Brown-Forman Corporation is to close its Mendocino Cooperage in Hopland, California, after several attempts to make the business profitable.

Mendocino Cooperage, which makes and sells wine barrels to California wineries, will stop taking orders on 31 December but will continue to operate until all existing orders are filled, the US wine and spirits producer said. It is anticipated that the facility will cease production by early March, 2005.

Bill Coleman, president of Brown-Forman Cooperages, said the decision was not an easy one. "We've tried for several years to find the right business model to put Mendocino Cooperage on a profitable footing," said Coleman. "But recent changes in the California wine industry, especially the move by many wineries to use barrel alternatives, such as oak staves, rather than aging wine in oak barrels to achieve their desired taste profile, prompted us to make the difficult decision to close Mendocino Cooperage."

Twenty-two employees will be laid off as a result of the closing, including 15 hourly and seven salaried people. The layoffs will be spread out over the next three-to-four months, as orders for barrels are filled. All affected employees will be offered severance packages and assistance in identifying new employment opportunities. "We thank all of our employees for their hard work and dedication over the last several years," Coleman said.