When properties trade monthly for double-digit millions, it takes a lot of money to raise eyebrows in a place like Napa Valley, and even more to make serious waves. But that’s just what an Arkansas billionaire has done in the last few years, emerging seemingly from nowhere to become one of the most powerful personalities shaping the future of the Napa Valley.
When Gaylon M Lawrence Jr purchased Heitz Cellars in 2018, the transaction seemed a garden-variety Napa acquisition: yet another expensive Napa estate purchase, albeit of an estate with a storied history and family ownership. Lawrence’s choice of Master Sommelier Carlton McCoy (above) to lead the estate almost seemed more noteworthy than the purchase itself, when the youthful McCoy became the first African American to run a brand-name Napa estate.
But that was only the beginning. Nine months later Lawrence purchased the Wildwood Ranch vineyard in Rutherford, followed soon after by the historical Haynes Vineyard in Coombsville. In 2020 he added Burgess Cellars to the portfolio, closing the deal less than a month before the estate was tragically consumed by the Glass Fire. That same year Lawrence bought the acclaimed Stony Hill estate, and most recently acquired two new properties, a winery and vineyard property owned by Luna Vineyards that will be used as a tasting room for Burgess Cellars while it rebuilds, the other a building that will be used as a tasting room for Ink Grade, one of two new brands that McCoy has launched since transitioning from being CEO of Heitz Cellars to become managing partner of what is now known as Lawrence Estates.
This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is usually available only to subscribers of her website. If you’re not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It’s only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and maps from the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.
Image of Carlton McCoy courtesy of Demeine Estates.