GUERNEVILLE -- F. Korbel & Bros., producer of Korbel sparkling wine, today said it has entered negotiations to sell the half-million-case-a-year Kenwood Vineyards brand and related assets to Banfi Vintners, one of the country’s major wine marketers.

Gary Heck, president and owner of F. Korbel & Bros., said the decision to sell Kenwood , coming after several months of strategic review, will allow him to focus the time and resources of his company on the best opportunities for growth with the Korbel brand of California champagne and brandy, which have been in his family since 1954.

“After experiencing the worst recession in 70 years, the California wine business is emerging from this difficult period in good shape and it seemed an opportune time to explore the sale of Kenwood Vineyards,” said Mr. Heck.

The sale of Kenwood Vineyards is expected to close in June.

“We are thoroughly impressed at the incredible achievements of Mr. Heck with Kenwood, and hope to become a worthy custodian of this historic brand,” said Banfi co-CEOs James Mariani and Cristina Mariani-May. “We want the transition to be as seamless as possible.”

F. Korbel acquired Kenwood Vineyards in its entirety in 1999. At that time, Kenwood was producing less than 300,000 cases and under the F. Korbel and Bros. stewardship, it grew to more than 550,000 last year. Founded in 1970, Kenwood has been recognized consistently as a leader dedicated to producing premium wines that capture the best of Sonoma County vineyard character. Included in the sale are the Kenwood winery and trademarks, bottling facility and the Merlot and Zinfandel vineyards at the winery. 

Mr. Heck is strongly committed to being a major player in the sparkling wine and brandy categories. The Heck Family will retain Korbel Champagne Cellars and its related assets. Its 47-year marketing and sales agreement with Brown-Forman will remain unchanged. Having a stronger focus on Korbel will provide Heck’s company with greater investment and growth opportunities in the future. 

Banfi Vintners is a privately held family concern, founded in New York in 1919 by John F. Mariani Sr. Over the past four decades, John and Harry Mariani, fathers of the current co-chief executives, built it into one of America’s top wine marketers.

They founded the Castello Banfi vineyard estate in Montalcino, Tuscany, and Vigne Regali Cellars in Strevi, Piedmont. In 2009 Banfi and Gruppo Italiano Vini formed an equity partnership in Italy’s Bolla wines. Last year, the companies established Excelsior Wine Co., a joint venture sales and marketing firm with leading Chilean wine producer Concha y Toro, which acquired Fetzer Vineyards in Hopland nearly a year ago.

The Marianis first foray into U.S. wine was with their 2010 purchase of Washington State’s Pacific Rim.

“Our family is dedicated to the global wine business,” said Mr. Mariani. “The next logical step in building on our success as brand builders is involving ourselves with a significant California wine estate. We are making a long term commitment to round out and complement our partnerships in Europe, South America and Australia.”  

F. Korbel and Bros. is comprised of Korbel Champagne Cellars, Kenwood Vineyards, Lake Sonoma Winery, Valley of the Moon Winery and Heck Cellars, a brandy production facility near Charles M. Schulz--Sonoma County Airport.