SHERWOOD, Ore. — The Bollinger family, who own French company Champagne Bollinger, founded in 1829, has acquired the Willamette Valley's Ponzi Vineyards, an Oregon wine pioneer, for an undisclosed amount.
In the deal, the Bollinger family gets the Ponzi winery, tasting facility and 35 vineyard acres. The Ponzi family will retain ownership of 100 vineyard acres, which they will use to grow and sell grapes to Ponzi Vineyards under a long-term contract.
The transaction is a big deal. For the past 192 years, Champagne Bollinger has never invested outside France. That the company chose an Oregon vineyard for its first out-of-country acquisition says a lot about the caliber of the state's wine, experts say.
"It's a big move for us," said Etienne Bizot, CEO of Champagne Bollinger. "We felt it was critical to invest in the U.S., so I visited many wineries across California, Oregon. Ponzi was the one."
He spoke with a French accent. It was evening, and he was sitting in his home west of Paris.
The Bollinger family plans to change very little about the Ponzi operation, which was one of the state's first vineyards. The Bollingers plan to keep the Ponzi label intact and simply expand national markets for the wine.
"They have a very good team, good winery, good brand, impressive hospitality, absolutely gorgeous vineyards," said Bizot. "There's no reason to change much."
The main change will be a new company CEO for the Ponzi brand. The French company is currently looking for someone to fill that role.
Luisa Ponzi, the Oregon company's winemaker, said she sees the deal as a "win-win."
The Bollinger family, she said, will be able to expand both the Ponzi and Bollinger brands across the U.S., boosting visibility and markets for both.
Ponzi said the sale is good for her family because it offers her and her family members more personal freedom.
"It gives us the ability to take a breath and focus on the things we love," she said.
She and her sister, Anna Maria, are the second generation of the business. The estate's founders, Dick and Nancy Ponzi, handed the operation to their daughters almost 30 years ago.
In recent years, Luisa Ponzi said, she has been overstretched with responsibilities that have taken her away from her true passion — winemaking. With this acquisition, she said, the Bollingers will entrust her to continue as the director of viticulture and winemaking, creating the brand's iconic Pinot noir wine, Chardonnay, Arneis, Riesling, Pinot gris and other varieties.
Anna Maria Ponzi will continue to lead sales and marketing over the transition period.
Luisa Ponzi said she and her sister also wanted the third generation of their family to feel free to pursue any career without a sense of obligation to keep the family business going.
"It's a strange feeling," said Ponzi. "I wake up every morning thinking: 'Oh my gosh, we sold the winery.' But I'm really glad we did."