Ascentia sells Gary Farrell brand to Vincraft, Buena Vista to Boisset

Boisset takes Buena Vista Carneros back to Ramal Vineyard EstateGEYSERVILLE -- Ascentia Wine Estates, which formed in June 2008 with the acquisition of eight Sonoma County and Pacific Northwest wine brands, today announced it sold two Sonoma County brands, with Gary Farrell Winery in Russian River Valley going to The Vincraft Group of Sonoma and the recently relocated Buena Vista Carneros brand going to St. Helena-based Boisset Family Estates.

Ascentia will focus more on premium wines, said Chief Executive Officer Mike Kenton in a brief statement Thursday afternoon.

"Selling these brands will allow Ascentia Wine Estates to reinvest and refocus on the core brands in our portfolio led by Geyser Peak Winery in California, Columbia Winery and Covey Run in Washington state and Ste. Chappelle in Idaho," he said.

Ascentia has been undergoing significant restructuring in recent months. In January, Mr. Kenton replaced Jim DeBonis, who had lined up GESD Capital Partners and W.J. Deutsch & Sons to acquire the brands from Constellation Wines U.S. in June 2008. Last month, the company said it was  relocating the Buena Vista brand from its vineyards and winery in the Los Carneros winegrowing region of southern Sonoma County to the Geyser Peak winery in Geyserville.

The Vincraft Group, a Sonoma-based wine company focused on building a portfolio of high-end wines, has made its second acquisition with Russian River Valley pinot noir producer Gary Farrell Winery.

Bill Price, Walt Klenz and Pete Scott started Vincraft in 2008 and a year later acquired acclaimed pinot noir maker Kosta Browne Winery in Sebastopol.

Vincraft Chief Executive Officer Pete Scott, speaking earlier today on a panel about wine mergers and acquisitions at the Business Journal's annual Wine Industry Conference, said Vincraft takes a "string of pearls" approach to building a portfolio of high-end brands.

"The Vincraft Group is committed to providing our brands with the resources and support they need to ensure future success," Mr. Scott said in a statement this afternoon. "We welcome the opportunity to include this great brand in our portfolio. Gary Farrell Winery is a top-notch producer with the consummate Russian River heritage. We can’t wait to reconnect with customers and the industry to elevate awareness of all that Gary Farrell Winery has to offer."

The firm expects each winery to operate independently, "preserving the qualities and characteristics that differentiate luxury brands," Mr. Scott said.

Gary Farrell Winery is located on Westside Road in Russian River Valley. It makes pinot noir and chardonnay wines from Sonoma County finest vineyards. Staying in place are winemaker Susan Reed and Gary Archer, operations manager.

Gary Farrell started the winery in 1982, and the winery was later sold to Constellation Brands and then was part of eight brands Constellation sold to Ascentia when it was formed in 2008.

In conjunction with the Buena Vista Carneros acquisition, Boisset Family Estates secured a long-term lease with an affiliate of VinREIT for the nearly 500-acre Ramal Vineyard Estate property from which Ascentia was in the process of moving the brand.

"Buena Vista has been a long-held dream, as I have always been charmed by the oldest stones of the California wine world," said Jean-Charles Boisset, president. "I've admired its amazing sense of place and revered its history as California’s oldest premium winery. The addition of Buena Vista to our portfolio adds further legitimacy to our foundation in terroir-driven wines in California."

Ramal Vineyard has been defined into more than 100 separate vineyard blocks based on topography, geology and microclimates.

"We are honored to assume the responsibility of bringing Buena Vista Winery 'back to the future,' embracing its deep history while simultaneously ensuring it remains one of the most relevant wineries in the modern wine world," Mr. Boisset said, referring to Buena Vista founder Count Agoston Haraszthy, who is credited with bringing winegrape vines to the state.

Boisset Family Estates also has been making North Coast acquisitions recently. The company acquired Raymond Vineyard & Cellar in August 2009 and DeLoach Vineyards in Santa Rosa in 2003. The Burgundy-based Boisset family produces a number of French, California, Canadian and Italian wine brands and the Idol grape-based vodka.

San Anselmo-based rivate-equity management firm Vinum Capital Management LLC brokered the deal between VinREIT parent Entertainment Properties Trust and Ascentia to sell Buena Vista Carneros to Boisset. St. Helena-based investment bank Global Wine Partners, which set up VinREIT as a joint venture between the firm and the real estate investment trust, advised Vinum and Boisset on the sale.

UPDATED, May 5, 2011: Vinum Capital Management announces its involvement with Global Wine Partners in the Buena Vista Carneros sale.

UPDATED, April 29, 2011: Comments received from Boisset Family Estate late Thursday were posted.

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