California wine giant E. & J. Gallo announced this week that it is buying Bridlewood Estate Winery, a 30,000-case producer located on 105 acres in the Santa Ynez Valley, just north of Santa Barbara. The winery is being purchased for an undisclosed sum from its founder, Cory Holbrook, and the sale will be finalized in early May.
"It's another opportunity for Gallo to continue growth into the high-quality wine segment," said a spokesman for the company. "The Santa Ynez Valley is one of the most popular winegrowing areas in the state, with a terrific following in the Los Angeles area, and Bridlewood is an outstanding piece of property."
Holbrook purchased the property, formerly an equestrian rehabilitation facility, in 1998 and renovated the estate into a winery, retaining its Mission-style ambience. Bridlewood has been most successful with its Syrahs, but also makes Arabesque, a Rhône-style blend; Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel.
"Gallo investing in a winery in the Santa Ynez Valley is a good deal for Bridlewood and the surrounding wineries," Holbrook said. "They bring a plethora of resources to this valley. I think they're trying to acquire smaller, world-class wineries and then leave them that way."
Bridlewood is the third in a string of independent, family-owned winery concerns purchased by Gallo over the past couple of years. In 2002, Gallo purchased both the Louis M. Martini Winery in Napa Valley and the Santa Clara County-based Mirassou brand and inventory. Both wineries were owned by families with a rich heritage of California winemaking. Gallo, which is based in Modesto, Calif., also has operations in Sonoma County and imports wines from other countries, including Australia, Italy and New Zealand.
A few years ago, Gallo sued Bridlewood for trademark infringement, claiming the name was too similar to Gallo's Burlwood label and could cause consumer confusion. A federal court ruled in Bridlewood's favor.
Holbrook says he is starting a new wine label of his own, simply called Holbrook, which would produce around 3,000 cases to 4,000 cases a year of Syrah and Petite Sirah from Santa Barbara County. "I want to make world-class wines at a price that won't make your wallet burn," said Holbrook. "I'm going to go back to making small lots of wine and having fun again." His first release, a Central Coast Syrah that should retail for less than $20, is planned for late this summer.