Two long-established Sonoma County wineries lost their homes this week as the parent companies of Sebastiani and Clos du Bois laid off workers and shifted production to other facilities. The brands will continue, but the wines will be made elsewhere.
In the case of Sebastiani, this marks an end of an era. The winery, located a mile east of Sonoma Plaza, has produced wine continuously since 1904, surviving even Prohibition and the Great Depression. Foley Family Wines bought the winery from the Sebastiani family in 2008. About 30 winemaking and production employees were let go. Sebastiani's tasting room and administrative offices at the site will remain open for now.
E. & J. Gallo, which acquired Clos du Bois from Constellation in a $1.7 billion deal in January, laid off 36 employees, including the winemaking staff. The Geyserville winery and tasting room, built in the late 1990s, are currently shuttered.
Consolidation of winemaking facilities is not new in the California wine industry. Constellation and Jackson Family Wines have made similar moves over the years. The pandemic also accelerated changes in the marketplace, as consumer demand for cheap wines continues to slide. Clos du Bois in recent years has focused on wines priced $15 and under, while the bulk of Sebastiani's bottlings sell for $20-$40.
When Gallo purchased more than a dozen value-focused brands from Constellation, it was expected it would need to find cost savings to turn the brands around. "Given the changing market dynamics over the past two years, we are transitioning the bulk of our production from the Clos du Bois winery to our other wineries in Sonoma County," Lon Gallagher, senior manager of Gallo public relations, said. "We will maintain some operations at Clos du Bois moving forward, but the current staffing levels are not needed for future production."
Gallo will produce Clos du Bois at its nearby Frei Ranch and Asti facilities. Gallagher declined to comment on whether case production would change, but in 2006 the Geyserville winery was approved to produce up to 3.5 million cases annually.
Foley is shifting Sebastiani's 160,000-case annual production to its Ferrari-Carano facilities in Dry Creek and Alexander valleys. "Over time, it has become clear that the Sebastiani site is not the right place to bear a large share of our manufacturing needs; the size and layout of the facility, its location within a residential neighborhood, its proximity to a public access trail, and ongoing concerns about environmental impact all played a part in our decision," Foley president Shawn Schiffer said.
Sebastiani was founded by Samuele Sebastiani, a laborer from Tuscany who came to America to make wine. Once the heart of wine tourism in Sonoma Valley, the utilitarian facility lacks the romance of newer destinations. The winery covers about two full blocks.
Clos du Bois was founded in 1974 by Frank Woods and Tom Reed and quickly became one of Sonoma's most-prominent brands in the 1980s and early '90s. The partners sold the winery in 1988 and it changed hands several times over the years. Constellation bought the brand in 2007 from Beam Wines. as part of an $887 million transaction.
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