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Joseph Phelps Sells Le Mistral

Ventana Vineyards, growers of the wine's grapes, takes over production; Phelps owners deny that the Napa winery is for sale

Robert Taylor
Posted: July 1, 2008

Joseph Phelps Vineyards has sold its Rhône-style blend brand, Le Mistral, along with its 40 acres of Syrah and Grenache in California's Monterey County, to Randy Pura and Ventana Vineyards for an undisclosed amount. Ventana, located in Monterey's Arroyo Seco AVA, has managed the vineyards for the Mistral brand for more than a decade. The change in ownership becomes official with the 2007 vintage, currently in barrel, which will be released under the Ventana label.

Phelps director of winemaking Damian Parker, who has been with the company for 26 years, and associate winemaker Ashley Hepsworth have agreed to consult for Le Mistral's new ownership.

The sale is another change for the pioneering Napa winery, which was the first in California to bottle a varietal Syrah. Phelps recently lost its winemaker, Craig Williams, which led to rumors that it was headed in the same direction as some other iconic family-owned Napa wineries—Warren Winiarski sold Stag's Leap Wine Cellars for $185 million last year and Chateau Montelena is reported to be fielding offers in excess of $100 million. Joseph Phelps chairman Bill Phelps denied the winery was for sale, saying the sale of Le Mistral is part of a plan to re-associate the Phelps brand strongly with Napa Valley Cabernet and Bordeaux-style blends. Phelps will continue to make a limited-production Napa Syrah, but is shifting its Chardonnay production to the company's Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir brand, Freestone.

"The company is very firmly under family control. Anytime there is change in a company, rumors will pop up. They are not true and the family has every intention of remaining in control," Phelps said. "My father [Joseph] is 80 years old but he is still keenly interested [in the winery] and he's very proud of the idea that we're going to maintain this as a family-controlled enterprise, and that is our fondest wish."

For Pura and Ventana Vineyards, the acquisition provides a chance to make a wine that the grower has had a long relationship with. "We've been growing the grapes at the Le Mistral vineyard for 11 years, we love the wine that the Phelps group has been producing and we've always thought this was a wonderful opportunity if it ever came along," said Pura. "Recently it got serious and we were able to move forward in a way that works for both of us."

"We really thinks it's the best of both worlds because the grapes are grown here in Monterey County and have to travel all the way up to Napa, and now we get to keep the grapes where they belong and we get the support and advice and assistance and consultation of the Phelps winemakers," said Pura.

Ventana winemaker Reggie Hammond will oversee a dedicated small-batch fermentation operation in Monterey, working with Parker and Hepsworth to handcraft the Le Mistral wines going forward. Ventana is owned by several local growers in Arroyo Seco.

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