Agriculture magnate Gaylon Lawrence Jr., owner of Napa Valley’s iconic Heitz Cellar, isn't slowing down. Less than six months after snapping up the Wildwood Vineyard in Rutherford, Lawrence has purchased the historic Haynes Vineyard in the Coombsville subappellation from founder Pat Haynes. Wine Spectator has learned that Lawrence plans to launch a new, yet-to-be-named winery, producing small-lot Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah from the 32-acre vineyard.
"We are honored to have the opportunity to preserve the history and legacy of such a great vineyard," Lawrence said in a statement. Lawrence and Heitz’s CEO Carlton McCoy were immediately drawn to the vineyard’s pedigree when they learned it was for sale. They are hiring a new winemaking team to craft the wines starting with the 2020 vintage. The new winemaker will be announced soon.
The Lawrence family purchased the property for about $12.5 million, according to county records. The property had been listed for $15 million.
Pat Haynes and her husband, Duncan, founded Haynes Vineyard in 1967, on a 43-acre parcel of land that had been in the Haynes family since the late 1800s. They had dabbled in wine grapes and other crops but decided to plant Wente clone Chardonnay and Martini clone Pinot Noir at the advice of Louis Martini Sr., a client of Duncan’s law firm. The couple later added Syrah. Most of the vines planted by the Haynes in 1967 are still healthy and producing today, making the vineyard especially attractive.
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The Haynes sold their grapes to Louis Martini before starting their own winery Whitford Cellars. Renowned winemaker André Tchelistcheff produced the Pinot Noirs during the early 1990s. Ken Bernards of Ancien took over as winemaker in 1997. The Haynes eventually shuttered Whitford but continued to sell the grapes with Ancien moving into the winery. Bernards will move production to a new site following the sale.
Located in a cool pocket of the Coombsville AVA, east of the city of Napa, Haynes sits on a bed of rocky volcanic soils. The vineyard is buffeted by winds from nearby San Pablo Bay, moderating the summer heat and preserving the natural acidity of the grapes. The vineyard’s 52-year-old vines are prized by wineries such as Failla, Ancien and Enfield.
"Our goal is to express the best we can out of this vineyard," said McCoy. The plan is to convert the vineyard to biodynamic farming while preserving the existing vines. McCoy says they will also plant a hitherto unused section of the vineyard to an experimental block of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Production will remain small, around 2,000 cases of wine a year, with some of the grapes sold to other producers.
Lawrence, who lives in Memphis, Tenn., was a newcomer to wine when he purchased Heitz in 2018. But he is no stranger to agriculture. His family’s business, the Lawrence Group, owns one of the largest citrus grove operations in Florida along with farmland in Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, Arkansas and Florida. The company also owns local banks and has interests in commercial real estate and the heating, ventilation and air conditioning industry.
The Lawrence family’s wine business will focus on estate driven wineries and sites that produce the Old World styles of wines the family likes to drink. "It’s about creating wines that represent an era of winemaking in the valley that we adore," said McCoy. "Our goal is to make wines in that style."