Hazlitt Family to Acquire Widmer's Winery
Red Cat/White Cat producer to take over historic winery as Constellation unloads it
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.
“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.