Fife Vineyards, based in Napa and Mendocino counties, joined an expanding list of financially troubled California producers last week when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Estate owner Dennis Fife said that the decision came in response to the company's excessive debt and the sluggish market.
"The key thing is we're getting a partner, and the partner for logical reasons wants to go Chapter 11," said Fife, who declined to name who the partner will be.
Bankruptcy protection will allow the company to renegotiate contracts with growers, who currently supply Fife with grapes from about 200 acres. The winery makes 20,000 cases a year, including Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Syrah and blends from Mendocino, and Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux-style blends from Napa Valley.
Founded in 1991, Fife owns two vineyards, the 13-acre Redhead Vineyard in Mendocino and its 56-acre estate property on Spring Mountain in Napa. The Mendocino wines are produced at the Fife winery in Ukiah, on the eastern edge of the appellation. The Napa wines are made at the Napa Wine Company, a custom-crush facility in Oakville.
Fife, who will retain majority ownership of the company for now, spent the past year looking for a partner to supply capital. "Now it's about getting stable and reducing debt. We just didn't have enough equity," he said.
More winemaking responsibilities will shift to Phil Baxter, while Fife will focus on sales and marketing. "We're doing the same as we were in 2001," said Fife. "The difference is it takes a lot more to sell the 20,000 cases in terms of both the prices [we need to offer] and the time invested."
Check our ratings of Fife Vineyards wines.