CalPERS in talks to exit vineyard partnership

Part of the multibillion restructuring of hard-hit real estate investments over the past few years by the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) are potential changes to a joint venture with Premier Pacific Vineyards of Napa to acquire up to $200 million in West Coast vineyards.

"Premier Pacific Vineyard is our current manager, but we are in discussions to wind down the partnership," said pension system spokesman David Wayne.

Richard Wollack, founder and managing partner of Premier Pacific, declined to comment on CalPERS' decision or other company activities. One media report said that the company's employees were expecting the partnership split at year-end.

Mr. Wayne said didn't have a date for a decision on Pacific Vineyard Partners management or information on future plans for the investment.

In 2002, CalPERS partnered with Premier Pacific to manage a fund -- Pacific Vineyard Partners LLC -- that has purchased 1,500 acres of vineyards mostly in California but also in Oregon and Washington. Premier Pacific also has been looking to develop part of the 20,000-acre Preservation Ranch north of the Mendocino-Sonoma county line acquired in 2003.

In its most recent report on returns from real estate ventures, Pacific Vineyard Partners had a fair market net asset value of $68.1 million as of March 31. Returns on the fund, after management and other fees were considered, were off 8.2 percent since it started in July 2002 and nearly 30 percent from March 2010.

The fund's net asset market value was $64.4 million at the end of the fiscal year in June of this  year, down from nearly $87 million a year before. Management fees for the fund were $1.36 million, up from $1.27 million.***

As part of a mergers-and-acquisitions panel at the recent Wine Industry Financial Symposium in Napa, Jeff Menashe of Demeter Group observed four trends among active buyers of wine businesses and successful sellers:

1. Sellers are returns-driven. North Coast acquisition opportunities for wine businesses include a number of middle-sized operations -- that "awkward size" of too big to sell it all directly to consumers or accounts and too small to attract significant representation from distributors -- many of which are focused on making chardonnay and sauvignon blanc wines, according to Mr. Menashe.

"There needs to be a transition to a new owner, which will prune back the line of wines to its core," he said after the discussion session.


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