High-profile mystery buyers purchasing Comox Valley winery
Beaufort Vineyard and Estate Winery officially belongs to new "high-profile" owners today, according to Beaufort founder Jeff Vandermolen.
Beaufort's Jeff and Susan Vandermolen wouldn't name the new owners when they spoke to the Record Tuesday, but confirmed ownership of the vineyard and winery would transfer Feb. 6, and the buyers have purchased other land here, too.
"The new owners are pretty high-profile people and they've bought several other properties in the Valley, and their expectation or their plan is to develop a sizable agribusiness here in the Comox Valley," said Jeff, adding they would be considered "high profile in the world" when asked just how 'high profile' they are.
"My understanding is that they really want to be a part of the community and they have a real commitment to sustainable farming and agriculture, so I think they're going to be a huge positive asset to the Valley, and quite frankly, for these guys to step up and invest in the Comox Valley is huge."
The Vandermolens, who started Beaufort in 2006, will stay on at the award-winning winery and vineyard as winemakers and consultants for at least the next year.
"They've got a resident manager that takes over as of Friday afternoon, and we'll be working with them indefinitely — at least through the transition period and the next harvest and vintage — and we'll see where it goes," added Jeff. "But, that's what's going to keep us busy over the next 12 months."
The Vandermolens put Beaufort on the market in the fall of 2012 in response to interest in their successful business. According to Jeff, they expected it would take three to five years to find a suitable buyer, as a winery and vineyard is not a "cookie-cutter" business.
The new owners weren't even looking to buy a winery — they were looking for land to develop their agribusiness — but their realtor brought them to the Comox Valley to show them agricultural land her, said Jeff.
"So they came up in October, had a look around and really liked what they saw," continued Jeff. "And then we met with them personally and spent an afternoon with them talking about the agricultural opportunities here in the Valley … and about two weeks later we got an offer, and we've been negotiating ever since."
The Vandermolens announced in the summer that they were looking at diversifying into beer-making. This venture has taken a backseat to the Beaufort sale negotiations, according to Jeff, but they are still researching whether a microbrewery would be feasible in the Comox Valley.
A small-batch brewery with a focus on selling local beer locally is what the Vandermolens had in mind, but Jeff said that model may not be viable; beer has a low profit margin, so distribution volume is important and the Valley may not be a large enough market.
They visited Tofino Brewing Co. and Townsite Brewing, which are breweries the Vandermolens are considering modelling themselves after, and found that they are larger than the Vandermolens had envisioned their microbrewery being.
"They're distributing far and wide now and their volumes are getting more and more significant every day and we really aren't prepared personally to step up and put in the 80-hour weeks again," said Jeff, noting a popular distribution option in Victoria is the brewpub model.
Jeff said starting a micro-brewery here is certainly not off the table, and he's meeting with some interested parties next week, but he also said the Vandermolens could end up with a different role in the business venture than first planned.
"We may not take the ball and run with it; we may actually end up being a silent partner," said Jeff. "But at the end of the day it is a business and it has to make money from our point of view, so I mean if the numbers don't work, they don't work.
"So, we're not going to beat this horse to death; we're just going to take it as far as we can, and if it looks like it is feasible, then we'll probably participate in some way, shape or form, either investing or consulting."