California's oldest estate, Buena Vista Winery, in the Carneros district, has been put up for sale by its owner, German wine and spirits producer A. Racke, which wants to focus solely on high-end wines. Tentatively included in any sale are the Carneros production facility, the historic Sonoma winery and tasting room, built in 1862, 650 acres of estate vineyards in Carneros and Buena Vista's five brands.
"With all the consolidation in the industry, we felt new ownership could fully realize [Buena Vista's] potential," said Harry Parsley, president and CEO of the winery. "With the current condition of the European and American economies, we felt this was the ideal time to realize this investment."
Chase H & Q, based in San Francisco, has been hired to find a buyer, and Parsley expects a deal to be concluded in February 2001.
Several would-be buyers have pursued Buena Vista over the last few years. According to Parsley, offers made earlier this year led A. Racke to reevaluate its ownership, given the strength of both the California wine market and the American dollar.
"We're a very small large company or a very large small company," said Parsley. "There's a void in the market between 500,000 and 1 million cases, so we're very attractive, with some great potential for [prospective] buyers."
Buena Vista was founded by Agoston Haraszthy in 1857 and was purchased by Racke in 1979. The quality of the wines has been inconsistent, especially over the last decade as production has nearly tripled.
The winery currently makes an annual total of around 500,000 cases of Buena Vista Grand Reserve, Buena Vista Estate, Buena Vista California Classic, Haywood Los Chamizal and Haywood Vintners Select. The bottlings are mostly of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot, with retail prices ranging from $7 to $40 per bottle.
Believing that high-end wines have more growth potential than less-expensive wines, Racke has begun production of Donum Estate, a new California brand made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grown on 147 acres in Carneros.
The wines will be made by consultant Ken Bernards, who currently runs his own Carneros venture, Ancien Wines. Donum wines from the 2000 vintage should be on the market in two years, with retail prices starting at about $40. Racke is building a winery for Donum, which is expected to open in 2003, and the property will eventually produce about 20,000 cases per year.
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