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Chateau Montelena for Sale

Famous Napa winery weighing offers in excess of $100 million

James Laube, Tim Fish
Posted: June 12, 2008

Rumors are flying up and down the Napa Valley that Chateau Montelena is for sale.

"I can't say anything about it," said Bo Barrett, the winemaker and son of founder and principal winery owner Jim Barrett, when asked today about rumors of its sale.

According to a source familiar with potential deals, the famous Napa winery was recently put on the market and bidders have presented offers in excess of $100 million. The Barrett family, owners of the winery, are interested in selling and are weighing those offers.

Montelena is best known for its estate-grown Cabernets, from the Montelena Estate vineyard at the winery in Calistoga. It is also highly regarded for its Napa Valley Chardonnay, and it produces a second Napa Cabernet, along with Riesling and Zinfandel.

The winery vaulted to international fame with the famous 1976 Paris Tasting, where its 1973 Alexander Valley Chardonnay won a blind tasting, vanquishing competition that included prestigious white Burgundies and other California Chardonnays.

Located north of Calistoga, the winery dates to 1882, when Alfred L. Tubbs, a San Francisco-based entrepreneur, purchased 254 acres of land and built the chateau. It had been abandoned for decades until 1969, when Los Angeles attorney Jim Barrett led a group of investors to purchase it.

The first wine under the new regime was made in 1972 under Barrett's leadership, with Mike Grgich, previously of Beaulieu Vineyard, as the winemaker. Montelena's second vintage won the tasting in Paris, the same event at which the second vintage of Cabernet from Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, also from 1973, bested a group of top-growth Bordeaux and other Napa Cabernets. Last year, Stag's Leap was sold for $185 million to a partnership that included Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Tuscan vintner Piero Antinori.

After making Cabernet from purchased grapes, Montelena produced its first estate-bottled Cabernet in 1978. Today the winery produces over 40,000 cases annually of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Riesling. The Montelena Estate Cabernet retails for $125 a bottle and has been one of California's most sought-after wines. Montelena owns 100 acres of vineyards.

In recent years, however, the winery has battled what the winery termed "cellar funk," with some of its wines tainted by 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, which the winery traced back to a problem in their cellar.

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