The Tesseron family, owners of Bordeaux's Château Pontet-Canet and Tesseron Cognac, are striking out west to California, purchasing Villa Sorriso, a lavish Napa Valley estate previously owned by the late comedian Robin Williams. The estate has sold grapes for some time to Napa wineries, but the Tesserons plan to begin making their own wine there.
"It is true," Alfred Tesseron told Wine Spectator. "My two nieces, Mélanie and Philippine, and I bought Villa Sorriso in Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. There is a great vineyard planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc."
Williams purchased the property in 1994, and put it on the market in 2012 for the asking price of $35 million. Shortly before the actor's death in 2014, the listing was reduced to $29.5 million, then to $22.9 million in Oct. 2015. Local realtors say the Tesserons have agreed to pay $18.1 million, according to one media report. Tesseron would not confirm or deny that figure.
The 653-acre property, located on Mount Veeder in the Mayacamas range, houses a 20,000-square-foot main residence and includes 18.4 acres of vines in the Mount Veeder AVA. The grapes are currently being sold to wineries such as Robert Craig and Rombauer. Tesseron says they have no immediate plans to plant more acres.
According to Elton Slone, president and CEO of Robert Craig Winery, Bob Craig helped plant the Pym Rae Vineyard at Villa Sorriso in 1990. "We have always had a year-to-year 'handshake' contract with the Williams family, which ended in 2016 due to the intent to sell," Slone told Wine Spectator. "Hopefully, I might persuade Alfred and Melanie to part with a few tons of fruit in the years to come. Obtaining fruit from another source is a possibility, but that vineyard is a special one.
"What I love most about the Pym Rae vineyard is the tremendous structure that partnered with classic Napa Valley mountain Cabernet," said Slone. "Pym Rae produces wines of terrific color, depth and complexity while having the nerve and acid structure to keep them in balance."
Alfred Tesseron says they plan to begin producing their own wines under the direction of Pontet-Canet technical director Jean-Michel Comme and a local team. "Now comes the most difficult part," said Tesseron. "Try to understand the vineyard and work hard. It will take time, but it is a beautiful project. I love the United States—my first job was given to me by Harvey Chaplin [of Southern Wine and Spirits] for their import company. Funny enough, exactly 30 years ago, Jean-Michel was at Pine Ridge as a young intern. He has been very active for the last four years on helping us find this beautiful place."
This is the first time the Tesserons, who made their fortune in Cognac, have set their sights outside of France. Alfred's father Guy bought Château Pontet-Canet in 1975. Alfred took over management in 1994, elevating the quality of the wine to the point where the fifth-growth commands second-growth prices. The Tesserons made headlines in Bordeaux when Alfred started to shift to biodynamic farming in 2004, completely eliminating synthetic chemicals in the vineyards after the 2007 vintage. Tesseron says he will follow the same approach with his new Napa venture.
"We are very happy to see the arrival of our friend Alfred Tesseron in Napa," said Christian Moueix, a fellow Bordeaux vintner who owns Napa Valley's Dominus. "He will bring his quest for quality and will find, thanks to Napa's climate, favorable conditions for his biodynamic approach—not to mention a dreamy mansion!"