The Sonoma Valley winery, which sold its lucrative Glen Ellen label in 1993, decided that same year to start its own microbrewery. Sonoma Mountain Brewery became a reality in July 1997.
"The beer business wasn't growing outside our small marketing area [in Northern California]," said president Mike Benziger. "As good as our timing was at getting into the wine market with Glen Ellen, that's how bad our timing was at getting into the market with beer."
Benziger said his family invested several million dollars in its beer endeavor, which included a 7,500-square-foot brewery and 4 acres of hops planted on what was formerly a Merlot vineyard. But the brewery had yet to make a profit. "We had a contingency plan to go back to wine if beer didn't work," Benziger admitted. The hops will be torn out and the land replanted to grapevines.
While Benziger no longer pumps out 4 million cases of Glen Ellen wine annually, the winery does make 185,000 cases of wine each year under various Benziger labels. Production is spread between its original home winery on Sonoma Mountain and three other rented facilities in Sonoma County. The brewery will be expanded and converted to another winery.
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