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Brown-Forman Makes Cuts, Management Changes at California Wineries

Facing a tough wine market, company announces layoffs at Sonoma-Cutrer, Fetzer and Jekel

Lynn Alley
Posted: February 2, 2004

Beverage giant Brown-Forman Corp. -- owner of Fetzer, Sonoma-Cutrer and other wine brands -- has restructured its California holdings, laying off 47 workers and appointing new management at its wineries. The move follows recent management changes at Robert Mondavi Corp. and Beringer Blass Wine Estates.

The layoffs were mostly in vineyard management and administrative positions, rather than in winemaking. Fetzer Vineyards lost 15 employees in Mendocino County and two in Paso Robles, while Sonoma-Cutrer lost 16. At Jekel in Monterey County, 12 employees were laid off and the winemaking facility will be closed, though the brand will continue to be made elsewhere.

"This isn't so much about cutting costs as about putting the resources where they can be used most effectively," said Jim Caudill, a spokesman for Fetzer. "Since Brown-Forman purchased Jekel in '91, all the properties have continued to be run independently. Now we need to focus on the hard work of figuring out the details."

Louisville, Ky.-based Brown-Forman -- which produces spirits, fine china and luggage -- entered the wine business in 1991 when it purchased Jekel Vineyards. Caudill said, "The Jekel brand is not going to go away. Some of its white wines are already being produced in Hopland, and while we are planning to close the winery itself, the red wines will most likely be made at Five Rivers Ranch in Paso Robles."

Brown-Forman underwent a shift in management last summer, when the company announced that longtime Fetzer president Paul Dolan would switch his focus from running the winery to developing new products and brands. Steve Dorfman, managing director at Sonoma-Cutrer, took over as chief winery officer for all of Brown-Forman's wine holdings, including Bolla in Italy. And Pat Voss took over as managing director at Fetzer, with responsibility for the day-to-day operations in Hopland and Paso Robles.

Among the other new assignments, Keith LaVine will serve as managing director at Sonoma-Cutrer and Maurizio Ferri will serve as managing director of Bolla. Dennis Martin, Fetzer's vice president of winemaking, will direct winemaking for all brands, while David Perata, current director of viticulture at Fetzer, will direct vineyard operations in California.

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