Hopland’s Fetzer Vineyards Sold For $238 Million

by Mike Geniella, March 1, 2011

In the biggest Mendocino County wine deal ever, Fetzer Vineyards of Hopland is being sold to a Chilean company for $238 million.

Vina Concha y Toro S.A., Latin America’s leading wine producer, is the buyer of a landmark winery operation that has languished locally in recent years. The Chilean company exports wines to 135 countries around the globe, with sales approaching nearly 30 million cases.

The Fetzer Vineyards sale is the latest chapter in a winery saga that began in 1968 with the Fetzer family, who built the Mendocino County winery into one of the nation’s most successful. Family members in 1992 sold the local winery to Brown Forman Corp., the Kentucky-based liquor conglomerate.

But Brown Forman’s interest in Fetzer dimmed in recent years, accompanied by a series of layoffs, the sale of the landmark Valley Oaks food and wine center in Hopland, and a shift in grape buying to the cheaper Central Coast region. Valley Oaks has since reopened under new ownership, and is now called “Campovida.”

Tuesday’s announcement was hailed by local wine industry leaders, including John Fetzer, the former CEO of the Hopland winery.

“I’m excited about the possibilities,” said Fetzer, who now bottles premium wine under his own Saracina label.

John Fetzer said new ownership by a global wine producer could signal a new era for the Mendocino wine industry. “This could take the county industry to the next level,” he said.

Fetzer Vineyards in 2010 had net sales of about $156 million, according to current owner Brown Forman. It employs about 240 people, with the key facilities located in Hopland.

The Louisville-based distiller bought Fetzer in 1992 from the Fetzer family, who had built the local winery from ground up beginning in 1968 into one of the nation’s most successful.

The deal includes Fetzer’s state-of-the-art production facilities and headquarters in Hopland, a nationally recognized complex for its environmental practices. Also part of the sale is Bonterra, the largest producer of wines made from organically grown grapes, and other brands including Jekel, Little Black Dress, Five Rivers, and Bel Arbor. A wine production facility and vineyards in Paso Robles on the Central Coast are also part of the agreement.

Brown Forman announced in December that it was exploring the Fetzer sale.

Brown Forman CEO Paul Varga said in a statement Tuesday that the company wanted to redirect “our resources to those opportunities around the world which offer stronger growth and higher returns on invested capital.”

The Fetzer sale is expected to be completed by April, said Varga.

2 Responses to Hopland’s Fetzer Vineyards Sold For $238 Million

  1. laurastrand Reply

    May 8, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    Two thoughts – first, good for Brown Forman CEO Paul Varga who was exceedingly candid in his statement about “redirecting” or “off-shoring” capital to increase return on investment. He has no problem telling American consumers that they are no longer necessary – something most of the investor class isn’t so willing to state outright, so as not to rouse the hoi poloi.
    Second, local citizens would be well advised to bird-dog the County Assessor to ensure that this sale triggers the Prop 13 re-assessment so that the County is not denied the current market value of the property.
    Just sayin’

  2. Mark Scaramella Reply

    May 9, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    I will ask Ms. Ranochak about this assessment and how it’s being handled.
    I suspect that buyers know about Prop 13’s “corporate loophole,” however, and the assessment will remain low. Like most other commercial properties in Post-Prop 13 California.

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