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Republic of Tea owner buys Forestville winery

The owner of The Republic of Tea, a Novato-based specialty tea retailer, is diversifying into wine with the acquisition of River Road Vineyards & Winery outside Forestville.

The purchase is the realization of a lifelong dream for Republic of Tea owner Ron Rubin, who brings a long history of beverage industry experience to the winery.

“I went to school at the University of California, Davis when I was 22 years old, and studied viticulture and enology, and always dreamed about having a vineyard and winery in California,” Rubin said Friday. “And it took about 40 years for the dream to come true.”

Rubin acquired the winery, which produces more than 41,000 cases per year, and its 12 acres of pinot noir and chardonnay vineyards. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Winery co-founder Gary Mills will stay on as a consultant for about a year to ensure continuity.

“All of the employees that I have employed will stay,” Mills said. “Product continuity was very important to the buyer. He is not a beginner in the beverage business.”

Rubin plans to expand the winery and has created a new national sales manager position, which will be filled by Diane DiRoma. The winery is looking for a new general manager.

After graduating from college, Rubin worked with his father at their family business, Central Wholesale Liquor Co., based in Mount Vernon, Ill., for 22 years. They sold the business and Rubin went to work for Clearly Canadian Beverage Corp. In 1994, he bought Republic of Tea from its founders, who had previously launched the Banana Republic stores.

Rubin said he bought the winery because it produces premium wines of outstanding quality.

“They've done a wonderful job, and it's just been kind of a quiet secret, I think,” Rubin said.

The winery will remain a separate entity from Republic of Tea, but the two companies will work together on brand marketing, web design and public relations.

Mills, who co-founded the winery in 1976, was happy to find a buyer because he wants to spend more time skiing, traveling and enjoying other outdoor activities.

“I'm getting old and there are some things I want to do, that being a small business owner doesn't allow me to do,” said Mills, 67. “These are very professional people that have an existing business that is very well marketed. They understand beverages, they understand the wine business, and they're going to hit the ground running.”

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