George Clooney (right) and longtime friend Rande Gerber started Casamigos tequila company in 2013. They announced they are selling it to Spirits company Diageo in a deal valued at up to $1 billion. Photo courtesy Casamigos
June 21 (UPI) -- George Clooney is selling his Casamigos tequila company to spirits company Diageo in a deal valued at possibly $1 billion, the actor/director announced Wednesday.
Clooney co-founded the company with longtime friend Rande Gerber in 2013.
"If you asked us four years ago if we had a billion dollar company, I don't think we would have said yes," Clooney told CNBC via email. "This reflects Diageo's belief in our company and our belief in Diageo. But we're not going anywhere. We'll still be very much a part of Casamigos. Starting with a shot tonight. Maybe two."
London-based Diageo initially will pay $700 million with another $300 million potentially based on the brand's performance over 10 years.
The companies expect the deal to close during the second half of this year.
Gerber, who is married to model Cindy Crawford, founded nightlife companies Midnight Oil and the Gerber Group. Another partner is Michael Meldman, a real estate tycoon.
They started Casamigos, which translates to "house of friends," as a private collection of around 1,000 tequilas meant just for Gerber and Clooney's friends and family. In 2013, they took the label public when they needed a license to continue making the tequila.
"It immediately took off," Gerber told CNBC in November. "Right now, we're the fastest growing ultra-premium tequila in the country."
Last year the company sold 120,000 cases, primarily in the United States and expects to top more than 170,000 cases by the end of this year.
Diageo's tequila brand already includes Don Julio. Its other spirits brands are Guinness beer and Johnnie Walker scotch, Tanqueray gin and Ketel One vodka.
"It supports our strategy to focus on the high-growth, super-premium and above segments of the category," Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes said in a statement. "With the global strength of Diageo we expect to expand the reach of Casamigos to markets beyond the U.S. to capitalize on the significant international potential of the brand."
Diageo was formed in 1997 through the merger of Grand Metropolitan Public Limited Company and Guinness PLC. It traces its roots to 1749 with Justerini & Brooks blenders of the famous J&B whisky range. Ten years later, Arthur Guinness signed the lease for the St. James's Gate brewery in Dublin.
The company sold Burger King in 2000 and Pillsbury in 2002.
Diageo had net sales of $8.1 billion and profit of $2.6 billion last year, according to a financial filing.