Atlas Peak Vineyards, a Napa Valley joint partnership between British, French and Italian investors, has been sold as part of a near-billion-dollar acquisition of various alcoholic beverage entities by a British firm.
The vineyard property, estimated to have a value of about $20 million, was a tiny fraction of the $877 million deal in which Whitbread and Co. PLC of London sold its spirits division to Allied-Lyons PLC.
The transfer of Atlas Peak gives Allied-Lyons' North American subsidiary, Hiram Walker, a third major winery in California. Hiram Walker already owns Callaway in Riverside County and Clos du Bois in Sonoma County.
The heart of the Whitbread sale was the spirits brands including the successful Beefeater gin. Other spirits included in the sale were Long John Scotch (popular in Europe), Laphroaig Single Malt Scotch, and Black Bottle Scotch. Also sold was J. Wile Napa Valley wines, and the Buckingham Wile Co., which imports and distributes wines and spirits.
Sources said other companies showing interest in the Whitbread sale were Heublein (U.S. subsidiary of Grand Metropolitan PLC of England); American Brands of Chicago and Seagram of New York.
The Atlas Peak project was formed as a joint venture between Whitbread (which owned 85% of the project); the Bizot family, owners of Bollinger Champagne (10%) and Antinori of Italy (5%).
The project, which has no winery building yet, has 36,000 square feet of hillside caves and 440 planted acres with another 100 acres that will be planted this spring. Grape varieties planted now are Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sangiovese. Wine maker for the venture is Dick Peterson.
Daryl Groom has replaced Armand Bussone as wine maker at Geyser Peak Winery. Groom formerly worked as head wine maker for Penfold's, the Australian winery that became a 50% owner of Geyser Peak last year.
In another personnel move, Grady Wann has replaced Doug Nalle as wine maker at Quivira Winery in Sonoma County, permitting Nalle to devote more time to his own Nalle brand. Wann had been assistant wine maker at Sonoma Cutrer Vineyards. Nalle's Zinfandel is annually one of the best in the state.