Diageo Sells Beaulieu, Sterling

But will immediately lease back the two wineries’ facilities and vineyards under a 20-year contract.

In a move that was unexpected but not really all that surprising, Diageo, the London-based international drinks company, announced over the weeked it was selling two of its prime winery brands, Beaulieu and Sterling, to a San Diego County real estate firm for $269 million.

Diageo’s U.S. wine business has been suffering as a result of the global economy. Last May 6, the company’s stock tumbled, and the company announced layoffs and said it was “looking at all options” to restructure the division. Diageo had owned the two Napa Valley-based wineries since 1997, when Grand Metropolitan merged with Guinness to form Diageo.

The move may have been geared to infuse cash into Diageo, but the company will immediately lease back the two wineries’ facilities and vineyards, under a 20-year contract that includes management of the brands. Diageo announced that jobs would not be affected.

The company that bought Beaulieu and Sterling is Escondido-based Realty Income Corp., a publicly-traded company founded in 1970. The $269 million price tag is said to make the transaction the biggest American winery sale-leaseback deal ever.

Correction (7/4): Diageo sold the land and buildings. Diageo retains ownership of the Beaulieu and Sterling brands and vines.

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