Napa’s Huneeus Vintners entering deal with Oregon’s Benton-Lane Winery

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Huneeus Vintners, a family wine business that makes the Quintessa and Flowers brands, is the latest North Coast producer to set its sights on production from Oregon’s fast-growing wine regions.

The Napa-based company confirmed Friday that it is finalizing a “partnership” with Steve and Carol Girard of Benton-Lane Winery north of Eugene in the Willamette Valley appellation, to be finalized in the next week. The Girards, originally Napa Valley vintners before moving to Oregon as pinot noir pioneers in 1988, reportedly called it a purchase deal that keeps the couple connected to the 35,000-case-a-year operation.

“I wanted to stay involved, and Huneeus has been so kind to let me do that,” Steve Girard reportedly told WineBusiness.com.

The Girards are referring inquiries about the deal to Huneeus Vintners, which released a brief statement acknowledging an agreement is in the works.

“This partnership enables both families to do what they do best,” the company said.

The Girards would continue to farm the vineyards, and Huneeus Vintners would handle sales and marketing through its nationwide distributor network. Other aspects of the deal weren’t disclosed.

On the 1,860-acre winery estate, Benton-Lane farms 142 acres of mostly pinot noir grapes as well as pinot blanc and chardonnay. The first vintage was in 1991, and the winery was completed six years later.

Benton-Lane would be part of a string of deals in the past two years for Huneeus Vintners. In April 2016, the company sold The Prisoner Wine Company to Constellation Brands for $285 million, then in July of that year Huneeus purchased the 150,000-case-a-year VML winery near Healdsburg out of receivership.

That October, Huneeus bought the St. Clement Vineyards winery and property, but not the brand, near St. Helena from Treasury Wine Estates for an undisclosed sum.

In August of last year, Huneeus purchsed a 161-acre vineyard east of Napa from Westchester Group Investment Management, according to WineBusiness.com.

Behind Huneeus Vintners, started in 2005, are Agustin Huneeus, whose wine business career spans six decades from his native Chile to some of the largest wine companies in North America, his son, Agustin F. Huneeus. The family had started Quintessa, a Rutherford winery in 1990. The portfolio grew to include Faust and Illumination from Napa Valley and Flowers, picked up in 2009 partnership with Joan and Walt Flowers to operate the winery.

Steve Girard and his late father started Girard Winery in the mid-1970s, and since 2000 the brand has been part of the Santa Rosa-based Vintage Wine Estates portfolio.

Other North Coast-based vintners that have been making investments in the Oregon wine business have been Jackson Wine Estates, Vintage Wine Estate and Joe Wagner.

Jeff Quackenbush (jquackenbush@busjrnl.com, 707-521-4256) covers the wine business and commercial construction and real estate.

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