Jim DeBonis is back in charge of Ascentia Wine Estates, the beleaguered wine company he formed in 2008 with more than $200 million in financing from investors.
DeBonis's return as chief executive of the Healdsburg company that owns Geyser Peak Winery among other holdings comes less than eight months after investors replaced him in what they described at the time as "an evolution in the management of the company."
During DeBonis's absence as CEO, the company was forced to sell key wine brands such Gary Farrell Winery in Healdsburg and Buena Vista Carneros Winery in Sonoma as it struggled under the weight of its roughly $200 million in debt.
Investors hired Mike Kenton as CEO in January, heralding him as the right man to "successfully lead Ascentia" given his sales and marketing experience. His sudden departure Monday followed growing differences between him and the lead investors on how to best grow the remaining brands, said Sam Singer, a company spokesman.
"The division between Mr. Kenton and the board had become very apparent," Singer said. "In the wine business, much like Hollywood, people have different visions."
Kenton, who was the former president and CEO of Artesa Winery in Napa, declined comment.
Ascentia's main investor, GESD Capital Partners in San Francisco, decided to bring back DeBonis because "he has the most knowledge of the company and he understands where the board of directors want to take it," Singer said.
The company notified employees and business partners of the change in leadership Monday. The sudden shake-up was necessary in order to "correct course," Singer said.
But he said the direction of the company would continue toward Kenton's previously stated goal of increasing production of lower-priced wines.
"I don't think we are going to shift direction at all," Singer said.
He declined to comment on the company's specific differences with Kenton.
"The investors desired to grow the brand and the company, but there are many different ways to do that and they didn't see eye to eye with Mr. Kenton," he said.
When DeBonis formed the company in 2008 he had intended to take it in the opposite direction, producing fewer wines that targeted luxury drinkers willing to pay a premium.
Singer said DeBonis is now on board with the new direction of higher production of value-priced wines.
"We didn't look for a CEO anywhere else," he said.
Last year, Ascentia sold about 700,000 cases of wine across its eight brands, according to the company.
Buena Vista Carneros accounted for about 35,000 cases and Gary Farrell Winery, a producer of pinot noir, produced about 25,000 cases. Both were sold in April.
"We have sold all the assets that we planned to sell," Singer said Monday.
The company owns Columbia Winery and Covey Run in Washington and Ste. Chapelle in Idaho.