|Snows Lake Vineyard in Lower Lake, Calif., has been purchased by E. & J. Gallo. Photo by John Jensen.|
LOWER LAKE, Calif. – Wine giant E. & J. Gallo Winery has made its first property purchase in Lake County, buying one of the area’s well-known Cabernet Sauvignon producers.
Gallo spokesperson Susan Hensley confirmed to Lake County News that the corporation purchased Snows Lake Vineyard, located in Lower Lake. She said sale terms were not being disclosed.
The land purchase includes 2,000 acres, of which 800 are planted, Hensley said.
“It’s part of our strategy to be in all of the premier winegrowing areas in California,” Hensley said.
Hensley said Gallo looks forward to working with Snows Lake’s customers.
Another Gallo spokesperson, Loree Stroup, confirmed that it’s the corporation’s first land purchase in Lake County.
George Myers, whose family developed the vineyard, said he had no comment on the sale at this time.
Lake County Assessor-Recorder Doug Wacker said the sale recorded last Friday afternoon.
He said there were numerous parcels included in the total acreage, with a 100-percent change of ownership from several entities – Ojai Ranch & Investment Co., Miracle Land Co. and Snows Lake Vineyard – to Gallo Vineyards Inc.
Wacker said a form can be filled out to avoid disclosure of sales prices, and that was done in this transaction.
However, Wacker said, “It’s a pretty significant sale.”
Monica Rosenthal, executive director, Lake County Winery Association, welcomed Gallo to Lake County.
“We’re excited to have Gallo here in Lake County,” Rosenthal said. “It will be fun working with them.”
She said they are sorry to lose Snows Lake, which has been a supporting member of the association. “We hope we have a similar relationship with Gallo.”
Shannon Gunier, president of the Lake County Winegrape Commission, said having Lake County recognized as a premier winegrape producing region, and therefore a draw for big players like Gallo, was a positive factor of the sale.
A downside of the purchase, at least from the commission’s viewpoint, is that Gallo will be exempt from paying the assessment that supports the commission, Gunier said. That’s because the assessment doesn’t apply to operations growing for their own wine production.
Another downside – several full-time Snows Lake employees were let go as a result of the sale, including longtime Chief Operating Officer John Adriance. The laid off staff were reportedly unable to comment due to the sale agreement, and Adriance did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Hensley said she did not have information about staff layoffs.
The Snows Lake purchase is the largest of Gallo’s land acquisitions in the past decade, adding to the 16,000 acres of vineyard and eight wineries across California that it already owned, according to company statements.
Last month, Gallo announced it was purchasing Courtside Cellars in San Miguel, which includes 34 acres and a winery. That followed the purchase earlier this year of 300 acres of vineyards in Monterey County and last year’s acquisition of the 62-acre Edna Valley Vineyard near San Luis Obispo. The William Hill Estate Winery in Napa County, acquired in 2007, totals 140 acres, and the 105-acre Bridlewood Estate Winery, located in Santa Ynez, was bought by Gallo in 2004.
|The 2,000-acre Snows Lake Vineyard property in Lower Lake, Calif., is known for producing fine Cabernet Sauvignon. Photo by John Jensen.|
Growing reputation for quality winegrapes
The Snows Lake property has produced award winning Cabernet Sauvignon, with the grapes notable for their quality, coming from the rich red volcanic soils of the county’s Red Hills Lake County American Viticultural Area.
A Snows Lake Vineyard map showed that, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, the property has produced a number of other varietals, including Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Primitivo, Petite Syrah, Petite Verdoh, Syrah, Tempranillo and Zinfandel, the last being another grape for which it was becoming known.
Snows Lake was the source of winegrapes for labels including Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, Cakebread Cellars, Rosenblum Cellars, La Famiglia and Dynamite Vineyards, according to the company’s Web site.
In addition to sourcing grapes, Snows Lake also produced two wines of its own, Snows Lake One, 100-percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and Snows Lake Two, a Cabernet Sauvignon blend with Cabernet Franc.
Much of the property has been managed as undeveloped habitat. The Snows Lake Web site said the land is on the Pacific Flyway, and also includes a 240-acre wildlife corridor protected from future development by an open space conservation easement.
Gunier said Lake County is becoming known for putting out high quality winegrapes, and the county’s Cabernet Sauvignon is now getting strong interest.
“We’re getting some real stellar reviews,” Gunier said.
The dream, said Gunier, is that Gallo would do a Lake County or Red Hills brand that would boost the area’s visibility in the wine world.
“We have a lot of Lake County brands, but they’re all really small,” she said.
One thing local industry members are counting on is that Gallo’s purchase will take 20 percent of the county’s Cabernet Sauvignon off the market, which promises a price boost and increased demand for Lake County.
Gallo has accomplished what Gunier called an “amazing change,” remaking its company image from one that produced inexpensive wines to one with a higher price range of $15 to $20. “We fit right in that,” she said.
“I think it’s a real turn for Lake County,” and something that wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago, said Gunier, who announced last week that she was retiring as the commission’s president, a decision she attributed to Lake County now being very well positioned in the industry.
“We’re on top now,” said Gunier.
Email Elizabeth Larson at [email protected] .