French vintner François Lurton has sold his ownership stake in his two high-quality Portuguese estates, Quinta do Malho and Quinta Beira Douro, after eight years of making wine in the heart of the Douro Valley, Portugal’s top winegrowing region. He sold his share to minority partner Cap Wine International, which previously held a 40 percent stake. The price was not disclosed.
Lurton cited lackluster sales as the reason to say goodbye to the Douro. “It has been a difficult decision to take since Portugal was one of my favorite places to produce wine,” Lurton told Wine Spectator. “I wasn’t making any money.”
Lurton currently makes wine in France's Languedoc and Roussillon, and also in Spain, Argentina and Chile. He began to make wine in the Douro with the 2004 vintage under the Pilheiros label and got off to a quick start in terms of quality. Those wines were made with purchased fruit. In 2006 he took the plunge with his own fruit when he bought Beira Douro, followed in 2008 by the purchase of Malho, both in the high-quality Cima Corgo district. Lurton subsequently oversaw the opening of a new winery at Beira Douro in 2008. Together, vineyards for both estates covered 37 acres, with the potential to double in size. Current combined production is approximately 3,300 cases annually.
Also included in the sale was the Barco Negro line of value-priced bottlings made from purchased fruit. That label accounted for the vast majority of Lurton’s Douro production, about 17,000 cases last year. But Lurton said that sales growth had been disappointing, which was a major reason he decided to leave the Douro. The hard times that have hit Portugal in the wake of the Euro zone financial crisis also proved key, Lurton explained.
Cap Wine, composed of French and Canadian partners, already owns Domaine de l'Herré in the Côtes de Gascogne. One of Cap Wine’s founders is Lurton's sister, Christine Lurton de Caix, who oversees Château Dauzac in Bordeaux’s Margaux district. Lurton said the winemaking team at the Douro ventures will remain in place and that he will help with the 2011 vintage now in the cellar, but after that he would bid adieu.
Lurton also recently sold about 170 acres of vineyards that he owned in the Maipú Valley of Argentina. He said he did so to concentrate his efforts at Bodega Piedra Negra, in the Uco Valley, where he currently owns 250 acres of vineyards and where he wants to buy about 75 more.
“I am not selling [these] things to abandon the business. I am repositioning. My volumes have been reduced in Argentina to make higher-quality wineries,” Lurton said. “I am looking for new investments.”
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