This article was originally published in 2016.
There have been some dramatic acquisitions in the wine business over the past several months. Jackson Family Wines purchased Copain winery, a highly regarded boutique Sonoma County producer of syrah, pinot noir, and chardonnay. In April, Ste. Michelle Estates, the parent company of Washington state’s Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest wineries purchased Patz & Hall, another Sonoma County specialist in chardonnay and pinot noir. The sale amounts for these purchases were not disclosed.
Contrast those transactions with two mammoth buys carried out by Constellation Brands, one of the world’s largest wine companies. Also in April, Constellation purchased the Prisoner Wine from Huneeus Vintners for a reported $285 million. And last year, Constellation paid a whopping $315 million for the Meiomi brand of pinot noir, a transaction that did not include a winery or vineyards.
This may just sound like a lot of money changing hands, but these sales affect how the wines are made and ultimately how they reach us through the distribution system. Both Ste. Michelle Estates and Jackson Family Wines have a reputation for buying well-regarded wineries and maintaining the quality. Ste. Michelle Estates also owns Oregon’s Erath winery, as well as Conn Creek and Villa Mt. Eden in Napa Valley. And in partnership with Marchese Antinori, the company bought Napa’s venerable Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in 2007. Jackson Family Wines has been on a buying spree; the acquisition of Copain brings its portfolio to 50 wineries.
Constellation, a publicly traded company, saw immediate gains from the Meiomi purchase, crediting the brand’s strong sales for a 22 percent increase in profits during the third quarter of last year. According to Wine Spectator magazine, the Prisoner Wine’s five labels — the Prisoner, Saldo, Cuttings, Blindfold, and Thorn — sold more than 170,000 cases last year. That’s double the production in 2010 when Huneeus Vintners purchased the brand from its founder, Dave Phinney, for a reported $40 million. We may wonder, with so much more wine being sold under a popular brand, can quality be sustained?