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04.05.2010  
 

Hazlitt Family to Acquire Widmer's Winery

Red Cat/White Cat producer to take over historic winery as Constellation unloads it

 
by Linda Jones McKee
 
 
Widmer’s Wine Cellars
 
The Hazlitt family is poised to gain ownership of Widmer’s Wine Cellars.
Naples, N.Y. -- It’s a historically appropriate transition: The Hazlitt family has grown grapes on Seneca Lake’s eastern shore for more than 150 years; Widmer’s Wine Cellars, founded in 1882, is one of the oldest wineries in the Finger Lakes. If all goes according to plan, come June, Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, Hector, N.Y., will own the historic Widmer winery.

On March 31, Constellation Brands Inc. and the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) announced that Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards had entered into an agreement to buy Widmer’s Wine Cellars in Naples, N.Y. Constellation had announced in September that the company intended to close the Widmer facility and donate the property to RIT for use with the school’s technology, sustainability and hospitality programs.

Over the years, Widmer’s had grown to be Naples’ biggest business. Its closing meant the loss of jobs and a major negative impact on the town’s tax base. Consequently, the announcement made Wednesday was a happy one in Naples, bringing the prospect of jobs at Widmer’s and continued tax revenue for the township’s budget.

In the months since the original announcement that it would close Widmer’s, Constellation worked with the university, the Ontario County Office of Economic Development (OCOED) and the Ontario County Industrial Development Agency (OCIDA) to find an appropriate use for the property, including the possibility of keeping Widmer’s as a functioning winery. Now that an agreement has been signed with Hazlitt’s, that possibility may become a reality.

The two Ontario County agencies, OCOED and OCIDA, will work with Hazlitt to obtain the financing needed for the project to move forward. The purchase, subject to customary due diligence and closing conditions, is expected to close in June, and Hazlitt will assume management of the facility by the end of the year.

Hazlitt Red Cat
 
Hazlitt's best-known brand, Red Cat, sponsors the Red Cat Summer Stage at Watkins Glenn International racetrack.
Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, owned by Doug Hazlitt and Leigh Hazlitt Triner, produces a number of brands including Red Cat, White Cat, Cabin Fever and Bramble Berry. According to Doug Hazlitt, the Widmer property includes the winery buildings, numerous barns and a total of 499 acres, including approximately 165 acres of grapes. He noted that, “We’ll probably keep about half of the vineyard acreage, and half will be torn out or replanted with other varieties.”  The winery facility will become home to the popular and fast-growing Red Cat and White Cat brands.

“I’m excited that this is happening,” Hazlitt told Wines & Vines. “I used to ride on the grape truck with my dad when he was delivering grapes to Widmer’s. My grandfather did the same thing, and so did my great-grandfather.”

How RIT will fit into the Widmer-Hazlitt project is not yet clear. Hazlitt commented, “The university is pleased that we’re buying the Widmer property, but there is no set deal. The only agreement is to get together and formulate a plan. I think we can find a way to use their sustainability and technology programs, and when we open a retail space, we might be able to bring in students from their hospitality and service management programs.”

Constellation plans to spend approximately $7.2 million to expand its Canandaigua, N.Y., facility so that the company can produce the brands currently made at Widmer’s, including Manischewitz, Paul Masson, Taylor and Widmer’s. The company also announced its intention to make a significant donation to RIT to further the university’s commitment to the community, education and the New York wine industry.

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