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Wine and Spirits Giant Pernod Ricard Buys Sonoma's Kenwood Vineyards

Purchase of California winery could mark an expansion in the United States wine market

Tim Fish
Posted: April 24, 2014

Venerable Sonoma winery Kenwood Vineyards has been acquired by global beverage giant Pernod Ricard. The sale includes the brand, inventory, winery facilities and four vineyard properties. The sale price was not disclosed.

Kenwood owner Gary Heck said he was selling the winery to focus efforts on his core brands: Korbel sparkling wine and brandy. “They approached us and I can’t be more pleased for it to go to Pernod Ricard,” Heck told Wine Spectator. "They have the wherewithal to take it to the next level."

Kenwood, which takes its name from the small village where it’s located in Sonoma Valley, was founded in 1970 and was among a new wave of wineries that ushered in the modern winemaking era of Sonoma County.

Heck bought a 50 percent share of the winery in 1996 and sole control in 1998. He grew the brand from 350,000 cases annually to nearly 600,000. Kenwood produces a wide range of wines, including Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. Its Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon is highly regarded. In 2012, Heck was in talks to sell Kenwood to Banfi Vintners but that deal fell through.

Paris-based Pernod Ricard is one of the largest beverage companies in the world, with a portfolio largely focused on spirits such as Absolut vodka, Chivas Regal, Glenlivet Scotch and Beefeater gin. The company’s wine brands include Perrier-Jouët and G.H. Mumm Champagnes and Mumm Napa sparkling wine, Jacob’s Creek in Australia, New Zealand's Brancott and Spain's Campo Viejo.

“Kenwood is going to be the cornerstone of our U.S. still wine business,” said Jeff Agdern, senior vice president of wines and Champagnes for Pernod Ricard USA. The company had been looking to buy in Sonoma and Napa for some time and was seeking a winery of considerable scale but also one that “had a strong sense of place.”

Agdern would not rule out the possibility that Pernod Ricard will buy additional domestic wineries. “Our ambition is to become one of the top suppliers of premium wines in the U.S.,” he said.

For now, Agdern said the company will focus on expanding Kenwood’s reach. “About 40 percent of Kenwood wine is sold in California and we think the market outside the state is underdeveloped. We want to make it more of a national brand.”

The sale is expected to close by June 30.

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