Napa Valley wineries and brands continue to be hot commodities. Last week, the owners of one of the valley's oldest producers, Freemark Abbey Winery in St. Helena, sold the brand, winery and more than 100 acres of vineyards to the newly formed Legacy Estates Group, based in Napa. In a separate deal, Patrick Roney, former president of Sonoma County's Chateau St. Jean and Kunde Estate wineries, purchased the rights to the Girard Winery brand.
None of the parties disclosed the purchase prices, though Freemark Abbey was reported to have sold for $35 million.
Freemark Abbey produced about 46,000 cases from the 2000 vintage, mostly of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. The winery is best known for its Cabernets from the renowned Boschi Vineyard, a 30-acre plot in Rutherford, and from the 55-acre Sycamore Vineyard, also in Rutherford. While Freemark Abbey does not own either of these sites, the winery will continue to purchase the grapes under long-term contracts.
Freemark Abbey was founded in 1967 by seven partners, including Charles Carpy, Laurie Wood, Brad Webb, Jim Warren, Bill Jaeger, Dick Heggie and John Bryan. Current director of winemaking Ted Edwards joined the partnership later.
"It came time in the career of the winery to take it to the next level. It was a graying partnership; Ted is the youngest at 46, so it was time for the next 30 years to kick in," said Catherine Carpy, former director of marketing for the winery and daughter of Chuck Carpy. Edwards and winemaker Tim Bell will remain at Freemark Abbey.
The Legacy Estates Group is a partnership of Steve Cousins, former president and CEO at Buena Vista Winery in the Carneros district; brothers Calvin and Dev Sidhu, agricultural investors in Washington state; and Charles Johnson, a Washington banker.
"What interested us about Freemark was the quality of the wines," said Cousins, who will be COO of the estate. "It was one of the original cult wines. Its current potential has been constrained by access to high-quality fruit sources, and we're going to expand the Cabernets and have a new Cabernet blend under development."
According to Cousins, the Legacy Group is currently in negotiation with other wineries, and eventually plans to purchase as many as 10 high-end, small-production estates in California, Oregon and Washington.
The Girard deal does not involve a winery or any vineyards. Rather than launching his own brand, Patrick Roney purchased the rights to the Girard name from Leslie Rudd, who bought the Girard Winery in Oakville in 1996. Rudd replanted the 46 acres of estate vineyard, renovated the winery, and chose to phase out Girard with the introduction of his Rudd Estate label on the 1998 vintage.
"I think Girard is a great name, and it has a lot of history," said Roney. The winery was founded in 1980 by Stephen Girard and was known for producing high-quality reserve Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays from Napa Valley.
Marco DiGiulio, former winemaker at Lokoya winery, in Napa Valley, has been hired to lead Girard's winemaking operations.
Roney will bottle about 8,000 cases of Girard from the 2000 vintage; nearly two-thirds of the production will be a Cabernet-Merlot blend from Napa Valley. Previous vintages of Girard wines retail for between $24 and $40, and he intends to stay in that price range. Roney plans to purchase vineyards and increase production to 20,000 cases by 2008.
Read about recent purchases of Napa Valley wineries:
Read past news about the sale of Girard Winery: