The bank that has been running a 152-year-old Atlantic County winery for the past year hopes to soon get out of the business.

Toms River-based OceanFirst Bank bought the bankrupt Renault Winery Resort and Golf in October for $3.36 million.

OceanFirst was a secured creditor of the resort located in Egg Harbor City and Galloway Township.

OceanFirst President and CEO Christopher Maher said the bank hopes to sell the property by the end of the year.

“There’s been no lack of interest,” Maher said Thursday during an editorial meeting with The Press of Atlantic City. “At any given time, we’ve been negotiating with multiple parties. … Ideally if you can find a buyer who has the ability to buy it and continue to operate it, that’s the best outcome, so we’re hopeful.”

The expansive property includes two restaurants, a golf course, the 50-room Tuscany House Hotel and a winery described as one of the oldest continually operating wine producers in the country.

Dogged by debt, property taxes and the economic downturn, the property filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2013 before OceanFirst took control last year.

The winery traces its roots to Louis Nicholas Renault, a French winemaker who purchased property in South Jersey in 1864 in search of the region’s sandy soil.

Maher said OceanFirst decided last year it would operate Renault Winery temporarily for several reasons.

The winery was ultimately worth more as an existing business than as something the bank could have sold off for pieces, he said.

Also, about 100 people have jobs there, and there were nine weddings planned at the winery, he said.

“It’s going to be harder, it’s going to be messy. You actually have to run it,” he said of the bank’s ownership of the winery. “You’re operating this place, you have to pay extra for insurance. But we think ultimately the recovery for the bank is better by doing that. Second thing is, you look at all the lives you’re affecting.”

Maher said the winery business is not in the bank’s long-term vision.

“It’s not the business that we want to be in. So the first way to look at is, is gee, we’d love to not be in that business,” he said. “And we hope to be out of that business in a reasonable amount of time.”

The bank is the latest owner of a property that had included several generations of family ownership in its history.

For most of past century, John D’Agostino and family owned the winery, which during Prohibition was allowed to sell “Renault Wine Tonic” to drugstores.

Universal Foods bought the winery in 1968 and ran it until MCC Presidential, a New Jersey-based investment group, took ownership in 1974.

The last owner was Joseph Milza, who purchased the property in 1977 and owned it until OceanFirst took control last year.

New Jersey has more than 45 wineries and produces 1.5 million gallons of wine per year, the seventh highest amount in the U.S., according to the state Department of Agriculture.

In the past year, OceanFirst has become a more prominent piece of South Jersey.

The bank recently acquired South Jersey’s Cape Bank, and it is in the process of buying Ocean City Home Bank for $145.6 million.

Contact: 609-272-7253

Twitter @BIanieri

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