More than a decade after launching Wind Gap Wines in California's Sonoma Valley, Pax Mahle is walking away from the winery. Mahle sold his remaining 50 percent share in June to his partner Terroir, the wine company founded by one-time rising star Charles Banks. The deal includes the winery, its inventory, and a separate brand called Agharta. Mahle retains his winemaking facility in Sebastopol and the former Wind Gap tasting room, which is now home to his namesake brand, Pax.
Mahle and his wife, Pam, had been trying to strike a deal to take control of Wind Gap for more than a year. The couple felt their relationship with Terroir was no longer working, and decided to cut ties after Banks was sentenced to four years in prison for defrauding former NBA star Tim Duncan out of millions of dollars. "We certainly worked very hard coming up with a plan to keep the brand," Mahle told Wine Spectator. But Terroir's management wanted to keep Wind Gap. "We got a great deal and we are very happy," he said. The purchase price was not disclosed.
Established in 2006, Wind Gap makes Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay, among others, mostly from cool-climate vineyards influenced by wind gaps. Total annual production hit 12,000 cases a few years ago, but Mahle says that has dipped in recent vintages.
In 2013, Terroir bought a 50 percent stake in the winery and Agharta, which focuses on Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Mahle continued to make the wines while Terroir handled the sales and marketing.
As part of the new deal, Mahle will keep the long-term leases on several vineyards on the Sonoma Coast that he used for Wind Gap, including Majik and Armagh. He will use the Syrah and Trousseau Gris from those sites for Pax. "We think we'll make better wines and be more focused with just one brand," he said.
The future of Wind Gap is still up in the air. "We are very pleased with the transaction and are in the process of evaluating opportunities for the brand going forward," said Terroir CEO John Hawkins, in a statement.
Banks founded Terroir Capital, a private-equity fund, after leaving cult Cabernet producer Screaming Eagle. He went on to assemble a roster of nearly a dozen wineries in California, New Zealand and South Africa under the fund's wine company, Terroir. In 2013, he separately purchased Napa's Mayacamas with American Eagle Outfitters and DSW chairman Jay Shottenstein and his family (the winery was not part of Terroir). Banks is no longer involved in either Mayacamas or Terroir, which were not implicated in his legal troubles.
For Mahle, the sale brings him full circle to the brand he started in 2000. He built a reputation for rich Syrah at Pax Wine Cellars before launching Wind Gap and Agharta. (He left Pax Wine Cellars following a dispute with the former co-owner but kept the Pax name as part of a legal settlement, relaunching the brand in 2013). He currently produces about 3,000 cases per year.
"My wife and I are simplifying our lives and focusing on what we are passionate about," he said.
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