Major international investment in prime Napa Valley winegrowing operations continued Thursday with the announced purchase of the storied Araujo Estate and its Eisele Vineyard by the parent company of renowned Bordeaux estate Chateau Latour.
Founded in 1990 by Bart and Daphne Araujo, Araujo Estate is a 162-acre wine property located along Pickett Road, east of Silverado Trail just outside Calistoga city limits.
Its focus is the 38-acre biodynamic and organically farmed Eisele Vineyard, one of the most highly touted cabernet sauvignon vineyards in Napa Valley, and a winery and cave complex designed and built specifically to vinify Eisele Vineyard grapes. The vineyard is considered by many as equivalent to a premier cru Bordeaux.
Neither the Araujos nor the new owners revealed the purchase price.
Thursday’s announcement indicated that Araujo Estate Wines had been acquired by France’s Pinault family through its holding company, the Artémis Group, parent firm of Château Latour in Bordeaux, Domaine d’Eugénie in Burgundy and Château Grillet in the Rhône Valley. The purchase not only includes the renowned Eisele Vineyard, wine and cave complex but also the Araujo Estate brand and existing inventory.
“In 1990, we began a new chapter in our lives when we purchased the Eisele Vineyard, an event that shaped our world through the magical terroir of the vineyard, the extraordinary people who work with us to grow the best grapes and make the best wine that we can each vintage, and the very special friends and colleagues who have continued to loyally support the fruits of our labors,” the Araujos noted in a news release.
“The Artémis Group is the perfect buyer of this amazing vineyard we have called home for 23 years. The rich heritage of Château Latour and its other wine properties, combined with the family’s passion for the wine business, absolute commitment to excellence, and extraordinary track record of success, assures that the stewardship of Araujo Estate and the Eisele Vineyard will continue with the best of care and intentions.”
In a letter to customers and friends of the winery, Bart Araujo pointed out that “several months ago we received an unsolicited expression of interest to purchase from the Pinault family ... Out of respect we agreed to listen to a proposal from Frédéric Engerer, CEO of Château Latour. Through subsequent meetings and conversations with Frédéric and the Artémis Group, we became convinced that — although the timing was premature, as we had yet to achieve all of our plans for the estate — they were the perfect buyers of this amazing vineyard we have called home for 23 years.”
Chateau Latour is one of the oldest Bordeaux wine properties in the Pauillac appellation with a history dating back to the 14th century. It is considered a premier cru, or first growth, along with the likes of Bordeaux wines such as Chateau Margaux and Chateau Mouton-Rothschild.
“Araujo Estate and its jewel, the unique Eisele Vineyard, have been producing consistently one of the very best wines of Napa Valley,” said Frédéric Engerer, CEO of Chateau Latour, in a statement. “We would very much like to pay tribute to the exceptional work of Bart and Daphne Araujo, whose pioneering vision, dedication to excellence and attention to detail has built one of the most respected wine estates in the world.”
At present, four Araujo Estate wines are produced every year — Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard, Syrah Eisele Vineyard, Sauvignon Blanc Eisele Vineyard and Altagracia. A Viognier Eisele Vineyard is bottled in some years as well. All but one of the wines are made from the grapes grown on the estate; in the case of Altagracia, grapes come from other Napa Valley vineyards, farmed to Araujo specifications.
All North American staff, including the entire winemaking team, will remain with the estate under its new ownership. Bart and Daphne Araujo will stay in residence at Araujo Estate until January 2014 to assist with the transition.
The history of grapegrowing on the property dates to the late 19th century. From the 1880s to the late 1960s the lands of the Araujo Estate remained under continuous grape cultivation, surviving successive owners as well as the financial catastrophes of phylloxera, Prohibition and the Great Depression.
In the early 1880s Jackson G. Randall, one of Napa Valley’s pioneer viticulturists, and his neighbor Charles Nathan Pickett, one of the valley’s largest wine producers, were the first to plant grapes on what is now Araujo’s Eisele Vineyard. Pickett and his family retained this vineyard land until World War II.
In 1969, Milton and Barbara Eisele purchased the then 137-acre property, naming it the Eisele Vineyard, and rather than retiring, they launched a new career in their 60s as grapegrowers. In a move that would put their vineyard on the map, the Eiseles offered their grapes to Paul Draper, winemaker of Ridge Vineyards. In 1971, Draper produced the first Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the first vineyard-designated wines in California, touted as one of the finest wines ever produced in the Napa Valley.
The second vineyard-designated Eisele Cabernet was produced by Conn Creek Winery in 1974 to equal acclaim and with equal longevity, and from 1975 to 1991 Napa Valley wine visionary Joseph Phelps continued the tradition, producing what would become a long line of legendary cabernets from the Eisele Vineyard. The 1991 vintage yielded two significant Eisele Vineyard Cabernets — the final Phelps bottling from the property and the first Araujo Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.