Heitz Cellar owner Gaylon Lawrence Jr. and CEO Carlton McCoy Jr. are not slowing down in their quest to acquire and preserve some of Napa's most treasured wine estates. Three months after purchasing Burgess Cellars, the duo announced today the acquisition of Stony Hill Vineyard, located in Napa's Spring Mountain District. The purchase price was not disclosed. The sale includes the Stony Hill brand and inventory and its 30 acres of vineyards. Lawrence and McCoy have appointed Jaimee Motley, founder and winemaker of her namesake brand, as winemaker.
"We've become almost hopelessly nostalgic about some of these sites in Napa Valley," McCoy Jr. told Wine Spectator, citing the importance of the history and people behind recent acquisitions, including Burgess and Haynes Vineyard, and now Stony Hill. "The more you learn about Napa and its history, you realize people don't always understand the significance that some people have had in the valley."
Stony Hill was one of the first Napa Valley wineries built after Prohibition, and to this day remains one of the few more renowned for its white wines than red. Former proprietor Fred McCrea was a mentor for many people, including Joe Heitz. "The McCreas stuck by their ideals of making structurally balanced wines, even during the bigger is better mentality," said McCoy Jr., "and we plan to continue to make wine there as the McCrea family has done since the 1950s."
Fred and Eleanor McCrea purchased the property as a weekend getaway in 1943 but began planting vines in 1948, starting with Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Blanc. A few years later, they would add Gewürztraminer and Sémillon. Over the past few decades, they have also added Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Though many of the vines have gone through replants, the original Riesling vines remain, and some Chardonnay vines are more than 30 years old.
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Eleanor managed the business while Fred made the wines, developing the winery's signature bright and flinty Chardonnay, inspired by their love of Chablis. Fred passed away in 1977, leaving his assistant, Mike Chelini, in charge. The Chardonnay winemaking style that made the brand famous never veered: fermented in neutral oak barrels, eschewing malolactic fermentation.
After Eleanor's passing in 1991, her son Peter and daughter-in-law Willinda took over managing the winery. In 2011, their daughter Sarah joined the business. The Hall family of Long Meadow Ranch purchased a majority stake in 2018, with Sarah McCrea joining Long Meadow Ranch's executive team, and her father, Peter, staying on as part of an advisory board.
When Long Meadow Ranch invested, part of the plan was to provide capital for improved infrastructure and increasing the winery's awareness through national distribution. They also undertook replanting portions of the vineyard and began to convert the vineyard to organic. How much was accomplished in the short time is unknown.
"We are strengthening our business by making some important decisions to sharpen our strategic focus and are pleased that historic Stony Hill Vineyard is now in the excellent care of Carlton McCoy and Gaylon Lawrence," said Chris Hall, executive vice president.
McCoy said his goal is to have the family involved as much as they are willing to provide context and be part of the evolution. "The McCreas lived and breathed the estate, and we're fortunate enough to purchase it and continue to be part of the evolution."
Stony Hill has always been a modest operation, producing roughly 5,000 cases per year, made in an old farm-style building. A visit to the estate, surrounded by Bothe State Park, invokes the Napa that the McCreas knew when they established the winery—pastoral and undeveloped. The vineyard stretches upward on a northeast-exposed slope ranging in elevation from 800 to 1,550 feet.
McCoy said newly appointed winemaker Motley already has a deep reverence for the property. "Her eyes light up when she walks the vineyard; it has been like going to church for her," he said, noting that one of their core values is to find winemakers and caretakers that are passionate about estates. "I've always admired her style," he said. "She has a way with aromatics and an incredibly delicate touch and approach to purity."
Motley is an up-and-coming winemaker who worked as Pax Mahle's assistant winemaker beginning in 2015 before starting her namesake brand a few years later. Laurie Taboulet, former national sales manager for Larkmead, will take on the role of estate director.
Unlike many companies that try to consolidate to save money or assuage risk, McCoy and Lawrence are almost intentionally structuring things to be inefficient. McCoy admits costs will be higher to operate each of their estates separately, but believes it will pay off down the road. "Consolidating saves money, but then you risk losing individuality and identity," he said. "Estates are not brands. They're expressions of terroir and the people behind it."