Ascentia dismantling Healdsburg wine group

Ascentia Wine Estates, a Healdsburg company established in 2008 with ambitions to restore local ownership to some of Sonoma County's most prominent wineries, is being sold off in pieces.

Employees at Geyser Peak Winery, Ascentia's flagship property in Sonoma County, on Thursday said managers informed staff the Geyserville winery is being sold to an Australian-based wine group. The buyer, Accolade Wines, could finalize the acquisition today, several employees said.

"We're being told tomorrow or Monday, that's all they've really told us," Jon Meola, a hospitality representative at Geyser Peak, said Thursday afternoon.

Jim DeBonis, CEO of Ascentia, declined to comment Thursday, citing confidentiality agreements. DeBonis said he was drafting a statement that would be released today or Monday.

Meanwhile, the Healdsburg company is reportedly selling its two Washington wineries to E&J Gallo. Wine Industry Insight, an online publication based in Sonoma, reported that employees at Columbia Winery and Covey Run were notified Thursday in emails from Ascentia management that both wineries would be sold to Gallo today.

DeBonis declined to confirm that emails had been sent to employees. John Segale, a spokesman for Gallo, said there hasn't been any announcement.

Rumors about the dismantling of Ascentia Wine Estates have been swirling for weeks. Its lead investor, GESD Capital Partners, declined to comment two weeks ago when asked about Ascentia's plans to sell off its wineries, and the San Francisco company did not return a phone call on Thursday.

Ascentia had heavy debt that dates back to its formation in 2008, when a team of veteran wine executives led by DeBonis essentially borrowed $209 million to purchase a cluster of wineries in California, Washington and Idaho from Constellation Brands.

Into the fold came Geyser Peak; Buena Vista Carneros in the Sonoma Valley, the oldest winery in California; and Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery in Healdsburg, a producer of high-end Russian River pinot noir and chardonnay.

The deal also included Columbia Winery, in Woodinville, Wash; Covey Run, in Sunnyside, Wash.; Ste. Chapelle winery in southwest Idaho; Atlas Peak, a high-end Napa wine brand, but not the vineyards or winery by the same name; and XYZin, a zinfandel brand produced at Geyser Peak.

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