Biz Buzz: Corporate reins in Wild Horse operation

Operations at Wild Horse Winery in Templeton are being scaled back effective March 1, affecting about half of the 15 positions there, according to a corporate spokeswoman for Constellation Brands Inc., which owns the winery.

All cellaring of Wild Horse wines will now occur at the parent company’s Estancia winery in Soledad and Gonzales winery in Gonzales. And Clay Brock, director of winemaking at Wild Horse, will take on general management duties.

The cutback is occurring “in order to create efficiencies across our Central Coast wineries without compromising — and hopefully enhancing — quality,” said Nora Feeley, vice president of corporate communications for Constellation Wines U.S.

Feeley emphasized that the affected employees, mostly in management positions, may not necessarily lose their jobs, as Constellation is meeting with them to find other opportunities within the company.

Headquartered in Victor, N.Y., Constellation operates more than 40 wineries and facilities; has more than 100 wine, beer, and spirits brands; and employs approximately 6,000 people, according to its website. Wild Horse is one of its 13 wineries in California.

“This decision is a result of our ongoing strategy to improve operational effectiveness across our organization,” Feeley said.

Wild Horse staffers were unavailable for comment.

The Wild Horse tasting room will remain open and is unaffected by the changes.

All of Wild Horse’s grapes will continue to be crushed in the Templeton facility, and the reserve tier of Wild Horse wines will continue to be processed there.

Cal Poly graduate and wine industry veteran Kenneth Volk founded Wild Horse in 1982, and by 2003 grew it to produce 200,000 cases, becoming one of the most successful winery operations in Paso Robles at the time.

Volk sold the operation to liquor conglomerate Beam Brands in 2003 for $34 million, and Icon Estates of Constellation Brands bought Beam in 2007.

Stacie Jacob, executive director of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, said that Constellation “has the opportunity and assets to create efficiencies,” but that the possible elimination or transfer of management positions to other areas of the Central Coast could be worrying. “Wild Horse was always a place that had those type of higher-paying jobs,” which are needed in San Luis Obispo County, she said.

For its fiscal year ended Feb. 28, 2010, Constellation reported that net sales were down 8 percent to $3.4 billion. Constellation reported a net income of $99.3 million, compared to a net loss of $301.4 million the year before.

Some it its major wine brands include Robert Mondavi, Clos du Bois, Blackstone, and Arbor Mist. Major beer brands include Corona Light, Negra Modelo, Pacifico and Tsingtao. Major spirits brands include SVEDKA Vodka and Black Velvet Canadian Whisky.

Shares of Constellation Brands (NYSE: STZ) rose 5 cents to $19.37 per share on Tuesday.

— Julia Hickey