Once again in 2016, we’ve seen a continuing string of winery and vineyard sales and acquisitions.
Many were larger wineries strengthening their positions in the market and moving up the price ladder, while other deals were related to generational issues – winery owners growing older without heirs, at least ones interested in their businesses.
Many wineries also acquired vineyard land to assure future supply and costs. At this writing, many small wineries and vineyards in Napa County are for sale.
Perhaps the biggest wine news of the year was Constellation Brands buying The Prisoner label from Huneeus Vintners for $285 million. Last year, Constellation bought Joe Wagner’s Meiomi for $315 million.
In turn, Gallo bought Orin Swift Cellars; Dave Phinney also created The Prisoner red blend brand and sold it to Huneeus earlier.
None of these deals involved land or facilities, just brands.
Huneeus bought the desirable St. Clement Winery in St. Helena from Treasury, but not the brand.
TSG Partners bought Duckhorn Vineyards from investment firm GI Partners and soon after, GI Partners bought most of Far Niente.
Château Latour owner Francois Pinault has renamed his company’s Araujo Estate Vineyard Estate. Former owners Bart and Daphne are building Accendo Cellars on Zinfandel Lane in St. Helena. They may be able to recover their family name for the winery.
Italian-Argentine agriculture entrepreneur Alejandro Pedro Bulgheroni bought a property off Meadowood Lane in St. Helena property for his winery.
Constant Diamond Mountain Vineyards in Calistoga was sold to Chinese investors.
Ladera’s real estate and winery sold to Cade. Pat and Anne Stotesbery kept the brand name, however, and will continue to make Ladera wine. They’ve applied to open a tasting room at 1234 Adams St. in St. Helena, previously a tasting room for Tamber Bey Vineyards.
Vintage Wine Estates bought Delectus, the former Milat Winery in St. Helena. Vintage already owns Girard, Cosentino, Clos Pegase, Swanson and Cartlidge-Brown here and B.R. Cohn Winery, Viansa Winery and Windsor Vineyards in Sonoma County as well as a number of other brands.
The Sill Family bought Ardente Estate Winery in Atlas Peak.
CTF Development International, which is developing the Calistoga Hills Resort, bought Von Strasser Vineyards and Reverie Vineyards on Diamond Mountain.
In turn, Von Strasser Wines bought Lava Vine Winery on the Silverado Trail in Calistoga. Being in the city, it can use more out of county grapes in its wines.
Respected Hyde Vineyards in Carneros completed its new winery. Only about 10 percent of production will be Hyde wines; the rest will be for other wineries.
Meanwhile, Hyde’s half-owned joint venture, Hyde de Villaine, bought the winery and vineyard it was leasing on Trancas at the Napa River.
The large Ashes & Diamonds Winery behind Bistro Don Giovanni, which is owned by Kashy Khaledi, son of Darioush Khaledi, is under construction. It was formerly called Carevan Serai.
Peju bought the Acacia vineyard and winery in Carneros from Treasury, which acquired it from Diageo, and has renovated it as Liana Estates with Ariana and Lisa Peju as proprietors.
Davis Estates opened an impressive winery in Calistoga and was quickly sued by Davis Family Winery in Sonoma County.
Trinchero, the biggest family-owned winery based in Napa Valley acquired Ziata and Mason Cellars. Trinchero is now the fifth-largest wine company in America after family-owned E. and J. Gallo, closely held the Wine Group, public Constellation Brands and family-owned Bronco.
The biggest vineyards news is that county Supervisors approved Craig and Kathy Hall’s plan to plant 209 acres of vineyards on their 2,300-acre Walt Ranch in the Vaca Range between Atlas Peak and Monticello roads.
They also pledged to place 525 acres in a conservation easement.
The decision was hardly unexpected, as the plan fulfilled all requirements and, seemingly, intentions of the agricultural preserve. But many opponents don’t want any more development in the hills, particularly large ones. Residents of nearby Circle Ranch, a development that would be prohibited under today’s rules, objected over concern about water and development in their backyard. Ironically, the Halls gave them the property on which their water treatment facility had been built, apparently mistakenly.
Other opponents said the vineyards, wells and roads could lead to building mansions on the 35 legal parcels that comprise the ranch, but that’s already allowed by county regulations.
Opponents filed an initiative to prohibit future development in the hills, but it was thrown out on a technicality. It probably couldn’t have affected existing projects anyway.
The Hall spent eight years and many millions to gain approval, but opponents may take further action in the courts to try to stop the project.
Ironically, a number of other significant vineyard developments in the hills slipped through with little notice, including Circle S in the Atlas Peak AVA, on the old Kirkland Ranch south of Napa and even on the hillside on Silverado Trail facing Mumm and ZD.
In other vineyard news, Silverado Investment Management Company sold Oak Knoll Ranch Vineyard to Hancock Agricultural Investment Group and Milliken Creek Vineyard to a private investment group. And Silverado sold the vineyard south of Trancas Street near Silverado Trail to an entity associated with Arnold T. Cattani of Bakersfield. The grapes may be intended for Fred Franzia’s Bronco Wine Company, who has admitted that he’s moving into Napa Valley real estate quietly.
Trefethen Vineyards, which owns about 600 acres in the Oak Knoll District, has sold 41 acres and a winery permit to Global Ag Properties of Silverado Premium Properties.
Alfred and Melanie Tesseron of Château Pontet-Canet bought Villa Sorriso, the wine estate owned by the late Robin Williams.
Many vineyards are being replanted, partly due to red blotch and leaf roll viruses, but also a resurgence of Pierce’s Disease but also as they reached the end of their typical 25-year commercially productive life.
Many vineyards are also being replanted or grafted from white or other less valuable grapes to cabernet sauvignon and its cousins.
Growers are also replanting vineyards for higher yields as researchers prove that super-low yields don’t improve quality – and wineries try to mitigate dramatically rising grape prices.
The Wine Communications Group, which owns Wines & Vines, Wine Busness Monthly, Wine Vide Data, a number of trade shows and part of the Gomberg Fredrikson market research firm, bought the Wine Industry Financial Group, which has mounted its respected conferences for 25 years.
Wine Spectator magazine named former managing editor Kim Marcus chief of its Napa bureau. Marcus once edited the St. Helena Star. Senior editor James Laube remains in the office.
A number of prominent vintners and others in the wine community died in 2016:
Margrit Biever Mondavi
Peter Mondavi, Sr.