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DeBonis replaced as CEO at Ascentia Wine Estates

  • 6/11/2008: E1: Jim DeBonis is suddenly in charge of one of the largest wine companies in Sonoma County.

    PC: Jim Debonis started Ascentia Wine Estate, a new wine company that he formed after acquiring eight brands from Constellation Brands.

Jim DeBonis, the founder of Ascentia Wine Estates, has been replaced as chief executive officer in the latest shakeup of the troubled Healdsburg wine company.

Michael Kenton, former president and CEO of Artesa Winery in Napa, has been named chief executive of Ascentia, the company announced Wednesday.

DeBonis had the "vision and guts" to form Ascentia in 2008, but it was time for someone with additional sales and marketing experience to take the helm, company spokesman Sam Singer said. He denied DeBonis was ousted.

"This is an evolution in the management of the company," Singer said.

DeBonis did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Ascentia was created by DeBonis, a Sonoma County native, and several partners to acquire eight wineries and wine labels in California and the Pacific Northwest from Constellation Brands, the world's largest wine company.

The deal, which included Sonoma County wineries Geyser Peak, Buena Vista Carneros and Gary Farrell Vineyards, was hailed for returning several well-known wineries to local ownership after years of bouncing between large corporate wine companies.

At the time, DeBonis called the deal "a dream come true."

But the $209 million deal took place just a few months before a financial crisis rocked Wall Street. High-end wine sales across the nation have suffered ever since.

Then last year, Ascentia's sales and marketing firm and one of its key investors, W.J. Deutsch & Sons, sued Ascentia, claiming the wine company was on the brink of collapse and DeBonis had inflated sales projections.

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