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The Wine Group Buys Sonoma’s Benziger Winery

Mike Benziger looks to step back from work, and the owner of Cupcake Wines acquires a premium brand
Mike Benziger is stepping back after grappling with health issues.
Photo by: Melissa Barnes
Mike Benziger is stepping back after grappling with health issues.

Tim Fish
Posted: June 9, 2015

The Wine Group, a beverage giant known for supermarket wine brands such as Almaden and Cupcake, has acquired Benziger Family Winery, one of California’s highest-profile practitioners of organic and biodynamic grapegrowing and winemaking, the companies announced Monday.

Included in the sale were the Benziger and Imagery brands, the family’s 85-acre Glen Ellen ranch, two winemaking facilities in Sonoma Valley, current inventory and roughly 160 acres of vines. The sale price was not disclosed, but industry insiders said it was between $70 million to $80 million.

Benziger produces a range of wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir, and under the Imagery label the family branches into more obscure varieties such as Cinsault, Barbera and Tannat. They own or have long-term leases on vineyards in Sonoma Valley, Sonoma Mountain, Russian River Valley, Pine Mountain-Cloverdale and Sonoma Coast.

The sale might not be the clash of corporate cultures it appears. While The Wine Group is one of the world’s largest producers of value wines and the family-owned Benziger built its reputation on careful cultivation of all things green, the two companies have a history.

The Glen Ellen brand, which the Benziger family launched to huge success in 1981 before selling in 1993, has been owned by The Wine Group since 2002. “They’re committed to protecting all the work we’ve done and to protecting the legacy,” said general manager Mike Benziger of the new owners.

The decision to sell did not come easily, Benziger, 63, said. After dealing with health problems in recent years, he decided to transition out of the winery, and when the family began looking for new partners to step in, The Wine Group offered to buy the business outright, he said.

Based in Livermore, Calif., The Wine Group is expanding its business in the superpremium category and saw Benziger as a logical step. “We have been thoughtful in our search for a winery that produces exceptional wines while sharing our values of integrity, social responsibility and innovation,” Brian Vos, CEO of The Wine Group, said in a statement.

A company spokesman told Shanken News Daily, a sister publication of Wine Spectator, that Benziger’s nationally distributed volume—mostly priced from $12 to $25 per bottle—is approximately 150,000 cases, while its direct-to-consumer business ranges from $25 to $80 a bottle and accounts for about 35,000 cases.

The Benziger family’s success with direct-to-consumer sales through its popular visitor center was also appealing to The Wine Group, which sells its wine almost exclusively through the three-tier system.

“Our whole mission here is to reconnect people with the earth,” Benziger said, “and connecting the dots from the earth to the wine.” The new owners, Benziger said, are committed to maintaining the winery’s green-friendly focus and have offered jobs to all 150 employees. “That was really key for me,” he said.

The Benziger family is large and multigenerational, and many family members work for the company. While seven family members and one outside investor formed the ownership, Benziger said no family squabbles about succession fueled the sale. “I think our kids now have a door open for them that we couldn’t have opened and will have a lot more opportunities [with the new owners],” Benziger said.

While Benziger’s last day at the winery was Monday, he has no plans beyond spending time with family. “I intend on staying connected to farming,” he said.

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