Viansa Winery snapped up by Vintage Wine Estates

Vintage Wine Estates, the fast-growing Santa Rosa wine company, announced a deal late Thursday to buy Viansa Winery and Marketplace, located at the southern gateway to Sonoma's Wine Country.

“They have a tremendous hospitality business, and a tremendous draw being so close to San Francisco,” said Pat Roney, president of Vintage Wine Estates.

The deal includes the Viansa winery and brand, its 168-acre property which includes wetlands and 15 acres of vineyards, and the winery's equipment, inventory and customer list, Roney said.

The property had been listed by Sotheby's International Realty for $15 million. The inventory and other aspects of the business were listed by a broker at an additional $10 million, for a total of $25 million, Roney said.

While Roney confirmed the listing price, he did not disclose what his company paid for Viansa, citing confidentiality agreements.

The deal marks Vintage Wine Estates' second North Coast acquisition in less than two months. The group bought Clos Pegase Winery in Calistoga in late August, adding it to a portfolio of properties that includes Girard Winery, Cosentino Winery, Windsor Vineyards, Sonoma Coast Vineyards, Cartlidge & Browne Winery, and Ray's Station.

“You like to spread them out and do them in an orderly basis, but sometimes you have to make your decisions when the market makes decisions,” Roney said. “But hopefully this will be it for a bit. I have no current planned acquisitions.”

The winery employs about 60 full-time and part-time workers. There will be some changes to staffing, including consolidation of some management and finance positions, Roney said. He also plans to expand hospitality, events and wine club staff.

The winery, a popular stop for tourists visiting Wine Country from San Francisco, sells about 30,000 cases per year directly to consumers, Roney said. As part of the deal, Vintage acquired a winery permitted to produce 10,000 cases per year, and a lease on a Sonoma facility with the capacity to produce 40,000 cases per year.

Roney plans to exit the leased space and direct investments to the property. He intends to plant up to 49 acres of pinot noir and chardonnay vineyards and to replace an events tent with a permanent structure.

Lloyd Davis, who was president of Viansa and is partner at New York-based Laurus Master Fund, said he plans to stay on for several months as a consultant. At one point Davis placed a bid for the company, but then decided not to pursue ownership based on a personal family decision, he said.

When Davis took over, the company was riddled with debt and losing money. Now, it's debt-free and highly profitable, he said.

“I spent the past five or six years turning the company around,” Davis said. “Viansa is like my little baby, and I wanted to make sure it's going to be in good hands.”

Viansa was founded in 1989 by Sam and Vicki Sebastiani, but it struggled after the couple turned it over to their children in 2004. One year later, the family sold Viansa for $31 million to 360 Global Wine Co., a Connecticut company with little experience in the wine industry.

The company filed bankruptcy in 2007. Laurus Master Fund, a hedge fund that had invested in Viansa, took over the winery for $40.5 million in a bankruptcy auction. The 400 or so other creditors were left with pennies on the dollar for what they were owed.