Nothing is forever.
That’s true in life and it’s true in business — including the wine business.
In recent days, two families with long winemaking histories — the Firestones and the Bynums — have bid adieu… in different ways… to their venerable wine businesses.
Adam Firestone, president of the 150,000-case Firestone Vineyard in Santa Barbara County, and a third-generation vintner, wouldn’t reveal the price being paid to acquire the Firestone Vineyard and Prosperity Wines brands, along with the Santa Ynez Valley winery and 480 acres of land, 380 of which are planted to grapevines. But he did say it was a more realistic deal than some of the recent ones in Napa.
“I see those things going on up there and I shake my head,” he told Wines & Vines. “I don’t understand people paying the equivalent of the gross national product of Guatemala for the Duckhorn winery, which is basically a small business. It must make sense to somebody, though, because you see it happening.”
Firestone describes the sale as a move made from strength, saying, “It was just a good combination of factors that came together. It’s been great to do something that you love to do, and not go broke doing it.”
Firestone Vineyard was founded by tire company heir Leonard Firestone, his son Brooks and Brooks’ wife Kate in 1972, as the county’s first estate winery, although Santa Barbara Winery in the oceanside city dates back to 1962. It did much to put the area on the winemaking map, and to encourage winegrape growing in California’ s South Central Coast.
Meanwhile, Tom Klein, owner and chairman of Rodney Strong Vineyards in Sonoma County, announced the purchase of the Davis Bynum brand for an undisclosed amount. The sale includes the brand and current inventory, but does not include the winery, tasting room or vineyards previously associated with the brand.
Davis Bynum General Manager Hampton Bynum was unable to provide further information about his family’s plans for the winery, tasting room and vineyards. “I’m not sure what I can and can’t say right now because of the contract we signed,” he told Wines & Vines. “It’s all very complicated.”
Klein owns several vineyards in the Russian River Valley, which he intends to use for the brand, supplemented by additional fruit sourced from growers within the AVA. Gary Patzwald, luxury winemaker for Rodney Strong Vineyards, will take on the winemaking role for Davis Bynum.
“Davis is a wine industry pioneer like Rod (Strong) was,” Klein commented. “He raised the bar in production of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and was instrumental in building the reputation of Russian River Valley. Our family is proud to carry on Bynum’s passionate commitment to quality winemaking.”