The deal, announced Tuesday, includes Fetzer and affiliated brands Bonterra, Little Black Dress, Jekel, Five Rivers and Bel Arbor, which annually produce about three million cases and $156 million in net sales combined. Also included in the deal are 1,060 acres of vineyards in Mendocino County, a bottling facility as well as large winemaking plants in Hopland and Paso Robles.
The deal doesn’t include Sonoma-Cutrer, Brown-Forman’s popular Chardonnay restaurant brand, nor does it affect Brown-Forman’s longstanding sales, marketing and distribution agreement with California sparkling wine house Korbel.
Concha y Toro CEO Eduardo Guilisasti called it the largest acquisition in his company’s history. “We believe that this transaction opens additional growth opportunities globally, as well as in the American market,” he said.
Brown-Forman, a Kentucky-based spirits powerhouse best known for Jack Daniels whiskey, purchased Mendocino-based Fetzer from the Fetzer family in 1992 for a reported $82 million.
Wine and whiskey were never an easy fit and while profit margins for spirits remain strong, Brown-Forman management has been disappointed by sluggish wine sales in recent years and began shopping Fetzer in 2010. “Our company and our shareholders are best served by redirecting our resources to those opportunities around the world which offer stronger growth and higher returns on invested capital,” said CEO Paul Varga, in a statement.
While “other parties” expressed interest, company spokesman Phil Lynch said, Brown-Forman ultimately settled on Concha y Toro for three reasons: the $238 million price tag, the South American company shared Fetzer’s commitment to organic and sustainable wine growing and it expressed a determination to keep most of the 240 employees affected by the sale. “That was very appealing to us,” Lynch said.
Founded in 1968, Fetzer has been a leading brand in the value price points of $8 to $15, and its Bonterra label is a dominant player in the budding organically grown wine market. Concha y Toro’s history dates to 1883 and it is one of Latin America’s largest producers. Its brands include Don Melchor, Almaviva and Casillero del Diablo.
The transaction is subject to regulatory approval but is expected to close in April.