The world's largest privately owned winery has purchased two longtime Washington brands.
In a statement, E. & J. Gallo Winery announced the purchase of Columbia Winery and Covey Run Wine from Ascentia Wine Estates, which is headquartered in Healdsburg, Calif. The price was not disclosed.
"We have been watching the Washington wine industry grow for a number of years and consider these wine brands to be a key part of our premium wine strategy moving forward," said Roger Nabedian, senior vice president and general manager of Gallo's Premium Wine Division.
Gallo's first moves were widespread layoffs. Columbia winemaker Kerry Norton and Covey Run winemaker Kate Michaud were fired Thursday, as were many other cellar employees, according to winery sources.
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Washington ranks second in premium wine production behind California, with more than 740 wineries and 43,000 acres planted in wine grapes. The state has 12 federally recognized grape-growing regions, known as American Viticultural Areas or appellations.
Columbia Winery in Woodinville was founded as Associated Vintners by a group of University of Washington educators in 1962. The winery employed David Lake as head winemaker from 1979 until his retirement in 2005, and was Washington's first winery to focus exclusively on using premium European grape varieties.
Covey Run, another longstanding Washington brand, has been operating since 1982 from its base in Sunnyside.
Steve Warner, president of the promotional Washington Wine Commission, called the news "proof" that Washington is among the global leaders in the wine world.
"This clearly reinforces how distinct and important Washington is in the greater world of wine," he said. "We don't only grow awesome grapes, but we have a great group of wineries that really deliver on the quality, and that's been proven time and time again."
Brothers Ernest and Julio Gallo founded their winery in Modesto, Calif., in 1933, and the family continues to operate the company. Brands include Gallo Family Vineyards, Barefoot Cellars, MacMurray Ranch and William Hill Estate.