A local company known for breeding table grapes announced Monday it has sold its Kern County farming operation as part of a move to focus more closely on developing new varieties of fruit for clients around the world.
The privately held company, Sun World International LLC, also announced it will move its headquarters from Bakersfield to Palm Desert, where it will carry on under the name Sun World Innovations. It said few, if any, employees will be transferred out of Bakersfield, and the bulk of its breeding work will continue to be done in Wasco.
Sun World, owned by Los Angeles asset-management firm Renewable Resources Group, would not say how many acres of vineyard property were sold under Monday's transaction. But to give some idea of the scope of the operation, CEO Merrill Dibble said the company produces between 6 million and 7 million boxes of fruit per year.
The buyer of the acreage, Famous Vineyards, was created by investors specifically to buy Sun World's farming operation. Dibble said Famous Vineyards' vineyards will be managed by Sun Pacific, which is headquartered in Pasadena but has offices in the southern Central Valley.
Dibble added the roughly 160 Sun World employees working in Bakersfield are expected to keep their jobs as they transition to Famous Vineyards during about the next 90 days.
Sun World has long had offices in Palm Desert. Its continuing operation there, Sun World Innovations, will be overseen by CEO David Marguleas. The company said that business will continue to work with licensed growers around the world, and that it will maintain offices in Australia, Chile, Israel, Italy and South Africa.
"We're convinced of our team's limitless potential to break new ground in fruit breeding and genetics," Marguleas said in a news release. "By focusing additional investment on this side of the business, we intend to accelerate growth in a meaningful way."
Dibble said he will keep working for RRG but will not have a formal role with either the farming or the breeding operation. He emphasized the decision to keep the vineyards in operation under new ownership was a carefully considered decision.
"It's positive for this industry," he said.