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Guinness America Sells Rodney Strong Vineyards

Times Wine Writer

Guinness America, the U.S. holding company of beverage giant Guinness PLC, announced Thursday that it has sold Rodney Strong Vineyards in Sonoma County to Klein Foods, a family-owned packaged foods company based in Stockton.

No sale price was disclosed, but an industry source estimated that the winery, 1,200 acres of land and a sophisticated wine telemarketing program all sold for more than $30 million. Escrow is expected to close in January.

Announcement of the deal was made by Hambrecht & Quist, a San Francisco-based mortgage banking company, which represented Guinness in the transaction.

The Rodney Strong Winery, incorporated as Sonoma Vineyards, was Guinness’ last U.S. wine holding. It announced more than a year ago that it would divest itself of all U.S. wine holdings and previously sold its interests in San Martin and Concannon wineries as well as two imported wine brands. Guinness has said it will concentrate on its beer and spirits brands.

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Rodney Strong/Sonoma Vineyards produced about 450,000 cases of wine in 1988, about two-thirds of which annually sell through the telemarketing program under the Windsor Vineyards brand.

Bought by Schenley

Sonoma Vineyards, which went public in 1970 at $5 per share, rose to $42 per share at one point, had a second public offering at $28.50 in 1972 and in 1984 went private in a $2-per-share tender offer by Renfield Importers.

In 1986, the company was bought by Schenley Industries, which itself was acquired in 1987 by Guinness America.

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Thomas B. Klein, president of Klein Foods and Klein Bros. International, outbid a number of others for the company, including wine maker Rodney Strong, who founded the winery in 1961 and has been with the operation since then.

Strong, contacted at the winery, said he has not discussed the deal with Klein. “My role (under the new ownership) has not yet been discussed,” he said.

According to financial documents released when Sonoma Vineyards was a public company, Strong had a contract with Sonoma Vineyards that would pay him 15 cents per case if the winery were sold and continued to use his name and he were not involved in the winery.

Klein reportedly was a silent investor in California Cooler at its founding. California Cooler was sold to Brown-Foreman in 1985 for a reported $146 million.


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