Sonoma County wine brands Truett Hurst, VML wine brands return to founder

Founder Phil Hurst has regained control of the Truett Hurst, VML wine brands with the help of Ken Wilson, owner of nearly a dozen Sonoma County boutique wineries.|

The Truett Hurst and VML wine brands are back in the hands of founder Phil Hurst after more than a decade as part of a once publicly traded company.

The deal was the second local example in as many weeks of the founder repurchasing a wine brand.

To make this transaction work, Hurst partnered with Sonoma County vintner and boutique hotelier Ken Wilson to buy the inventory and brand intellectual property from Healdsburg-based Truett-Hurst Inc., which had pursued innovative approaches to finance, packaging and marketing.

Financial terms of the deal, completed March 21, weren’t disclosed.

Not included was the 24-plus-acre property with tasting room and 13-acre vineyard at 5610 Dry Creek Road. It sold March 8 to Aesthete Wines LLC, for $8.1 million, according to public records. Aesthete, which has sourced grapes from Dry Stack Vineyard in Bennett Valley east of Santa Rosa, plans to reopen the tasting room for its wines in April, KSRO reported.

“We couldn’t afford the whole package, with the property,” Hurst said.

But the Wilson-Hurst partnership will give the Truett Hurst and VML brands a new tasting location, at 113 Mill St. in downtown Healdsburg. That’s set to open Wednesday April 3. Hurst’s son Clay will be managing that.

Hurst said the tasting room launch has already generated a positive response on social media from longtime fans excited to support the brands under new local ownership.

And winemaking and production equipment for the two brands will shift from the alternating proprietorship at Sugarloaf Wine Co. in Sonoma Valley to one or more of the 11 Wilson Artisan Wineries facilities. Truett-Hurst winemaker Ross Reedy will continue to produce the brands.

While the two brands won’t be part of the Wilson portfolio, members of the Truett Hurst and VML clubs will be able to access benefits and wines in the Wilson club, such as Mazzocco, Pezzi King and Rockpile.

The sale of the Truett Hurst and VML brands and the Dry Creek Valley property are part of the winding down of the Truett-Hurst company, Hurst said.

“It's a disappointing result,” he said. “I have to say, we had high hopes for this company.”

Hurst and his wife, Sylvia, joined with the late Paul Dolan III and his son Heath to form Truett Hurst Winery in 2008. The VML brand was added several years later.

Then in 2013 the overarching company worked a deal with investment banker and vintner William Hambrecht to take Truett-Hurst public in an independently backed initial public offering, raising $14 million. In the next three years came challenges with the launch of the trailblazing Paperboy brand in paperboard packaging, followed by lawsuits with Hambrecht and being embroiled with a legal battle between Dolan and a Mendocino County winery.

Then came the Tubbs and Kincade fires in 2017 and 2019, respectively, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic’s public health restrictions on tasting rooms.

“The company was on track to do well, but the last five years have been tough,” Hurst said. Case production reached 300,000 annually, and sales peaked at $30 million annually.

In the midst of that time, Truett-Hurst inked an $18 million deal with Prospect Wine to sell off the private-label business. Hurst left his role as CEO to become chief innovation officer of Prospect, under contract until November of last year, and Paul Dolan moved up to the top spot at Truett-Hurst.

Dolan died in June at 72 after a battle with cancer.

Today, case production of Truett Hurst and VML are 15,000-17,000 cases annually.

Looking ahead, Hurst aims to ramp production back up to 20,000 cases annually, a level he feels is optimal for sourcing quality grapes and barrel aging the wines. He also hopes to explore new vineyard designates using select parcels from Wilson's 1,000 acres of estate vineyards.

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Reach him at or 707-521-4256.

Correction, March 28, 2024: Aesthete Wines was misspelled.

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