand and our private label customers rather than the custom crush business,” said Fred Weibel Jr., president. “It is a move more in line with our core strengths and historical business model.”

    Weibel first acquired the facility in 2006 in a sale-lease transaction with Ste. Michelle Wine Estates through Vintage Wine Trust, which liquidated two years later. The winery was known as McDowell Family Vineyards before Associated Vintage Group acquired it and Ste. Michelle picked it up in a bankruptcy sale in 2000.

    Weibel still owns the 500-acre H&W Vineyards in Redwood and Potter valleys will continue to produce the Stone Creek brand in Hopland as a Vintage Wine Estate custom-winemaking client. He acquired those vineyards in 1968.

    Also not included in the sale is Weibel’s tasting room in central Hopland.

    Vintage Wine Estates (www.vintagewineestates.com), run by managing partner Mr. Roney and backed by Leslie Rudd, has acquired, taken a stake in or created several North Coast wineries and brands in the past several years: Girard Winery and Cosentino Winery in Napa Valley, Windsor Sonoma Winery, Sonoma Coast Vineyards, Windsor Vineyards, Cartlidge & Browne, Grove Street Winery, Ray’s Station, La Tarasque and Flirt. The group produced more than a half-million cases of wine in 2011 and now is a little more than 600,000 a year.

    Wine industry transaction consultancy Zepponi & Company of Santa Rosa brought the Weibel sale opportunity to Vintage Wine Estates and represented Weibel  in the sale.

    “Weibel realized a unique selling opportunity when the custom-crush facility became a desirable commodity, due to the increased demand for grape and bulk wine processing,” said Zepponi partner Joe Ciatti. “The facility provides full grape and wine processing services to third-party growers. The sale of this property required us to use our extensive knowledge of the current wine market in order to successfully evaluate the property and advise on the final sale to Vintage Wine Estates.”

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