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Sonoma-Cutrer Winery
is up for sale

by Mike Orgill
Posted January 10, 1999

Sonoma-Cutrer Winery, host of the Sonoma-Cutrer World Croquet Championship since 1985, is on the auction block. Brice Jones, president and founder of the showcase Windsor, California winery, announced to winery staff on January 8 that the winery is entertaining offers from several corporate suitors. Over the past few years smaller wineries in northern California have been gobbled up by large conglomerates, and the site of the World Croquet Championship is apparently the next on the list.

Sonoma Cutrer

What price Sonoma-Cutrer will bring, with its signature winery building, 1,000 acres of prime vineyards, and lucrative market niche in high-end chardonnay, is difficult to access. Some have estimated that in today’s hot California real estate market the winery and its acreage alone are worth at least $40,000,000.

According to sources at Sonoma-Cutrer no agreement to sell has yet been reached. But talks continue with a number of potential buyers. Sources say that one suitor is Brown-Forman, a Kentucky-based conglomerate that owns the Jack Daniels distillery as well as Fetzer Vineyards in Mendocino county in California. Selling Sonoma-Cutrer, Jones explained to his staff, is a way for long-time investors, many of whom are over seventy years old, to "create equity".

Jones, who served two tours of duty as a fighter pilot in Vietnam, created a vineyard investment tax shelter while finishing his MBA at Harvard. Intially, the business only grew grapes and sold them to northern California wineries. Then changes in the tax laws created favorable conditions for Jones to build the winery and create the Sonoma-Cutrer brand. The winery’s chardonnay, its sole product, has garnered international acclaim. Most of the wine is sold to high-end restaurants all over the United States.

What this potential sale means for the future of the World Croquet Championship and croquet courts at Sonoma-Cutrer is unclear. According to sources close to the tournament, planning for the 1999 WCC is going forward, while new grass grows in on the recently renovated courts.

The tournament has become a major event on the world croquet calendar, as well as a highly successful charitable event. Last year the wine auction held on finals day raised $750,000 for its charities, the largest of which is the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

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