Updated on July 23.
Carl Doumani has sold his Quixote winery in Napa Valley’s Stags Leap District to Le Melange, a Chinese-owned private firm registered in the United States. Le Melange paid close to the asking price of $29 million, according to Doumani.
The deal is the latest of a recent series of winery purchases or startups in the Napa Valley wine industry by Asian investors or firms, including Sloan, Dana Estates, Kenzo Estate and 4088 (the former Bialla winery). Just last month, Kieu Hoang Winery, owned by a Vietnamese-American who sells exclusively to Asian markets, purchased Michael Mondavi’s winery facility in Carneros.
According to sources familiar with Asian investments in Napa Valley, Le Melange is owned by a Chinese company called Gold Tower Group, based in Jilin province, that specializes in hot peppers and hot pepper products. Another subsidiary of Gold Tower Group, Jinta Vineyards and Winery, bought Hannah Nicole Vineyards and Winery in Contra Costa early in 2013. Gold Tower Group is privately owned and its executives could not be reached for comment.
Doumani, a devout champion of Petite Sirah, created Quixote in the late 1990s after selling Stags’ Leap Winery, the property he founded in 1972. Doumani was among a wave of newcomers to Napa in the 1970s amid a renaissance in the region.
An original winery on the property was founded in 1893 but closed during Prohibition. Doumani bought the property in 1971 and started his winery by focusing on Petite Sirah and Chenin Blanc. He sold the winery to Foster’s in 1997, but kept some of the vineyard for Quixote. Quixote takes its name from Cervantes' idealistic hero -- a man inspired by lofty but impractical goals, much like Doumani. Austrian architect and artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser designed the winery. It includes 29 acres of vines.
“It was a good run,” Doumani, 81, said of his 43 years as a vintner. His winery has been on and off the market now for years amid the financial downturn that left real estate prices for even prestigious properties well below their earlier valuations. “It’s been time to go now for about five years.”
He said the business was no longer the fun it had been earlier in his career. The challenges of marketing, sales and personnel were among the biggest complications of running a 6,000 to 8,000 case winery.
Doumani said he believes the new owners would retain the winemaking team, headed by Aaron Pott, and continue retail sales at the winery. But beyond that, the buyers didn’t reveal much of anything about their plans. “It was all rather mysterious,” he said.
Doumani isn’t getting out of the wine business entirely. He will remain a vintner, keeping a small Petite Sirah vineyard from which he intends to bottle a new label under the Encandato brand, the same name as a Mescal firm he once operated.