Novato tea company owner buys River Road Vineyards

[caption id="attachment_46272" align="alignnone" width="448" caption=""Minister of Tea" Ron Rubin studied viticulture and winemaking four decades ago and has been looking for a winery to purchase in Napa and Sonoma counties for the past two years."][/caption]

RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY -- Ron Rubin, owner of Novato-based The Republic of Tea, has added ultrapremium wine to his premium beverage holdings with the acquisition of River Road Vineyards & Winery near the west Sonoma County community of Forestville.

Through Rubin Vineyards LLC, Mr. Rubin, 62, acquired the winery and 12 acres of vines from the Mills family on Tuesday for an undisclosed amount. The winery produced 41,000 cases last year and slightly more this year. As part of the deal, the winery's six employees will remain on board, including winemaker Joe Freeman.

"We produce quality teas, and we wanted to produce high-quality wine," Mr. Rubin said Thursday.

He acquired The Republic of Tea in 1994, two years after founders of Banana Republic started it. Sales of packaged and bottled teas now total more than $20 million a year.

In October, the company went even more high end, spinning off Rare Tea Republic to cater to connoisseurs. With sourcing described in fine wine terms as "small lot" and single estate," these fresh teas come from north India and the Himalayas and retail for $6 to $30 per 50-gram bag.

Mr. Rubin studied enology and viticulture four decades ago at the University of California at Davis while earning his undergraduate degree in finance. He then worked at his family's beer, wine and spirits wholesale business Central Wholesale Liquor Co. in Mount Vernon, Ill., for 22 years.

"I've always had the dream of owning a vineyard and winery in California," he said.

[caption id="attachment_35684" align="alignleft" width="176" caption="Gary Mills"][/caption]

For the past two years, he's had Forestville-based wine industry real estate broker John Bergman scouting Napa and Sonoma counties for such an opportunity.

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