This April, after 20 successful years in the wine business, Mark and Kathy Lieb of LIEB Family Cellars sold their majority shares of the winery to a private equity firm.
Originally starting with a measly 12 acres on the North Fork, LIEB Vineyard and LIEB Cellars quickly surpassed any of the founders’ expectations. Mark and Kathy Lieb, who were primarily trained in finance, began with simple hopes of enjoying a hobby and a house with a vineyard view. They never anticipated that 20 years later their little adventure would turn into a company with 62 acres of vineyard, a custom crush facility (Premium Wine Group), and two tasting rooms (soon to be three, with a new location opening in East Hampton Town).
From three philanthropy wines to a sustainability program—strong enough to receive a Federal Grant from the US Department of Agriculture Conservation Security Program in 2005 for “Meeting High Standards of Conservation and Protecting the Environment”—LIEB wines have left an impression. The Pinot Blanc made its way into The New York Times’ “Top 12 Great American Wines,” and the Bridge Lane Rosé made its way into Chicago Tribune’s “Top 14 Dry Rosés in the World.” LIEB is also among Dan’s Paper’s “Best of the Best” wines on the East End.
The success of LIEB Cellars has been both a blessing and a curse for Mark and Kathy Lieb. Naturally, growing companies need a lot of time and attention, which is something Mr. Lieb did not foresee his “hobby” requiring. Lieb summed up the reason for selling his majority shares.
“Between my family, and my other company—Spectrum Asset Management—growing beyond my expectations, by becoming the largest preferred stock manager in the world, I found I could no longer give LIEB Cellars the attention it deserved,” he explained.
Along with their house, which is set in the middle of the vineyard, Mark and Kathy Lieb have sold their majority shares in LIEB Vineyard, LIEB Cellars and Premium Wine Group (PWG) to New York-based private equity firm Southport Lane. The firm has merged the three companies into one, now called Premium Wine Acquisitions. Southport Lane is bringing in the additional capital and management needed to further improve the wines and build up distribution in the company.
With the benefit of this added capital, Lieb articulated confidence with the direction his brand is headed. He said much of his confidence stems from the new management, helmed by Peter Pace, the marketing genius behind Grey Goose and Jägermeister. With Pace’s leadership and experience, Lieb said the brand should gain the added recognition it deserves.
Though he is no longer a majority shareholder, Lieb noted that he would still be actively involved in all aspects of LIEB Cellars. He will be the chairman of the new company and, in particular, will ensure the transition runs smoothly.
“I know that this company will grow, and I know that I will miss it—the property especially—but we can’t be in multiple places at once,” Lieb said, adding, “I decided to place my wife, kids and Spectrum above it. I am happy though, that I will still have some involvement and that the LIEB label will remain the same.”
Over the past 20 years, LIEB Family Cellars has endured many setbacks, but has also seen growth beyond expectations. They have made their way from the North Fork to Citi Field, and from the South Fork to Shanghai. This sale and merger pave the way for the wines to reach their true potential, Lieb said, remarking, “I know this will be good for all involved.”
To find out more about LIEB Family Cellars, visit liebcellars.com.