Fortune Brands Sells off CA Wineries to Constellation Brands

Beam gets out of California wine business.



In a surprise move, Fortune Brands, the parent company of Beam Wine Estates, announced early Monday that it has sold off all its California wineries to Constellation Brands.

A purchase price of $885 million was officially announced. The former Beam wineries include Clos du Bois, Geyser Peak, Wild Horse, Buena Vista Carneros, Atlas Peak and Gary Farrell.

Just a few months ago, when Beam sold William Hill Winery and Canyon Road Winery to E. & J. Gallo, Beam's PR director, Mary Burnham, implied the company was no longer in selling mode.

"We made a decision [to] focus on the [California] brands that enhance our longterm success: Atlas Peak and Buena Vista."

The change of heart, Burnham now says, is because "Fortune and Beam decided to focus the company's resources on the higher return premium spirits business, rather than the wine business." That, despite the fact that Beam's California portfolio has experienced double-digit growth in the first three quarters of 2007, according to Burnham.

Why did Fortune change its mind? "Fortune had to ask, are we better off having those brands or the money?" says Vic Motto, CEO of Global Wine Partners, an international wine investment bank. With competition such as Constellation, Gallo, Diageo and The Wine Group, Fortune decided Beam had no chance of becoming a major player in American wine.

Constellation's vice president for corporate communications, Mike Martin, says the New York-based company bought the wineries "because they're an excellent fit with the existing Constellation brands portfolio. Look at Clos du Bois. They're the #1 superpremium winery in the U.S. from a value and revenue standpoint."

Constellation's share of the U.S. wine market will rise from 19% to 20% with the latest acquisitions, Martin says. Constellation is the country's biggest in terms of revenue dollars, he adds, while Gallo remains the largest in terms of case volume.

The deal is expected to be finalized by the end of December.

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