In a deal between two family-owned Napa wineries, St. Helena's Long Meadow Ranch has purchased a majority stake in the famed Stony Hill Vineyard, located in Napa's Spring Mountain District, the wine company announced today. The sale includes the Stony Hill brand and inventory, and its 35 acres of vineyards. The McCrea family will retain a small stake in the business and company president Sarah McCrea will join Long Meadow Ranch's executive team. Her father, Peter, will also stay on as part of the advisory board. The purchase price was not disclosed.
The two families have been friends for years and Long Meadow Ranch COO Chris Hall believes it's an opportunity for two families to come together. "When I was a kid, my dad collected Stony Hill, and so from a wine perspective, we've always really admired them," said Hall, noting that the long-term friendship of the family made it even more appealing.
Sarah McCrea believes the deal will integrate two family businesses into a stronger whole. "When we thought about the future for Stony Hill, and what would create the best path forward, they represented everything we were looking for," said McCrea. In a letter to Stony Hill's mailing list, she wrote, "We really wanted to find people we'd be happy to introduce you to."
Stony Hill Vineyard is one of Napa Valley's legendary wineries due in part to its long-lived Chardonnay. Fred and Eleanor McCrea purchased the property in the western hills above St. Helena as a weekend getaway in 1943. A few years later they began planting. The couple originally wanted just Chardonnay, because of their fondness for white Burgundy, but they were advised to diversify. So they planted 6 acres of Chardonnay, but also Riesling and Pinot Blanc, and later Gewürztraminer, Sémillon and, most recently, Cabernet Sauvignon.
The first vintage they bottled was the 1952, and Chardonnay quickly became the winery's star. Fred made the wines, developing the signature tart and flinty style that the winery would become recognized for. After Fred passed away in 1977, his assistant, Mike Chelini, took over, and he remains the winemaker to this day. He will become winemaker emeritus following the 2018 vintage. Fred and Eleanor's son Peter took over the business in 1991, and his daughter Sarah joined in 2011. Current production is roughly 5,000 cases a year.
Ted and Laddie Hall founded Long Meadow Ranch in 1989, restoring a neglected property in the hills above Rutherford. Vineyards and winemaking are the backbone of the family business, with over 150 acres planted between Napa and Anderson Valley, producing 75,000 cases of wine. But they also make olive oil from olives they grow themselves, grow fruits and vegetables, and raise beef, lamb and chickens. The family owns property in the Rutherford valley and hills, as well as a farmstead, restaurant and tasting room in St. Helena. In 2015 they purchased 69 acres of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris in Mendocino's Anderson Valley and recently opened a tasting room there.
The Halls hope to improve Stony Hill's bottom line by getting it into the hands of distributors. Currently the brand sells most of its wines direct. "While we're not large, we're larger than they are and can help maintain relationships and leverage those that they don't have that we do," said Hall.
Then there's replanting portions of the vineyards. "We just finished replanting nine acres, and there's more that needs attention," said McCrea. There are still original Riesling vines on the estate, which will remain there for now, but McCrea notes that there are Chardonnay vines that are over 30 years old.
The Halls plan to convert the vineyards to organic farming. Long Meadow Ranch was a pioneer of organic and sustainable farming in Napa County and continues to be a leader in that category. Both families believe that making the move to organic will add value to the brand and hopefully increase yields.
McCrea and her family knew they couldn't accomplish everything that they wanted to do to improve the business on their own. She notes that the winery has numerous employees that have been with the company for more than 30 years, and nearing retirement. "We'd like to provide them with a nest egg for retirement. Now we can."
One thing that isn't changing, the families say, is the wine. The winery itself is not a grand chateau—it's a tiny operation in an old farm building. "And that part isn't changing," said Hall. "That's what makes the experience there so special; it's like going back in time."
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