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Constellation brands, winery to be bought by Wine Group

The Wine Group, whose holdings include the Franzia Winery near Ripon, is acquiring two other low-priced brands and a Madera winery for $134 million.

Constellation Brands announced Wednesday that it is selling the Inglenook and Almaden brands to The Wine Group. The sale includes one of Constellation's two wineries in Madera.

Representatives of The Wine Group, based in San Francisco, could not be reached for comment on whether the deal would affect operations at its huge Ripon complex.

Constellation, based in Fairport, N.Y., is the world's largest wine producer. It wrested the title from E.&J. Gallo Winery of Modesto in 2003. The Wine Group is third.

Officials at Constellation said the sale is part of its push in recent years to focus on higher-priced brands.

Almaden and Inglenook retail for less than $3 per 750-milliliter bottle. These brands join a portfolio at The Wine Group that includes Franzia boxed wines along with bottled products under the Corbett Canyon, Concannon, Glen Ellen, Mogen David and other labels.

The Madera property is known as the Paul Masson Winery, but wine under that label no longer is made there, Constellation spokesman Mike Martin said.

The New York company will retain its other Madera operation, known as Mission Bell Winery, and use it for increased production of premium wines.

The sale is expected to close by the end of February.

In December, Constellation bought the U.S. wine business of Fortune Brands Inc. for $885 million, boosting its collection of $8-to-$11 wines. It also acquired five California wineries and more than 1,500 acres of vineyards in the Napa, Sonoma and Los Carneros grape-growing regions.

"This transaction, when coupled with the recent acquisition of Clos du Bois, the No. 1 superpremium U.S. wine brand, will allow our wine sales forces to focus on selling higher-growth, higher-margin premium wines," said Rob Sands, Constellation Brands' chief executive.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or 578-2385.

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