Gallo buys Solano vineyard, winery

[caption id="attachment_91565" align="alignnone" width="512"] Ledgewood Creek Winery and its tasting room in Suisun Valley closed with the purchase of the property with surrounding vineyards by E&J Gallo. (credit: Strong & Hayden)[/caption]

FAIRFIELD -- E&J Gallo Winery purchased a 230-acre western Solano County vineyard and winery.

This is the second major move recently by a wine company into the western premium winegrowing regions of the county.

[caption id="attachment_91563" align="alignleft" width="300"] Ariel view of Ledgewood Creek Vineyard and Winery (credit: Strong & Hayden)[/caption]

The 401-acre ranch for Ledgewood Creek Winery and Vineyard is located in the Suisun Valley winegrowing region just east of Napa Valley, but it's still in the North Coast appellation. The property has about 230 acres of vines, mostly chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and pinot noir, and another 145 plantable acres.

Gallo Vineyards, LLC, purchased the property, inventory of wine and trademarks from entities managed by Dean Frisbie on April 24. The had been listed for sale for $16.5 million, but the purchase price was not disclosed.

"This portion of Solano County in the North Coast AVA can produce exceptional winegrapes," said Roger Nabedian, senior vice president and general manager of Gallo's Premium Wine Division. "This vineyard is a great addition to our portfolio to support the rapid growth we have had in our premium wine business."

In 2012 the company made its first foray into Lake County, buying 800 acres of vines on the 2,000-acre Snows Lake property.

Gallo said it has no immediate plans to operate the 14,000-square-foot Ledgewood Creek Winery or tasting room at 4589 Abernathy Rd. northwest of Fairfield. Both were operating up to the time of sale but have since closed, according to Gary Van Dam, part of a Strong & Hayden Commercial Real Estate team who had been marketing the property for the last 18 months.

[caption id="attachment_91564" align="alignleft" width="354"] Ledgewood Creek tasting room (credit: Strong & Hayden)[/caption]

The winery, built in 2002, is permitted to produce 30,000 cases of wine a year and is said to be capable of making up to 50,000, according to property marketing materials. Also on the property is farmworker housing with six cabins and a dormitory able to accommodate more than 60. The business is said to have a wine club with more than 950 members.

While eastern Solano County is known for its high-production vineyards bound for mass-market California appellation wines, the winegrowing regions on the western side of the county have been getting attention from outside wine producers.

Last year, Caymus Vineyards, citing potential for quality Solano grapes and regulatory challenges with expanding at its Napa Valley base of operations, acquired vines and land south of Fairfield and is moving forward with plans to build a 5.5 million-gallon-a-year winery and distillery.

By contrast, the Gallo purchase in the 3,000-acre Suisun Valley appellation likely was all about vines and water, according to Roger King, president of the Suisun Valley Vintners & Growers Association.

"We have water, and this valley is totally plumbed for it," he said. "And it's been this way for 60 years."

Solano Irrigation District pipes water from the Lake Berryessa dam into the valley for growers to tap. Gallo has been buying grapes from Suisun Valley growers for a few decades, so familiarity with the water supply and the company's recent challenges developing vineyards in the water-challenged Paso Robles and Central Coast areas could have influenced the decision to buy the property.

Ledgewood Creek Vineyard has been eyed by a few suitors in recent years, including Peju in Rutherford, but Gallo's purchase cements the future of Suisun Valley agriculture, even though the region's wine tourism takes a short-term hit from the closing of the tasting room, Mr. King said. There have been a number of attempts for large-scale developments in the valley, though a recent update to the county General Plan land-planning document put in more provisions to keep ag the area's focus.

The Ledgewood Creek tasting room typically hosted 350--500 visitors a day on weekends, Mr. King said.

Mr. Frisbie, an attorney and significant investor commercial real estate in San Francisco and the Peninsula, could not be reached for comment on the sale. His reasons for selling could be his age, over 80, the death of his wife, "Bunny," in March and children who haven't been interested in operating a winery, Mr. King said. The Frisbies converted a pear orchard on the property to winegrapes in 1989.

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