Santa Rosa-based Vintage Wine Estate on Thursday, June 8, said it inked a deal to buy its first Oregon fine-wine brand, Firesteed Cellars.
The agreement with brand founder Howard Rossbach includes the 50,000-case-a-year pinot noir and pinot gris brand, made near Rickreall in Oregon’s Willamette Valley premium winegrowing region for those hot-selling varietal wines. Also included are long-term leases for fruit from two certified-sustainable vineyards: 90-acre Firesteed Estate and nearby 202-acre Erratic Oaks.
Pat Roney, president and CEO of Vintage, said he’s noticed growing interest in wines from the Pacific Northwest. Other North Coast wine producers, such as Jackson Family Wines, have been buying vineyards, wineries and brands in Oregon, as thirst for higher-priced wine grows and sources for choice fruit along the California coast dry up.
"I'm a longtime fan of Oregon wines and have been looking for an opportunity in the region for some time," explained Pat Roney, president and CEO of Vintage Wine Estates.
Rossbach on June 8 said he signed a separate deal with New York-based Pacific Rim & Company to sell the Firesteed production facility. Neighbors Mickey and Jeanne Flynn are selling Pacific Rim their 30-acre Flynn Vineyard.
Pacific Rim is owned by the Mariani family, who also run the import business Banfi Vintners. Banfi had vied to buy the Kenwood Vineyards brand from west Sonoma County-based F. Korbel & Bros. in 2010, but that deal fell apart.
Pacific Rim plans to move its Rainstorm brand to the Willamette Valley with the 2017 harvest. Production of Rainstorm Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Silver Linings Rosé at the Rickreall, OR location will start with the 2017 harvest.
But Rossbach plans to keep the Citation brand and Erratic Oaks Vineyard.
"We feel fortunate to have found such a good steward to carry the Firesteed line of wines into the future," Rossbach said in a statement. "After more than 40 years in the wine business, I'll now be able to refocus on my passion for our ultrapremium offerings under the Citation label, while continuing to manage our exquisite Erratic Oaks vineyard, producing some of the finest wine grapes in region."
The Firesteed purchase is part of a streak of acquisitions by Vintage Wine Estates over the past 24 months: Napa Valley's Delectus Winery, Splinter Group Spirits, Cameron Hughes Wine. The company also acquired the distribution rights to Clayhouse Wines from Paso Robles, Washington State's Buried Cane and from Argentina, Gouguenheim Winery.
Roney said the company’s growth strategy is creating brands, picking up “respected, established wines” and organically growing existing brands, namely B.R. Cohn Winery, Clos Pegase, Swanson, Delectus, Windsor Vineyards and Middle Sister Wines. Each of those were acquisitions.
"This formula seems to be working well for us," he said. "We have particular expertise in brand creation and taking new brands to market at a rapid pace. We also understand the importance of proven wine brands with a track record of excellence and awareness among both trade and consumers."
Rossbach started Firesteed Cellars in 1992 as a "virtual winery," a common term for a brand made in a contract winery from purchased fruit or wine. Rossbach bought the winery in 2002 and vineyard land in 2006.
He is president of Northwest Wine Coalition and had been vice president of Oregon Wine Growers Association and president of Oregon Pinot Camp.