Billionaire Stewart Resnick, owner of California citrus and pistachio farms and brands including Fiji Water, bought Sonoma Valley’s Landmark Vineyards as deals for premium-wine properties rebound.
Resnick may double production of Landmark’s highly regarded chardonnay “over a period of time, consistent with quality,” he said in an Aug. 1 telephone interview, a day before completing the purchase of the 18-acre (7.3-hectare) property in Kenwood, California, about 55 miles (88 kilometers) north of San Francisco. It was Resnick’s second vineyard purchase in less than a year, and the price wasn’t disclosed.
“This is a very good winemaker, and fits the profile we were looking for: affordable luxury,” said Resnick, chairman of Roll Global Corp., the Los Angeles-based holding company for Fiji Water, Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice and other food brands. “It’s not the very high-end, but the middle high-end, and good quality for the value. And, it was for sale.”
Sales of U.S. vineyards and wineries are increasing a year after bottoming in the wake of the financial crisis, said William Stevens, wine division manager at Santa Clara, California-based Silicon Valley Bank. U.S. wine deals totaled about $430 million through July, according to wine broker and investment adviser Zepponi & Co. in Santa Rosa, California.
“The reason you see more transactions in 2011 is that buyers are feeling better about valuation,” said Stevens, whose bank provides loans and services to wineries in California, Oregon and Washington.
Vineyard and wine company sales occur in “bunches,” and the premium-wine industry is in the midst of “another round” of deals, Stevens said. Napa Valley’s Fetzer Vineyards sold in March to Santiago-based Vina Concha & Toro SA for $238 million, and Sonoma Valley’s Seghesio Vineyards sold to Crimson Wine Group in May for an undisclosed price.
In December, Resnick acquired his first premium-wine property, the 160-acre Justin Vineyards & Winery in Paso Robles in the state’s central coast region, known for its upscale reds.
Landmark, founded and operated by descendants of steel plow inventor John Deere, is best known for its chardonnay, praised by critic Robert Parker Jr. as “one of California’s finest.” Adding the most popular U.S. varietal to the reds acquired with the Justin purchase gives Resnick a complete menu of premium wine offerings, said Mario Zepponi, principal with Zepponi.
Building a Brand
“Stewart is building a portfolio carefully, bringing agriculture expertise along with a tremendous depth of knowledge of what it means to build a brand,” said Jeff Menashe, chief executive officer of San Francisco-based investment adviser Demeter Group, which represented Landmark in the deal.
Sales of luxury bottles $15 and above increased the most among all price segments, gaining 13 percent in the year through June, according to Demeter.
Landmark sells about 25,000 cases a year, ranging from $28 to $50 a bottle. Resnick is likely to ramp up production within three years, Zepponi said.
“You have a behemoth coming into an established wine region,” Zepponi said. “Stewart doesn’t suffer the lapse of time well. He goes in and makes things happen.”
Fiji Water’s 125-person sales staff will handle marketing and distribution for Landmark after learning about the new products, said Resnick, who runs the businesses with his wife, Lynda. Former owners Mike and Mary Calhoun will stay on in a public relations role, as will the green John Deere tractor that sits near the winery entrance, he said.
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