Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates just announced it is selling nearly 900 acres of land in Napa, Sonoma and Santa Barbara counties. Robert Mondavi Winery has put 1,500-plus acres and two winemaking facilities on the market, some of that more than a year ago, and just recently found buyers for two properties. With such prominent names posting "For Sale" signs throughout California wine country, it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that wineries everywhere are cutting back and unloading what they can.
But one of the leading vineyard brokers in Northern California said times aren't as tough as they seem, at least when it comes to real estate in prime regions such as Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino.
"There aren't a lot of people calling me and saying 'Hey, I have to sell because I need the cash.' There's really not a lot of vineyard land for sale right now," said John Mattern of Keegan-Coppin Co., a real-estate brokerage firm in Sonoma County. "In fact, I know five major wineries who want to buy vineyard land if it's the right location and a good price."
Finding buyers this week was Mondavi, which had been trying to sell its La Famiglia facility, the former Vichon Winery on the Oakville Grade, for 20 months. It was purchased by the owner of Diamond Oaks Vineyard, Dinesh Maniar, who farms more than 600 acres of vineyards in Napa and Sonoma counties. Mondavi will continue making the La Famiglia wines but at another facility.
Mondavi also recently sold its Garey Vineyard in Santa Barbara County's Santa Maria Valley to Premier Partners V investment firm. The 378-acre property, which has 280 acres planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in 1999, was purchased by Mondavi in 1996.
Mondavi, which announced a major restructuring last week, would not release the sale price of either property. Meanwhile, the company still has 1,500 acres of land for sale in Santa Barbara, Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma counties. And for more than a year, it has been trying to sell the original Byron Winery in Santa Maria Valley, which was replaced with a new facility in 1996.
The land Kendall-Jackson is selling is all undeveloped, and winery spokesman George Rose said, "The properties don't fit any existing programs and, given the economic climate, they didn't fit our strategic plan."
All three of the Kendall-Jackson properties are problematic for vineyard development, according to one insider. The 430 acres in Santa Barbara are populated with tiger salamanders, an endangered species protected by the federal government. The 71-acre parcel on Mount Veeder in Napa County, listed for $2.2 million, is steep and heavily wooded; local environmentalists concerned about erosion have all but halted development of such properties. The 370-acre Sonoma County parcel, listed for $5.6 million, is in an area southeast of Petaluma that lacks a source of water. Some of the land may be suitable for estate homes.
Mattern, who is representing Kendall-Jackson's Northern California properties, said, "We've had quite a bit of interest so far."
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions