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Constellation Buys The Prisoner Wine Company for $285 Million

Less than a year after buying Meiomi, the company sees potential in the red blend Dave Phinney created
The Prisoner, with its distinctive Francisco de Goya etching label, has been a runaway success since its 2000 debut.
Photo by: Courtesy Constellation Brands
The Prisoner, with its distinctive Francisco de Goya etching label, has been a runaway success since its 2000 debut.

Mitch Frank
Posted: April 6, 2016

Constellation Brands, one of the world’s largest wine companies, is investing big in California red blends, buying the brands of The Prisoner Wine Company from Huneeus Vintners. The portfolio includes five brands: superstar blend The Prisoner, as well as Saldo, Cuttings, Blindfold and Thorn. The transaction, expected to close this month, includes just the brands. The price is approximately $285 million.

“More than ever, consumers are seeking high quality, distinctive wines, and the portfolio we are acquiring from The Prisoner Wine Company delivers,” said Bill Newlands, president of Constellation’s wine and spirits division. “Our goal is to be a leader in the U.S. wine market and to continue to premiumize our portfolio. We continually look for opportunities to strengthen our position within this portion of the industry.”

The Prisoner is a modern-day wine success story, launched by Orin Swift founder Dave Phinney in 2000. Phinney crafted a contemporary version of the California field blend—Zinfandel with portions of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Charbono. The wine consistently earns outstanding reviews from Wine Spectator, and has appeared on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list multiple times.

The California red blend category has grown dramatically since the first vintage of The Prisoner, with wine drinkers—particularly young ones—turning to blends with strong brand identities over varietal Merlot and Syrah. According to Nielsen, red blend sales grew 7.6 percent by volume in 2015. Sales have been even stronger for blends priced over $20. The Prisoner retails for $35 a bottle.

In 2010, Phinney sold the brand to Huneeus Vintners, owners of Quintessa, after growing it to 85,000 cases. Sources report the price tag then was $40 million. Huneeus has continued to expand the brand, increasing production to 170,000 cases last year.

“Our team—including employees, growers, distributors and winery partners—have created and built an exceptional portfolio of fine wines, and we are very proud of the success they have achieved in a relatively short time frame,” said Agustin Francisco Huneeus, head of the company. “Constellation’s market reach, business intelligence and access to high quality grapes will enable the brands’ continued growth momentum.”

According to Constellation, winemaker Jen Beloz (who took over for Phinney in 2011) and her team will consult on the winemaking, but the company will move production to Napa's Franciscan Estate Winery.

This is the second major brand purchase by Constellation in less than a year. The firm paid $315 million for Joe Wagner’s Pinot Noir brand Meiomi last July. "This acquisition is the next step in our strategy," said Newlands, "enabling us to further capitalize on U.S. market trends that favor high-end wine brands."

Bill Belkin
Edina, MN —  April 6, 2016 3:00pm ET
As a wine lover and an appreciator of what "magic" winemaker's can create - but also as a pragmatist and a buyer for 10 stores - one hopes that this wine does not fade into "corporate oblivion" in the name of space on the shelf vs. a place in our heart... I for one, will wait and see... It's free market at it's worst - er, I mean best...
Amy Dailey
Irvine, CA —  April 6, 2016 6:25pm ET
I was nervous when Constellation bought Justin wineries, if "Corporate America" would change ...well anything about one of my favorite wines and winery. The same winemaker is still there and Justin is still a consultant for the winery. The wines are still amazing!! That tells me Constellation does not want to ruin a good thing!
Gregory Popovich
Palos Verdes Estates, CA  —  April 6, 2016 7:02pm ET
It was the owner of Fiji Water that bought Justin not Constellation (see below). My wife loves their wines and the quality has seemed to remain high.

Billionaire Stewart Resnick’s Fiji Water LLC will acquire Justin Vineyards & Winery in Paso Robles, California, for an undisclosed price, adding upscale wine to his investments in bottled water and pomegranate juice.
Amy Dailey
Irvine, CA —  April 6, 2016 7:52pm ET
Oops! I stand corrected. I guess its Fiji then that I need to applaud! Thanks GP!
Brad Helding
Kalispell Montana —  April 19, 2016 12:22am ET
The end of Prisoner.. I will cherish my last few bottles
Brad Helding
Kalispell Montana —  April 28, 2016 10:25pm ET
By buy Prisoner

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