Updated: Sept. 15, 3 p.m.
Heitz Cellar owner Gaylon Lawrence Jr., who bought the historic producer in 2018, is expanding his foothold in Napa Valley. Lawrence announced today that his family and Heitz CEO Carlton McCoy Jr. are acquiring Burgess Cellars, located on Howell Mountain. The price was not disclosed, but the deal includes the brand, winery, tasting room, inventory and 26 acres of estate vineyards. The Burgess Cellars brand will remain, but Meghan Zobeck will take over winemaking duties from Kelly Woods.
"We're in the business of preserving and teaching people about the history of Napa Valley," McCoy told Wine Spectator, citing the significance of both the vineyard and the winery, which was founded by Tom Burgess in 1972.
Before Burgess, the winery was the home of Souverain, one of Napa's pioneering wineries, founded by Lee Stewart in 1943. Souverain (now based in Sonoma's Alexander Valley) was the starting point for several notable Napa winemakers, including Miljenko Grgich and Warren Winiarski.
The original vineyard was planted in 1880, though ownership has changed hands several times and it has undergone numerous replants. The site is uniquely positioned on the west side of Howell Mountain, with 30-year-old vines, predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, planted on terraces on steep slopes. There are 11 vineyard blocks—each with various elevations, slopes and exposure to the sun—on volcanic soils that drain well, producing smaller, more concentrated grapes.
McCoy said what is most important in the deal is that Burgess Cellars keeps its identity. "We are buying a historically significant brand, and a site that has a pedigree for creating exceptional wines. We're just the new owners."
Tom Burgess and his wife Linda established the winery and made their first vintage in 1972. Tom passed away in 2017. His children Steven and James worked at the winery for many years before taking over in 2012. Steven is the current president of the winery, and James is the vineyard manager. "As members of a pioneering Napa Valley family, my brother Jim and I are pleased to now pass on this extraordinary estate that our parents developed," said Steven, in a statement. The winery currently produces about 12,000 cases per year.
A 1984 Cabernet Sauvignon made from Burgess estate grapes was the first aged Napa wine McCoy recalls trying. Lawrence Jr. had a similar experience when the two began tasting through some of Souverain's library and were astonished by the wines' balance and structure, McCoy added. "There's a consistent thread of high-level quality, and we know we can continue to make better wines."
McCoy hired Zobeck because she is a well-traveled winemaker he believes is suited to bring the best out of the estate. Before joining, she worked in the vineyards and cellar of Screaming Eagle and was most recently associate winemaker for Philippe Melka and a partner at Inconnu Wine. "We're very excited about what Meghan is going to do," said McCoy, noting that her philosophies on farming and winemaking are in line with theirs. "We want a winemaker who is immersed in what they're doing and committed to making terroir-driven wines."
The purchase is the latest in a string of acquisitions made by Lawrence. Last year he purchased the Haynes Vineyard in Coombsville and the Wildwood Vineyard in Rutherford.
Besides its 26-acre estate vineyard, Burgess also previously owned a vineyard in Napa's Oak Knoll District, which was sold to Heitz before Lawrence and McCoy's involvement. McCoy said they're excited to bring the two estates back together under the Burgess Cellars brand. "It's important to note history and how long people have been making great wines; that is what drove us to the place."