Jim DeBonis resolved to buy three Sonoma County wineries six months ago at the moment he realized he could no longer protect them.
As the chief operating officer at Allied Domecq and later Beam Wine Estates, the Sonoma County native had always tried to nurture the local brands under his control.
But when Fortune Brands decided to sell its entire wine portfolio to Constellation Brands in December for $885 million, DeBonis knew the only way he could continue developing the brands was to own them.
"I decided I'm not going to live with this," DeBonis said. "From that point my focus was to find a way that I could carry on with these brands and go after potentially acquiring them."
Six months later, DeBonis is chief executive officer of Ascentia Wine Estates, a new wine company based in Healdsburg. On Monday, Ascentia acquired not just the California wineries DeBonis cared so much about, but three other wineries in the Pacific Northwest.
The total portfolio represents over 1 million cases of wine per year, creating overnight one of the largest wine companies in Sonoma County.
"Making this whole thing come together is really a dream come true," DeBonis said.
As chief operating officer at Allied Domecq in 2004, DeBonis helped convince Gary Farrell to sell his pioneering Russian River winery for an estimated $16 million.
Ensuring that Allied executives understood the importance of maintaining the integrity of that brand was very important to DeBonis.
"I always felt like a guardian of that brand in the corporate world," he said.
DeBonis, 48, grew up on a family ranch between Healdsburg and Santa Rosa, and his large Italian family owned a vineyard. He was general manager at Simi winery when it was acquired in 1999 by Constellation.
After moving to Allied Domecq, DeBonis spent a lot of time revamping the Atlas Peak and Buena Vista Carneros brands.
When it became clear that the lease on the Atlas Peak winery and vineyards was running out, DeBonis refocused the brand to mountain-grown cabernet sauvignon from several Napa sources.
At Buena Vista, which Allied purchased in 2001 for $86 million, DeBonis realized the brand was failing to take advantage of its prime Carneros vineyards. He brought in a new winemaker and slashed production by 80 percent to focus on high-end pinot noir and chardonnay.
"They may have changed hands, but having been COO of Allied and Beam, I've been championing these brands here locally," he said. "I felt like I've made a difference with these brands."
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org.