Vintage Wine buys big Mendocino winery

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.

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