Silicon Valley Investment Firm Buys Majority Stake in Napa's Far Niente Wine Estates

GI Partners, which owns a controlling share of Duckhorn, has invested in the company founded by Gil Nickel
Silicon Valley Investment Firm Buys Majority Stake in Napa's Far Niente Wine Estates
The historic Far Niente winery in Napa Valley has new financial backers. (Courtesy Far Niente)
May 17, 2016

Private equity firm GI Partners has bought a majority stake in Napa's Far Niente Wine Estates, which includes the Far Niente winery, as well as sister brands Dolce, Nickel & Nickel, EnRoute and Bella Union, Wine Spectator has learned. Beth Nickel and Erik Nickel, members of the company's founding family, as well as the company's senior leaders, Dirk Hampson and Larry Maguire, will remain shareholders and active in day-to-day management of the wineries.

"We are thrilled that GI Partners will be making an investment in Far Niente," said Hampson, the company's CEO and director of winemaking. "We have a veteran and talented winemaking and management team that is passionate about wine, along with a new partner who supports our core value of making wine without compromise." Neither side would disclose the size or price of GI Partners' stake in the company, but it is a majority of shares.

Gil and Beth Nickel purchased Far Niente in 1979, reviving it 60 years after Prohibition shuttered it. Since then, the Nickel Family has built a strong foothold in Napa Valley. They launched Dolce, a brand devoted to late-harvest wines, in 1989; Nickel & Nickel, focused on single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, in 1997. Expansion continued after Gil's death in 2003. Most recently, the family established Bella Union in 2012, producing Cabernet from the Bella Oaks Lane property in Rutherford. They have also stretched into Sonoma County, with the 2007 launch of EnRoute, a Russian River Valley–based Pinot Noir and Chardonnay label.

Hampson said that GI Partners' investment provides the resources for them to plan for the wineries' future. "We have always looked for ways to grow and improve our wines and wineries," he said.

"We are proud to align ourselves with the Far Niente team, and we share their vision and long term goals to continue as an independent fine wine company, " said David Mace, a GI Partners managing director, in a statement. "Our investment supports the focus on ongoing consistent production of high-quality wines as well as the team's continued dedication to the business they have successfully nurtured for decades."

Based in Silicon Valley's Menlo Park, GI Partners manages over $12 billion in capital for institutional investors. While the firm specializes in technology companies and real estate, this is not its first wine venture. In 2008, it took a controlling interest in Napa's Duckhorn Wine Company.

Hampson said lovers of Far Niente wines have no reason to worry, as nothing is going to change, including relationships with growers and distributors. "Our passion for making great wines combined with the genuine, personal hospitality that has always been associated with the Far Niente wineries is as strong as ever."

The parties expect the transaction to be completed by June.

Winery Purchases and Sales United States California Napa News

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