San Francisco Chronicle-reporter-turned-winemaker Davis Bynum has sold his eponymous wine brand to fellow Sonoma County wine company Rodney Strong Vineyards. The deal includes all existing stock in bottles and barrels, but does not include vineyard land or the Bynum winery, both of which are for sale, but will be run in the meantime by Bynum's son, Hampton, and his sister, Susie (they'll continue producing the River Bend label there). The price was not disclosed, as both buyer and seller are family companies.
"Davis … felt it was time to slow down, and he had been thinking about doing this for a couple, three years. So we'd been talking to them on and off," said Tom Klein, owner and chairman of Rodney Strong. "He came to me about two weeks ago and said, 'All right Tom, I'm ready.' So we put it together with a handshake and a fairly simple transaction."
Bynum started making wine professionally in 1965, but was a home winemaker for several years before, during his time as a reporter. Bynum and his wife settled in Sonoma in 1973. Today, Bynum's winery produces Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Zinfandel, but the brand became best known for its Russian River Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, made primarily from purchased grapes (though the Bynums do have a home vineyard on which their winery sits).
Rodney Strong will focus solely on the latter two varieties under the Davis Bynum label. "This is going to be a Russian River Pinot Noir and Chardonnay brand," Klein said. Rodney Strong makes its own Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as well as several other varieties at the single-vineyard, estate and Sonoma County levels.
To help maintain the style of the wines, Bynum agreed to stay on as a consultant for the next three years, working with Rodney Strong winemaker Gary Patzwald. Klein said that for the upcoming harvest, Rodney Strong will pick up some of Bynum's existing grower contracts, as well as buy fruit from Bynum's vineyard. Klein noted that Bynum took the time to learn about Rodney Strong's other grower contracts and its own vineyards to be sure that the style of his brands could be maintained over the long term. As it turns out, Rodney Strong's viticulturist is also Bynum's next-door neighbor.
"Tom has demonstrated that he and his family are committed to making high quality wines from Sonoma's best appellations," said Bynum in a release. "I'm confident that the quality of Davis Bynum wines are in good hands going forward."
The two companies are also a good fit because both are known for their environmentally friendly practices. The Bynums farm their own vineyard organically and developed a permaculture garden to promote ecological diversity. Rodney Strong also practices sustainable winegrowing and is also one of the early adopters of solar power for a winery, and that approach will be extended to the production of the Bynum wines.
Klein said that he didn't buy the Bynum production facility primarily because the Rodney Strong winery is relatively new and able to handle the extra capacity. Bynum typically produced about 8,000 cases a year of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and Klein said he plans to keep production at about the same level.
"I just think it's a very exciting time in the Russian River," said Klein. "In an age of large corporate acquisitions, it's fun for one family winery to sell to another family winery. [Bynum] was so happy to sell his family winery to another family, and said 'I just know you're going to take care of this brand going forward.'"
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