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Rodney Strong Acquires Rockaway

The winery has sought to develop a portfolio of well-regarded vineyards throughout Sonoma.

October 14, 2003|Jerry Hirsch | Times Staff Writer

Tech financier Bill Hambrecht has had better luck with apples than with grapes.

The investment banker who helped bring such household names as Apple Computer Inc. and Adobe Systems Inc. to market has sold off one of his prized Sonoma vineyards.

Healdsburg, Calif.-based Rodney Strong Vineyards said Monday that it had acquired the 516-acre Rockaway Vineyard site that Hambrecht put on the block this year as part of a financial restructuring of his wine interests.

The parcel includes about 125 acres of premium hillside vineyards planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and other red varietals. The vineyards produced about 500 tons of grapes last year.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed. However, Hambrecht originally sought $15 million for the property but had reduced the asking price to $13.5 million.

Bob Hambrecht, a son and co-owner of Hambrecht Vineyard & Winery, which owns the Belvedere, Bradford Mountain and Jest Red brands, said the sale was part of a strategic decision to raise funds and to shed its vineyards in the Alexander Valley section of Sonoma County to concentrate on wine production in the Russian River region of the county.

The Rodney Strong winery has sought prime grape-growing land throughout Sonoma, where it is working to develop a portfolio of well-regarded vineyards.

"Not all vineyards are created equal," Tom Klein, Rodney Strong's owner, said in a statement.

Including Rockaway, the winery now owns 580 acres of vineyard in Alexander Valley plus 1,000 acres elsewhere in Sonoma County.

Hambrecht's wine interests and California's industry in general have been hurt by the slow economy, an oversupply of wine grapes, price cutting and competition from imports.

Those factors helped contribute to the bankruptcy filing of De Loach Vineyards, a family-owned Sonoma County winery. The company filed for protection from its creditors in May, citing debts of nearly $30 million and assets of $27 million.

This month, Jean Claude Boisset Wines USA, the American subsidiary of a French wine company, reached an agreement to pay $17.3 million for the De Loach brands, inventory, winery and 22 acres of surrounding vineyard, said Gordon Axton of MKF Group, financial advisors to De Loach.

But MKF is continuing to solicit bids for De Loach in advance of a Nov. 14 Bankruptcy Court auction. Axton said a new bidder would have to offer $17.8 million to cover a $400,000 breakup fee that would be owed to Boisset and to meet the Bankruptcy Court's requirement to raise what would be paid to creditors by a minimum of $100,000.

"We are busy talking to people, and we think there will be some more interest," Axton said.

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