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Beringer Sells Napa Ridge to Bronco Wine Co.

Daniel Sogg, James Laube
Posted: January 3, 2000

Beringer Wine Estates has agreed to sell its Napa Ridge brand to the Franzia family's Bronco Wine Co. for approximately $40 million. The sale, which is to be completed this week, includes the brand name and all labeled case goods in inventory, but not any vineyards or winemaking facilities. Napa Ridge winemaker David Schlottman will remain with Beringer.

Bronco owns more than two dozen labels, including Napa Creek, Domaine Napa and Rutherford Vintners. The company is primarily known as a large producer of inexpensive wine from the Central Valley, where the Franzias own about 35,000 acres of grapes.

Napa Ridge wines, which are priced in the $8 to $11 range, usually earn "very good" scores from Wine Spectator. Sales of Napa Ridge wines accounted for four percent to five percent of Beringer's revenue last year, said company spokesman Tor Kenward. Production has dipped beneath 1 million cases over the past few years as Beringer decided to focus its energies on faster-growing wine brands such as Meridian Vineyards in Paso Robles and the year-old Beringer Founders' Estate line of wines.

"We've got limited winemaking, manpower and vineyard resources," said Mora Cronin, Beringer's director of public relations. "This is something we've foreseen as Meridian Vineyards and Beringer Founders' Estate have grown. Their success made this sale the obvious move."

Kenward said that the decision to sell Napa Ridge had nothing to do with the recent controversy surrounding the use of geographic brand names on wines that aren't made primarily with grapes from that area. (While Napa Ridge was made from Napa grapes when it was founded, in 1986, the brand is now made in Sonoma County, using grapes from throughout the North and Central coasts.)

Last November, the Napa Valley Vintners Association, which represents 162 wineries, proposed to ban any geographic brand -- such as Napa Ridge -- that doesn't source at least 85 percent of its grapes from the named region. Misleading brand names "are a legal form of consumer fraud," said NVVA president Tom Shelton. "We've got to find a way to close these loopholes."

Bronco is no stranger to geographic brand name controversy. In 1996, the company battled with other vintners and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms over its Rutherford Vineyards brand, which used grapes from outside Napa Valley in 1995.

The NVVA's move was precipitated by Bronco's plans to build a facility in Napa that could bottle as much as 18 million cases a year. The facility could produce wines under the broad California appellation while legally using the words "Cellared and Bottled in Napa, Calif." on the labels even if the wines aren't made with Napa Valley grapes.

"This is an emerging nightmare," said Shelton. "My biggest concern is that this sale places a powerful geographic brand name under the control of a large company whose leadership has a demonstrated capacity for reckless marketing policy."

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Check out recent ratings of Beringer's Napa Ridge wines. Compare to recent scores forBronco's Rutherford Vintners. (Full subscribers can see past ratings for Napa Creek and Domaine Napa.)

Learn more about Bronco, Napa Ridge and the issue of using Napa Valley geographic names as brands:

  • Nov. 18, 1999
    Napa Valley Vintners Seek to Ban Misleading Brands
  • June 30, 1999
    A Stopgap Proposal
  • May 25, 1999
    Vintner Group Seeks to Protect Napa Valley's Name
  • May 15, 1999
    Napa's Name Down the Drain?
  • April 30, 1997
    A Battle Over a Name Riles Napa Valley
  • Jan. 31, 1994
    Winery Admits Falsifying Varietal Labels

    Read other recent Beringer news:

  • Sept. 1, 1999
    Beringer Finalizes Deal to Buy St. Clement in Napa Valley
  • July 26, 1999
    Beringer Launches New Million-Case Label

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