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Washington's Pacific Rim Winery purchased by Banfi Vintners' Mariani family of New York from Randall Grahm, owner of California's Bonny Doon Vineyard


Date: 01/05/11

by David Furer

Grahm founded Pacific Rim in 1992 as a label for blends of Riesling produced with grapes sourced from Washington, California, and Germany growing to a freestanding winery in Washington with a range of brands exclusively from Washington and those of the original internationally-sourced blends.

Banfi intends to continue with the winery’s executive team in place and independent of its other holdings. “Pacific Rim has already created its own proud legacy and following,” stated Ms. Mariani-May. “Just as Randall Grahm kept it independent of his Bonny Doon Vineyard, we plan to separately manage this winery and to build on the excellent resources in place.”

The team includes winemaker/general manager Nicolas Quillé, VP of sales Steve Doyle, marketing & communications director Shawn Bavaresco, and CFO Ann Spitzenberger--all of whom are expected to remain overseeing operations and vineyards in Wallula and Yakima. 

Pacific Rim was named a Hot Small Brand in 2009 by Wine Business Monthly.

Co-CEO cousins James Mariani and Cristina Mariani-May, third generation leaders of a circa 1919 family enterprise, are proprietors of America’s longest-running and privately-held wine importer, Banfi Vintners, and of Castello Banfi of Montalcino Italy.

Even with its former stewardship of the now-defunct Old Brookville estate winery where the company's headquarters are located on Long Island, the acquisition of the US winery Pacific Rim seems an unusual fit for a company with its core business centered upon ownership and importation of both Italian and South American wineries. "Yes and no," said Banfi's Communications Director Lars Leicht. "The Mariani family has always been dedicated to wines which have been made in the right places. The attraction of Pacific Rim was of it being a Riesling specialist winery. We're confident about the variety overall and about how good Nicolas has been making it in particular. Riesling sales are going to continue to grow and, if we continue doing it right, we expect the brand's success to outlast the category's."

“This is strictly a change in proprietorship,” Mr. Mariani said, “with the aim of continuing the exceptional achievements of Pacific Rim’s specialized management in wine production, sales, marketing and distribution.” Distribution is expected to remain unchanged and, while there's no immediate plans to increase exports, Leicht hinted that "any company with stable growth will diversify if able.'

The Lyonnais Quillé earned a master’s in winemaking from the University of Dijon in Burgundy, a master’s in wine business from Champagne's University of Reims, and his MBA with honors from the University of Washington. Following stints making wine in Burgundy and the Rhône valley he came to the United States in 1997 to work for J. Lohr, Hogue Cellars, and Bonny Doon Vineyard. It was at Bonny Doon he and Grahm decided to expand Pacific Rim to become its own winery with Quillé at the helm, thereby allowing Grahm to focus upon his California operations.

"Negotiations went at a rapid pace over the past three months, cordial and respectful, though I didn't participate in them nor have I met the Marianis. No traumas to report," Grahm told Winebusiness.com.

"This gives us some wherewithal to develop our 280 acre San Juan Batista property, 85 of which will comprise our new estate vineyard, at a quicker pace. This will be an unorthodox vineyard in that it will be sustainable with a great effort made for dry-farming and more a polyculture with plants other than grapevines growing. We're also retiring a significant amount of debt with this sale and I might go out for dinner tonight with some of the proceeds," Grahm quipped.

The transaction was brokered by International Wine Associates of Healdsburg, California whose founder Robert Nicholson confirmed the sale on behalf of the seller. IWA's website lists it having been in transactions amounting to over $950 million.

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