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Hazlitt's 1852 Vineyards Buys Historic Widmer Winery

Constellation sells 1887 winery to smaller Finger Lakes neighbor

Mitch Frank
Posted: April 5, 2010

Call it a sign of the times for upstate New York's evolving wine industry. Local giant Constellation Brands, which is consolidating operations and focusing more on premium brands around the world, is selling a historic Finger Lakes winery that dates back to 1887. And one of the region's family-run wineries, Hazlitt's 1852 Vineyards, is purchasing it to hopefully become a larger player.

Constellation Brands, the world's largest wine company by volume, announced last week that it will sell the historic Widmer winery in Naples, N.Y., to Hazlitt's 1852 Vineyards. Hazlitt, with the collaboration of the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), will use the old facility to produce its large-volume blends like Hazlitt Red Cat.

A century ago, Widmer was one of the big four names in New York wine. Along with Gold Seal, Taylor and Great Western, the large winery on the shore of Lake Canadaigua produced a wide array of wines popular with Americans on the East Coast. Widmer was known in particular for its dry red table wines. But as California's wine industry boomed and vinifera grape varieties came to dominate the market, the big four faded in the '70s and '80s. A small upstart, Constellation, also based in Naples, ended up owning the other four brands. Constellation bought Widmer in 1986 and began producing Manischewitz kosher wine in the old facility.

But when Constellation decided last year to modernize its flagship Canadaigua winery down the road, Widmer was no longer necessary. Enter Hazlitt, a winery established in 1985 as the Hazlitt family, who started growing grapes for the big wineries back in 1852, needed to expand their facilities. The Hazlitts produce premium wines, including Riesling and Gewürztraminer, at a winery in Hector, on nearby Lake Seneca. But their larger production blends, such as Red Cat and White Cat, which are made from hybrid grapes like Red Catawba, will now be produced at the Widmer winery. "We are excited about this opportunity and envision creating jobs and a sense of community at this historic winery in Naples," said Leigh Hazlitt Triner, in a statement.

For RIT, it's an educational opportunity. RIT intends to work directly with Hazlitt to create educational programming for the university's technology programs and its School of Hospitality and Service Management.

"Together, the organizations involved have created a unique opportunity that will preserve a historic landmark in the upstate New York area as a functioning winery," said Constellation president and CEO Rob Sands.

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