More North Coast wineries were making and receiving investments as 2009 came to a close.

Huneeus Vintners, which owns the Quintessa winery and Faust brand in Napa Valley, Veramonte in Chile and Illumination in Argentina, acquired The Prisoner and Saldo brands from Rutherford-based Orin Swift Cellars, owned by Dave Phinney.

Mr. Phinney will continue to make those wines and retains ownership of the other Orin Swift brands, Mercury Head, Veladora and Papillon.

The first vintage of zinfandel-based red blend The Prisoner, which retails for $35 a bottle, was 2003, and production tops 70,000 cases a year. 2007 was the first vintage for the 39,000-case North Coast zin-heavy Saldo brand, which retails for $28 a bottle.

Early last year Agustin Huneeus purchased a stake in Sonoma Coast chardonnay and pinot noir maker Flowers Vineyard and Winery. In September, The Vincraft Group of Sonoma made a sizeable play, estimated to be $30 million to $40 million, for the Kosta Browne brand.

Rob McMillan of Silicon Valley Bank in November predicted that a number of wineries will be sold or receive investments this year in the wake of a rapid shift in high-end wine sales from late 2008 through mid-2009.

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Meanwhile, Jay Thompson, chief executive officer of The Murano Group, acquired a minority stake in Copain Wine Cellars near Healdsburg and a majority stake in Copain Custom Crush of Santa Rosa, both founded by Kevin McQuown and Wells Guthrie in 1999 and 2000, respectively.

Mr. Thompson acquired Mr. McQuown's stake in the winery and Mr. Guthrie's stake in the custom winery. Mr. McQuown will remain chief financial officer of the winery, where Mr. Gutherie is general manager.


Cosentino Signature Wines, which operates in Napa Valley but is based in London, recently reported a pretax loss of $2.78 million for the first half of 2009 on revenue of $3.56 million, compared with a $350,000 loss on revenue of $4.49 million in the same period of 2008. That includes discontinued operations of two brands and three facilities early last year.

Chairman Larry Soldinger said in the financial report that the business, now centered on the namesake brand, stabilized in the second half of 2009.

“Operations for the company are now stable, and we have begun to recover lost ground along with the rest of the wine industry,” he wrote.

The company’s debt situation also has improved, according to Mr. Soldinger.

“Although the company is in default on its senior and subordinated notes payable and is currently operating under a forbearance agreement, the company currently has two signed term sheets, from two separate lenders, for the refinancing of our entire current senior and subordinated debt along with the funding of the necessary working capital required to adequately run our business,” he wrote.

Both term sheets are still subject to lender due diligence, according to Mr. Soldinger. Cosentino also reached an agreement in principle regarding the release from a disputed 2007 sale and leaseback agreement through a court-sanctioned mediation, dependent on the company getting financing in January and February.

Brokerage Hoodless Brennan, in a “sell” note to investors, wasn’t as optimistic.

“Despite management remaining hopeful of a successful refinancing, we are concerned about the future of this company," the brokerage wrote, according to Reuters. "If the group is unable to secure new monies, we believe the business will be unable to continue as a going concern."


Applications for Sonoma State University’s Wine Business MBA program classes this fall are due March 30. For details, visit www.sonoma.edu/busadmin/mba/.

***Wine People

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Healdsburg-based Ascentia Wine Estates, which operates Geyser Peak Winery in Geyserville and seven other brands, hired Todd Devincenzi of St. Helena as chief sales and marketing officer. Previously, he was vice president of sales at C. Mondavi & Sons and director of national off-premise accounts Allied Domecq and Beam Wine Estates.

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Bruce Cohn, owner of B.R. Cohn Winery in Glen Ellen, added chief operating officer to the role of six-year chief financial officer Terry Gard. Mr. Cohn promoted 11-year tasting room and hospitality manager Sherri Hewitt to winery general manager.

A number of Cohn family members are joining the winery team. Mr. Cohn’s daughter Vallerie Cohn is putting a credential in wedding coordination to work as coordinator of weddings and special events, reporting to Paula Horosco, director of weddings and special events. His son Joe Cohn is working part-time in the accounting department until he finishes the MBA program from Sonoma State University in spring.


Submit items for this column to Jeff Quackenbush at jquackenbush@busjrnl.com, 707-521-4256, or fax 707-521-5292.