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Winery buys 73-acre Sacramento Delta vineyard as North Coast vintners seek lower-cost grapes

The Rippey family, which operates a sizable North Coast custom winery, purchased a small winery and surrounding vines in a cooler-climate winegrowing region just east of Solano County.

Their company, The Vintners Group, acquired 100 acres at 15511 Isleton Road between the Sacramento River and Georgiana Slough on April 28 for $1.76 million, according to the deal announcement and public records.

The deal includes a 5,000-square-foot winery with 16,000 gallons of tank storage, a small tasting room, accessory buildings and a couple rental homes. But what interested the family were the 73.5 acres of vineyards planted to chardonnay and pinot noir, according to Tyson Rippey, vice president of operations.

The seller was an affiliate of La Prenda Vineyards Management in Napa, a venture that was operating the winery at the Isleton Road location until two years ago. The winery had been the base for the California Cellars brand several years ago.

The Vintners Group includes custom wineries Lodi Vintners, where the Rippey Family Wines brand and tasting room are based, and Carneros Vintners, located near Sonoma. The operation now has 350 acres of vineyards in Lodi, North Coast and Sacramento Delta areas.

While the family is renovating the winery building and surrounding facilities for lease to a vintner or brewer, the main interest was for the vineyards, Rippey said.

“We've been buying grapes and making wine from grapes from out in Clarksburg for almost 30 years,” he said.

The Clarksburg American Viticultural Area was first created in 1984 and was expanded in April of this year by nearly 28,000 acres to now encompass 92,585 acres of river delta area in Sacramento, southeastern Solano and Yolo counties, according to the U.S. Tax & Trade Bureau, which regulates the alcohol industry. The newly acquired Rippey property is across the Sacramento River from the southern boundary of the Clarksburg appellation.

While the Clarksburg area is technically in the Central Valley, the Sacramento Delta and proximity to the San Francisco Bay contribute to cooler temperatures for Burgundy varieties such as chardonnay, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc, fetching higher prices than for Central Valley vineyards, Rippey said.

And North Coast vintners, particularly makers of sparkling wine from Napa and Sonoma counties, are increasingly interested in high-quality Delta fruit, according to Chad Clark, North Coast grape broker for Allied Wine Growers.

“We're seeing a lot of people using out-of-appellation (fruit) or transferring their North Coast appellation or even sub-sub-appellations to California (appellation), especially on chardonnay, sauvignon blanc — even some pinot noir for sparkling,” Clark said. “That’s because the supplies have been tough, and the pricing has been difficult for sparkling houses to make that make sense.”

Rather than looking for just a truckload of Delta or north Central Valley fruit, North Coast vintners are seeking 500 or even 1,200 tons from that area, quantities that would supply enough for a new brand or line extension, rather than just filling supply gaps, Clark said.

“That’s good for growers but concerning for the market. … Big pendulum swings on pricing, variances from year to year, that's stuff makes business hard,” he said.

The new Rippey property currently has a grape contract for 160 tons of pinot noir grapes through next season for $600 a ton, according to the real estate listing. The Vintners Group plans to bring that fruit and other grapes from the property to Lodi Vintners to make wine for that buyer and to produce bulk wine for other customers, Rippey said.

By comparison, grapes from North Coast’s lower-cost areas, Mendocino and Lake counties, sell for more than twice that on average.

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Before coming to the Business Journal in 1999, he wrote for Bay City News Service in San Francisco. Reach him at jquackenbush@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4256.

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