Starmont winery in Napa Carneros sold to North Bay wine, beer entrepreneur

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The Schlatter family behind the Merryvale wine brand has sold the Starmont winery in the Carneros winegrowing region near Napa to a venture with experience in the wine and beer worlds.

Schlatter Family Estate LLC sold the production facility and tasting room to Orsi Family Vineyards LLC on July 5, according to public records. The Schlatters are keeping the Starmont brand, which still will be made by Jeff Crawford, and 40 acres of the Stanly Ranch estate vineyard, according to the announcement of the deal. The purchase price wasn't disclosed.

Proprietor Bernie Orsi, who lives in Marin County and owns hundreds of Sonoma County acres, told the Business Journal that plans for the former Starmont winery at 1451 Stanly Lane “are in the formulative stages.”

"This purchase is outside our normal mainstream operations," Orsi said Monday. “This is not involving the other activities we have, which include Orsi family wines.”

With a career that includes stints as a top executive for Western states breweries including Pabst before its sale in 2010, Orsi purchased a cattle ranch near Healdsburg in 1990 and now owns about 300 acres of land in Sonoma County. He sells wine grapes mostly to other vintners. About 8 acres supply the family label and are dedicated to his passion for Italian varieties.

Started in 2012 under the guidance of winemaker Dick Schultz, Orsi Family makes about 1,000 cases of 12 varietal wines annually at Kreck Wines near Healdsburg. Those include varietals well known in the U.S., such as cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese, plus lesser-known negroamaro and montepulciano.

In the late 1970s, Orsi started working for real estate and beer investor Paul Kalmanovitz, whose investments included real estate and beer companies such as Falstaff and Pabst. Orsi eventually became CEO of Kalmanovitz’s estate business, S&P Co. in Mill Valley, and vice president of Pabst.

Now “mostly retired,” Orsi’s ventures in the wine business in recent years included Orsi-Papale Estate Wines in Napa Valley and Michael Bernard Wines in Dry Creek Valley.

The Starmont winery is substantial. Designed to produce 135,000 cases annually, it has a 53,000-square-foot fermentation facility and 96,000 square feet of barrel storage. Costing $15 million to build, it was one of the Business Journal’s Top Real Estate Projects of 2006. It was one of the first production facilities to be certified under the Napa Green program, with solar power and recycled process wastewater.

Winemaking for single-vineyard Starmont wines will move to the Merryvale winery in St. Helena, while other Starmont labels will be bottled at a winery near the vineyards, according to the announcement.

“It’s business as usual for the Starmont brand,” said proprietor René Schlatter in the announcement. “Our team remains focused on growing the Starmont brand responsibly and sustainably."

In March, the Schlatter family shifted marketing and sales representation for the Merryvale Family of Wines to Pacific Highway Wines & Spirits, based in Greenboro, South Carolina, from Napa-based Delicato Family Vineyards.

Mark Giordano, president of Pacific Highway Wines said he has “bullish growth targets” for Starmont in fiscal 2020. “This operational change has no effect on our sales, logistics, distribution and marketing programs across the US. It’s full steam ahead for Starmont.”

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Contact him at jquackenbush@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4256.

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