A view of Sea Smoke Estate Vineyard, which sits on the northside of the Santa Ynez River between Buellton and Lompoc, easily visible from Santa Rosa Road. | Credit: Courtesy

Sea Smoke, the Santa Barbara County wine brand with a cult-like following that helped put the Sta. Rita Hills appellation on the map, was just sold by its founder Bob Davids to Constellation Brands, one of the largest beverage companies in the world. The price was not immediately disclosed, although rumors of the sale have been whispered around the industry since at least January.  

The sale includes Davids’s entire 1,100-acre property, which encompasses both the Sea Smoke Estate and the Rita’s Crown Vineyard (plus an old, unfinished monastery), as well as the winery in Lompoc. The primary employees — general manager Victor Gallegos, winemaker Don Schroeder, and vineyard manager Julian Malone — will stay in their jobs. 

A bottle of one of Sea Smoke’s iconic pinot noirs. | Credit: Matt Kettmann

In a statement to Wine Spectator, Gallegos said that they are “extremely excited” to collaborate with Constellation on “a new chapter in the Sea Smoke story,” noting that they have the “right team with the right resources” to succeed in the competitive wine market. “It was clear early on that both Constellation Brands and Sea Smoke share an unwavering commitment to excellence, sustainability, and strategic growth,” said Gallegos.

After scouring the world for a place to plant his own vineyard, Davids — a very successful industrial designer by career with a taste for Burgundy’s pinot noir — found this property alongside the Santa Ynez River between Lompoc and Buellton in the late 1990s. He planted his first 100 acres in 1999, deciding on the name Sea Smoke in reference to the salty fog that envelops the region. 

By 2003, Sea Smoke’s high-scoring wines were the talk of the region, becoming Santa Barbara County’s first “cult” winery. “We got lucky on a combination of an amazing site and amazing timing and an amazing team that are all aligned,” Gallegos explained in the book Vines & Vision: The Winemakers of Santa Barbara County. “It was a moment in time and we are all super grateful for it.”

The company acquired more land, took on another investor, and planted more vines, shifting into biodynamic farming by 2013. In 2016, the company purchased the adjacent Rita’s Crown Vineyard, primarily to control who would be crossing the estate property. All told, the sale involves 256 acres planted across the two vineyards. 

Though built originally on bulk wine, Constellation Brands expanded into beer, liquor, and fine wine over the past two decades. Among other fine wine brands, the publicly traded company also owns Robert Mondavi Winery, which was purchased for $1 billion in 2000, and Booker Vineyard in Paso Robles, which was acquired for an undisclosed price in 2021. 

The company’s plans for Sea Smoke were not announced, although planting more grapes on the property’s steep slopes does not seem likely. As Gallegos explained in Vines & Vision, “What can be planted has been planted. There’s no more room.”

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