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Breaking Wine News: Bordeaux's Cos d'Estournel Buys Napa's Chateau Montelena

To those of you in the wine world paying attention to the dollar's stomach churning lows against the Euro, this news may come as little or no surprise. This morning, Chateau Cos d'Estournel announced it's purchase of the historic Chateau Montelena in Napa. While not the first bit of investment from Bordeaux in the Napa Valley, it is certainly a significant one, given both the landmark historical status of Chateau Montelena as well as the prestige and success of Cos d'Estournel, whose star has certainly been rising in Bordeaux over the past decade.

Exact details of the transaction aren't available, but speculation of amounts nearing $110 million dollars have been thrown about on various web sites, including Decanter. The speculation about the price, however, doesn't begin to touch the wild imaginings of the eRobertParker.Com bulletin boards over the last 18 hours after Robert Parker posted a tantalizing message yesterday announcing what he described as "one of the biggest stories in his three decades in the wine industry" with no further details.

While I certainly don't think this event merits the description Parker used, it's certainly an interesting development, and if the economy continues the way it has recently, probably not the last time a prime Napa property will be snapped up by European investors of one kind or another.

Chateau Montelena was founded in 1882 and fell into disuse through Prohibition before being purchased and revived by Jim Barrett in the early 1970's. Known for its production of high quality Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, Montelena became a world famous winery after its 1973 Chardonnay beat out French competitors in the famous 1976 Judgement of Paris.

Cos d'Estournel is known as one of Bordeaux's "Super Seconds" -- a Second Growth estate that punches above its weight consistently. It is owned by Michel Reybier, who made his fortune in a French meats company and now runs French petroleum giant Pebercan.

The 2008 vintage for Montelena will be overseen by Cos d'Estournel's director and winemaker, and the speculation has already begun as to whether the price will be going up. I'd definitely put Euros on that.

Comments (11)

Jack wrote:
07.22.08 at 10:24 AM

Hohumhohumhohum. Breaking(!) News?

Another winery changes hands. Big flippin' deal. (Especially as our entire country is currently available at discounted pricing due to our weak dollar.)

With Parker's build up, we were lead to believe that this was Something Big, Something Earth Shattering, rather than just another winery changing hands. I was expecting something like a Japanese or Middle-Eastern investment group buying two dozen Napa wineries. Obvious Mr. Parker is the last person we will look to for Important Wine News from now on.

St. Vini wrote:
07.22.08 at 12:01 PM

The irony of this purchase, particularly with "Bottle Shock" coming out in two weeks, is the real story here Jack, not the ownership of another winery changing hands.

Kevin Keith wrote:
07.22.08 at 12:35 PM

For us retailers, all this means is whether or not Montelena ends up with a distributor I like to use or despise using.

Rich wrote:
07.22.08 at 5:40 PM

Mon Dieu! One of my favorite wineries!!! I hope they preserve it and don't screw it up.

Morton Leslie wrote:
07.23.08 at 11:48 AM

Funny, my wife asked me in the morning over coffee a week ago if I had heard anything about Montelena being sold. I was actually listening and I told her no, but said that if I had the choice of letting my winery go for say a 100 million bucks or staying on and continuing to battle with the other two tiers of the distribution system, I'd take the money and run. Let's see I could ride with a rep for the thousandth time and take more abuse over pricing or allocation, or I could have a nice lunch with my buddy, drink any wine I wanted, and then go to a ball game. Tough choice.

This is the first (actually third, remember Duckhorn and Jean Phillips) of many. There is a deep pocketed investment group here in the valley right now shopping for a winery of similar lofty stature talking to owners of wineries not on the market. And there are quite a few owners like Duckhorn, Phillips and Barrett ready for new challenges.

Karen wrote:
07.23.08 at 6:15 PM

My husband and I were just talking about this the other day too. We'd just seen a screening of "Bottle Shock" (which by the way is wonderful and really worth seeing) and he mentioned he'd heard some speculation about Montelena being sold....St. Vini is right...how ironic considering everything the Montelena name has meant for California wine.

Pamela wrote:
07.23.08 at 7:55 PM

What's interesting is how this news on Parker's forum generated 22 pages of discussion. I jumped right to the last page and had to laugh at a comment left by Mark Squires, "I wouldn't blame anyone who looks at this thread and decides their time is better spent posting on another one".

rs wrote:
07.27.08 at 10:02 PM

At well over $100 per bottle I don't care who owns it. I have older bottles back to '89 and will enjoy these till they're gone. When I first began drinking Chateau Montelena the price was ~$18 per bottle. Has everything become that more expensive? Our local paper quoted Barrett as saying millions would be required to update the winery and vineyards and this was the time to sell. His business decision.

tom farella wrote:
07.28.08 at 1:14 PM

I found this somewhat... profound! I'm not even sure why, but it wasn't to a drinks conglomerate or neighbor down the road (Jess Jackson, etc.). This was a 1:1 ratio, a single buyer for a single family-owned winery. On top of that, it's a French chateau. It seemed more unique than Opus, Dominus, Antinori and the like. This is, of course, not including all the ironies and the dollar exchange reality.

Don't those e-Bob guys have anything better to do? ;)

07.29.08 at 6:56 AM

When I was a student in the wine program at the CIA, we toured and tasted some fantastic wines at Chateau Montelena. Ironically, the best for me was a Riesling they made that was available only at the winery. It WILL take a lot of $ to upgrade and modernize, but Barrett is smart to sell. Why would you want to put yourself through all the crap of running an icon brand? Ego? I think he's way past that. As for what's ahead... those Frenchies will keep it viable and probably make it better.

Erik R wrote:
09.25.08 at 2:30 AM

Does anyone know if Bo Barrett will stay on as the wine maker? Or is he off to do something different or start anew??? Regards, Erik

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