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Wilson Winery Owners Buy Jepson

Sonoma couple now owns five wineries as they add Mendocino property to their company

Augustus Weed
Posted: January 9, 2009

Ken and Diane Wilson, the owners of Sonoma-based Wilson winery, have agreed to purchase Jepson winery and its 1,200-acre property in Mendocino County from investment group Dbon Mendocino LLC. The new acquisition, which includes 121 acres of vineyards, adds another property to the Wilsons' growing list of wineries.

The final purchase price for Jepson has not been disclosed, and the deal was pending approval as of late Friday. But Tony Ford, one of the real-estate agents listing the property, believes the price is in the $4 million range. If that's accurate, it's a step down from the $10.5 million the property was listed at last summer and could be another sign of current downward economic trends.

The Wilsons currently own four wineries in Sonoma County, including Wilson, Matrix and Mazzocco in Dry Creek Valley and Mosaic/de Lorimier in Alexander Valley. According to CFO Jon Pelleriti, the company is still undecided on long-term plans for the Jepson property. "Initially, we will stay with the Jepson name and go from there," he said.

Dbon Mendocino LLC put Jepson on the market in 2008 due to the declining real-estate market and problems arising from Mendocino County's strict building permits, said Ford. Dbon originally purchased Jepson with the backing of Fortress Investment Group in 2005. Their intention was to turn the winery around and develop 1,000 acres into home estates. But the winery's turnaround was progressing too slowly for the investment group, who decided to opt out and sell Jepson instead.

Robert Jepson, a banker, founded the winery in 1985, and produced a couple outstanding wines within a few years. But the quality has not been as high recently. The property includes a complete winery, custom-crush facilities as well as 121 acres of vines and 100 acres of plantable land. As part of the deal the Wilsons will receive the current wine inventory and a permit to distill vodka and brandy.

The Wilsons have grown grapes in Sonoma County for more than 20 years. They got their start in the early 1980s purchasing land in the Dry Creek Valley, and they now own more than 250 acres of vines. In 1993 they bought an old winery in Dry Creek and started making wine out of the renamed Wilson winery. They have increased their holdings over the years. Since taking over Mazzocco in 2005, they have instituted several changes, including a new winemaker.

Jepson will give the Wilsons new opportunities but it may be some time before the winery is up and running. Pelleriti said the prior owners were more focused on developing the land, and the property needs some work.

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