Duckhorn Wine Company Sells Controlling Share

GI Partners of Menlo, CA, acquires share.

In the third big Napa Valley winery sale this week, Duckhorn Wine Company announced Tuesday that it has sold a controlling share to GI Partners, a Menlo Park (California) private equity firm.

Duckhorn, founded as a top-line Cabernet house in 1978, had been rumored to be in play for months. Company president Alex Ryan explained, "After 30 years, Duckhorn's aging group of shareholders, who have supported this winery from day one, were looking to monetarize their investments."

Included in the sale, whose terms were not released, are Duckhorn Vineyards, Paraduxx (both in Napa Valley), and Goldeneye, which specializes in Pinot Noirs from Anderson Valley.

The sale comes on the heels of Gallo's buyout of Beam-owned William Hill and Chateau Ste. Michelle's purchase of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars.

Ryan said that Dan and Margaret Duckhorn will stay with the company, as well as most if not all employees. "I don't see any material changes in the way we do business. GI Partners wants to continue the tradition we've built."

A major player in one of the wineries, who did not wish to be identified, said his or her reaction to the GI Partners buyout was "ecstatic. My biggest fear personally was getting gobbled up by a conglomerate. But GI Partners, being a privately held group, has no redundancy, and they like what we're doing."

GI Partners' Web site describes the company as "a trans-Atlantic private equity firm" with $2 billion of capital. Ryan noted that their purchase of Duckhorn represents GI's "only investment they've made in this type of [wine] business."

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