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Acclaimed Napa Cabernet Producer Gemstone Sold

Entrepreneur Michael Marks and wife, Carole, make their first foray into the wine business with the purchase of the vineyard and brand

MaryAnn Worobiec
Posted: February 22, 2008

Gemstone Vineyard, which rode a string of great Cabernet vintages to join Napa Valley's elite wine producers, made a surprise announcement yesterday. Owners Paul and Suzie Frank said they had sold their vineyard, brand and inventory to Carole and Michael Marks, a successful entrepreneur and part owner of the NBA's Golden State Warriors. This is the Marks' first venture in the wine business. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Since the 1997 debut, Gemstone consistently produced outstanding wines from its 16-acre vineyard in Yountville, Calif. The most recent wine, Gemstone Yountville 2004 ($125, 495 cases) earned 95 points on Wine Spectator's 100-point scale. Despite the critical acclaim and the fact that the latest release sold out in nine days, the Franks were overwhelmed by keeping up with some of the demands of the business, such as distribution.

"We've taken [Gemstone] as far as we can," Frank said. "We feel it has tremendous potential and we found [a buyer] who cares about it as much as we do." The Franks said that the new owners have been Gemstone customers and supporters from the beginning.

Michael Marks is the former CEO of Flextronics Corp., the world's largest contract electronics manufacturer; he is still chairman of the board. Marks has also aided many successful start-ups, including Crocs shoes. He serves on the boards of numerous corporations and philanthropic organizations, including the V Foundation, which supports cancer research.

Paul Frank, 67, and wife, Suzie, 65, quipped that "Gemstone owned us." The couple poured their life savings into their vineyard—Frank personally designed the 16-acre property, located off the Silverado Trail, after he left a 35-year career in the diamond business. He divided the property into microblocks of various clones of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Each block is harvested and vinified separately before being blended into either the flagship Gemstone bottling or the Facets brand, which is made in a more approachable style.

Winemaker Philippe Melka will remain on board, and the wines will continue to be made at Vineyard 29's facility in St. Helena. The Franks will manage and consult for the new owners for the next three years, and live in their house adjacent to the vineyard. "We've been running [Gemstone] from the kitchen table. We couldn't expand because we got the biggest table we could fit in our kitchen," Paul joked.

"Gemstone needed this," added Susie.

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