Gary Heck, president and owner of the Korbel wine and champagne empire, has begun exploring the sale of Kenwood Vineyards to Banfi Vintners, the company said Friday.

Heck said the deal would allow him to focus on the best opportunities for growth with F. Korbel and Brothers' champagne and brandy, which have been in the family since 1954.

"After experiencing the worst recession in 70 years, the California wine business is emerging from this difficult period in good shape and it seemed an opportune time to explore the sale of Kenwood Vineyards," Heck said in a statement. "This will allow us to focus the company's resources on its leading California champagne and brandy business."

Heck was unavailable to comment on Friday night because he was traveling, said Margie Healy, Korbel spokeswoman.

Korbel acquired Kenwood Vineyards in 1999. At that time, Kenwood was producing less than 300,000 cases and under Korbel it grew to more than 550,000 cases in 2011. Included in the sale are the Kenwood winery and trademarks, bottling facility and its merlot and zinfandel vineyards. The sale is expected to close in June.

Banfi Vintners is a privately held family business founded in New York in 1919 by John F. Mariani, Sr. and built for the past four decades by his sons, John and Harry Mariani.

They founded the Castello Banfi vineyard estate and Vigne Regali Cellars in Italy. In 2009 Banfi and Gruppo Italiano Vini formed an equity partnership in Italy's Bolla wines, and last year established the Excelsior Wine Company, a joint venture sales and marketing firm with Chilean wine producer Concha y Toro. The Marianis' first foray into U.S. wine was with their 2010 purchase of Pacific Rim in Washington.

With the acquisition of Kenwood, Banfi co-CEOs James Mariani and Cristina Mariani-May said in a statement that they "hope to become a worthy custodian of this historic brand.

"We want the transition to be as seamless as possible," they said.

No financial terms were disclosed.

The Heck family will retain Korbel Champagne Cellars and its related assets. Its 47-year marketing and sales agreement with Brown-Forman will remain unchanged.

F. Korbel and Bros. currently owns Korbel Champagne Cellars, Kenwood Vineyards, Lake Sonoma Winery, Valley of the Moon Winery and Heck Cellars, a brandy production facility.