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Allied Domecq Purchases Gary Farrell Wines

Founder Gary Farrell will stay on as winemaker at the Sonoma producer of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Daniel Sogg
Posted: April 23, 2004

One of California's respected Pinot Noir and Chardonnay producers has been acquired by British wine and spirits giant Allied Domecq. Gary Farrell Wines, based in Sonoma County's Russian River Valley, now joins the California winery portfolio of Allied Domecq, the company announced today. Included in the deal are the winery, which was completed in 2000, its current inventory and the brand name. The purchase price was not disclosed.

Founder Gary Farrell, 52, said that the responsibilities of operating the business and managing 14 employees led to the decision to sell. "Both [my wife] Debbie and I absolutely love this business, and we remain passionate about what we do," he said. "But as part of that commitment, we found ourselves in the 65- to 70-hour work week the last four years, without time to devote to family, travel and other passions that are equally important in our lives."

Farrell currently produces about 15,000 cases per year, with wines ranging from $20 to $60. The winery, which owns no vineyards, focuses primarily on Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley, and also makes Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines, which have received very good to outstanding scores from Wine Spectator, are admired for their restraint and complexity, a profile Farrell chose over the opulent style typical of many California producers.

A source with knowledge of the deal linked the sale with the difficulties currently facing many midsized California wineries: "The problem these days for a winery that size is it's hard to lock in distribution. So you need to either form a solid relationship or shrink production so that you can handle sales on your own."

But Farrell said that sales are strong. "We're perfectionists, and I think we would probably have found ourselves in this scenario even without the economy," he said. He added that he wanted to remain with the business as winemaker, unencumbered by administrative tasks, and the deal was contingent on that condition.

Farrell began his brand in 1982, making 50 cases of Russian River Pinot Noir with grapes from the Rochioli and Allen vineyards. For 18 years, he used the winery at Davis Bynum, where he became winemaker in 1978 and continued to consult through the 1999 vintage.

To finance construction of his own facility, Farrell sold a 20 percent stake in his company in 1999 to investment banker William Hambrecht. As of the Allied Domecq acquisition yesterday, Hambrecht no longer retains a stake in Gary Farrell Winery.

Allied Domecq is the second largest drinks company in the world. Brands in its portfolio include Beefeaters Gin, Kahlua, Champagne Mumm and California wineries Clos du Bois and Atlas Peak. It also owns Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins ice cream. Since 2002, the company has been listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol AED; the stock opened today at $32.55 per share, slightly off its 52-week high of $34.99 that was recorded on Monday.

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Read more about Gary Farrell Wines:

  • Dec. 31, 2002
    Bill Hambrecht Banks on Wine

  • June. 15, 2001
    New beginning inspires Pinot Noir specialist
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