Marchesi Antinori is solidifying its foothold in Napa Valley, buying complete control of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. The two companies announced today that Antinori, which has been a minority partner at the iconic Napa winery since Ste. Michelle purchased it from founder Warren Winiarksi in 2007, is buying Ste. Michelle's 85 percent stake.
The sale includes the winery, the brand and inventory, and close to 300 acres of Napa vines, including the Fay and S.L.V. vineyards. Neither side disclosed the purchase price.
A Napa Icon
A former college professor turned Napa winemaker, Warren Winiarski founded Stag's Leap in 1970, after a stint at Robert Mondavi winery. He quickly showed off his technical skill and the promise of his corner of Napa Valley. The second released vintage, the 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon, bested a group of hand-picked Bordeaux wines in a blind tasting by French judges held in Paris during the American bicentennial. The tasting enhanced not only the reputation of Stag's Leap but that of Napa Valley and California as well.
In 2007, an aging Winiarski sold the winery to Washington's Ste. Michelle, with Antinori taking a 15 percent stake. The Antinori family and the Washington wine giant have long had a business relationship and also partnered on Col Solare.
Quality has only improved in the past decade, with recent vintages of the winery's single-vineyard Cabernets and Cask 23, a blend of the best fruit from both, earning classic and outstanding scores from Wine Spectator.
Returning to family ownership
In 2021, Ste. Michelle's corporate parent Altria sold the wine company to New York–based private equity firm Sycamore Partners in a deal worth $1.2 billion. Sycamore is refocusing Ste. Michelle, as the company has faced harder times in recent years. When executives decided to sell Stag's Leap, Antinori was the natural buyer.
"There are few opportunities in one's lifetime when such an important and historical winery as Stag's Leap is available. I have to thank Ste. Michelle Wine Estates for this great occasion that has been given to us," said Piero Antinori, honorary president for Marchesi Antinori.
Longtime Antinori CEO and chief winemaker Renzo Cotarella felt the deal was a no-brainer, considering Antinori's 15 years of work at Stag's Leap. "There are many synergies," Cotarella told Wine Spectator. "First of all, we know Stag's Leap. Second, we know the history of Stag's Leap and its importance in Napa Valley. And now it becomes a family-owned winery again."
Stag's Leap will also gain fruit from some choice vines. Antinori owns close to 500 acres in Napa, of which about 100 are used for their Antinori Napa Valley winery. Cotarella said the remaining parcels could be used in Stag's Leap.
Stag's Leap produces roughly 150,000 cases per year. Marchesi Antinori produces 800,000 cases annually and its other wineries produce an additional 1.15 million cases.
"Stags' Leap is an icon, with a great history beginning with Warren Winiarski, that is once again a family brand," said Cotarella. "It's an indication of where Antinori wants to go, an iconic brand in one of the unique and great areas of wine production in the world. It was the right place for an Italian winery to invest."
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