Constellation buys Oregon’s lingua franca

wine spectator has learned that Constellation Brands, one of the world’s largest wine companies, has acquired Oregon’s lingua franca, the Willamette Valley producer founded by master sommelier Larry Stone. The deal includes the brand, winery, vineyards and inventory. The price was not disclosed.

The Lingua Franca winemaking team, led by Thomas Savre and French consultant Dominique Lafon, will remain on board, while Stone will serve as brand ambassador. This is Constellation’s first foray into Oregon. “We wanted to have a luxury brand of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in our portfolio,” said Robert Hanson, president of wine and spirits at Constellation. “We looked at California and Oregon, and there was a synergy that happened in the conversation with the Lingua Franca team.”

Stone initially sought new investors in 2019 to expand Lingua Franca’s hospitality and direct-to-consumer businesses in the winery. Then came the punch of COVID-19 and wildfires in 2020. “We decided not to bottle wine in 2020 because of smoke damage,” Stone said. wine spectator. This loss of income was a blow. “We not only needed partners to grow, but also to keep operating at the level we were at.”

Enter Constellation, which is slowly reshaping its wine business, selling most of its value-oriented brands to E.&J. Gallo in 2021, and the acquisition of premium wine brands such as Schrader and Booker to join Robert Mondavi in ​​the company’s Aspira Fine Wine & Craft Spirits portfolio. Lingua Franca is another gem.

It’s only been 10 years since Stone bought a property across from Evening Land’s Seven Springs Vineyard in Eola-Amity. “I sold everything I had saved up,” Stone said wine spectator in 2019. “I sold my wine collection that I started when I was 21. I sold my little [Napa] winery that I started in 1997, and I asked some cousins ​​to put some money into it too. San Francisco partner and attorney David Honig contributed his retirement fund to help plant the 66-acre vineyard.

Lingua Franca’s Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs have achieved outstanding scores since the first release, the 2015 vintage. Through his relationships with restaurants, Stone has developed sales in 30 states and 27 international markets. Stylistically, the wines combine the best of the Old and New Worlds, offering elegantly complex fruit with steely acidity and hints of minerality. Hanson says that won’t change. “One of the things we are absolutely disciplined about is not making changes where changes are not needed. We so appreciate the quality, the body of the wines, the precision and the ambition with which they have built their domain portfolio.”

Winemaker Savre and consultant Lafon agree to increase production above the current 12,000 annual cases, which are harvested from two vineyards on the estate – the 66-acre Larry Stone Vineyard at the winery and nearby Bunker Hill . “We have sold around 35-40% of the fruit from our estate, so we can increase production as much,” Savre said. “We mainly buy Chardonnay and sell Pinot Noir.”

Their plans also include expanding production of low-cost Willamette Valley bottlings made with purchased fruit. “There’s plenty of good fruit in the valley if you know where to look,” Stone said. “There is so much potential here that is not being tapped.”

When he started the winery, Stone predicted he would eventually sell his interest in the lingua franca, although he didn’t think it would happen any time soon. But he’s bloody. “For me, this is the great accomplishment of what I started here.”

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Elisha A. Tilghman