Canandaigua Brands, the New York-based beverage giant best known for its low-priced wine blends, may be the leading bidder for historic Simi Winery, a Sonoma County, Calif., maker of highly rated Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
Rumors regarding the sale of Simi have been circulating for several months, and on Wednesday, a Sonoma County newspaper reported that Simi is in the final stages of negotiations with Canandaigua and expects the deal to be closed within three weeks.
In the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, an anonymous source disclosed that Simi employees were notified on March 9 that the winery's French owner, luxury goods conglomerate LVMH Moet-Hennessey Louis Vuitton, had decided to sell the property.
Canandaigua executives declined to comment. However, a source close to Simi said, "The papers were way off the mark. Nothing's a done deal."
According to another well-placed source, Canandaigua has indeed made a written offer to Simi's French owner, but it has not yet been accepted. LVMH has received other offers for the winery, including bids from Brown-Forman (which recently purchased Sonoma-Cutrer) and the owner of Stimson Lane, whose holdings include Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington.
The rumors of Simi's sale to Canandaigua were fueled when former Simi president and CEO Bill Newlands recently took a position with the wine giant as vice president and general manager of its table wine business. Newlands resigned from Simi and Domaine Chandon at the end of December, after three years as head of the wineries. At the time he left, he indicated that LVMH had been soliciting bids for Simi, as it is not part of the company's core sparkling wine business.
Simi, founded in Healdsburg in 1876, was purchased by LVMH in 1981. The winery owns more than 300 acres of vines in Sonoma County, makes 175,000 cases annually and has earned outstanding ratings for many of its Cabernets and Chardonnays. Compare the most recent ratings of Simi and Canandaigua wines
Canandaigua Brands, headquartered in New York's Finger Lakes region, produces and markets wine, beer and distilled sprits in the United States and United Kingdom. Though widely known for its jug wines, such as Almaden and Paul Masson, the company has been trying to redefine its image with higher-quality California varietals. Its wine portfolio also includes the new Arbor Mist fruit-flavored wines, Cook's, Dunnewood, Estate Cellars, Marcus James, Manischewitz, Mystic Cliffs, Wild Irish Rose and Vina Santa Carolina.
Other recent Sonoma winery sales:
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