Gary Heck, head of F. Korbel & Bros., said Saturday that it was "kind of bittersweet" to be selling Kenwood Vineyards, which he acquired 13 years ago, and turning his full attention to Korbel's iconic brands.
"I hate to see Kenwood go," said Heck, who is Korbel's president and owner. But with sales of champagne and sparkling wine a record high in the United States, "we want to put all of our resources and focus behind Korbel," he said.
"We're going to explore around sparkling and brandy," Heck said, noting the company sells about 1.35 million cases of Korbel champagne per year.
Korbel announced Friday that it was selling Kenwood Vineyards in the Sonoma Valley to Banfi Vinters, a privately owned, New York-based wine marketing firm that is making its first foray into California.
Kenwood, located in the Sonoma Valley town of the same name, has played a vital role in the growth of Sonoma County winemaking. It was created nearly 40 years ago by local winemakers who focused on producing finely crafted premium wines that helped the county's varietals explode onto the national marketplace.
Korbel acquired Kenwood in 1999, when it was producing fewer than 300,000 cases annually and increased output to more than 550,000 cases last year.
The Kenwood sale is scheduled to be completed in June. Financial details have not been released.
Banfi is not planning personnel changes at Kenwood at this point, Heck said.
"I think Banfi is a very well put together wine company," Heck said. "What Banfi has said is they're going to keep the team of Kenwood people. Currently they're saying they're keeping the Kenwood team."
Valley of the Moon winery is not part of this deal, Heck said, and the company will continue to use the Valley of the Moon winery to crush Korbel grapes.
"We've got a long way to go with this thing," Heck said. "This is a letter of intent. They've done a lot of work, and both sides are pretty confident that it's a done deal. Like they say, nothing's sold until the check clears the bank."
Representatives of Banfi, which is headquartered in Old Brookville on New York's Long Island, were not available for comment Saturday.
Banfi Vintners is a privately held family business started in 1919 by John F. Mariani, Sr. His sons, John and Harry Mariani, founded the Castello Banfi vineyard estate and Vigne Regali Cellars in the Tuscany region of Italy.
In 2009, Banfi and Gruppo Italiano Vini formed an equity partnership in Italy's Bolla wines, and last year established the Excelsior Wine Co. in Chile.
Their first venture into U.S. wine came in 2010 when they purchased Pacific Rim in Washington.
The Korbel winery, founded by three brothers from what is now the Czech Republic, began operations in 1882 along the Russian River and began shipping its first California champagne in the mid-1890s.