Buying Back Into Quality

Napa’s Chateau Montelena Sold to Bordeaux’s Cos d’Estournel

"This is the ultimate
recognition, that the French are now buying these great California
said Jon Fredrikson, a wine industry consultant and
publisher of the Gomberg-Fredrikson report"

"It’s just evidence of the growing respect for what is being done in America with wine."—Vic Motto

California’s winemaking prowess matched that of France and the rest of the world years ago. I wonder if this sale isn’t a matter of the French trying to buy back into the quality game?

26 Responses

  1. dhonig - July 22, 2008

    Maybe it’s just the fact that the dollar really sucks a whole lot.

  2. Tom Wark - July 22, 2008

    Yea…There’s that too! LOL

  3. el jefe - July 23, 2008

    I was gonna say that. It’s a Euro/Dollar thing, plain and simple.

  4. Vic Motto - July 23, 2008

    It’s definitely a wine thing, not a currency thing. Most importantly, it’s recognition of the best by the best.

  5. David Harden - July 23, 2008

    No, it’s a euro/dollar thing. Of course, the quality of the asset isn’t trivial. But this transaction is a result of the current inequities in the relative currency values.

  6. Rich - July 23, 2008

    I’m not so sure it is a $/Euro thing that drove the deal. Anyone who sells based on currency fluctuations isn’t thinking straight. Example: When 1 Euro = $1, Vintner had a winery valued at $1 zillion. Now that 1 Euro = $1.57, Vintner still has a winery valued at $1 zillion, but Europeans might offer $1.57 zillion for it. Is that more attractive? Not really. In either case, Vintner has the winery to keep or sell. The dollar had lost value versus the Euro. After dollar devaluation, the winery has just appreciated in dollar terms, just like oil and gold. If Vintner sells now, he/she has to decide where to put the cash — Euros, Dollars, Gold, Stocks, Bonds, Winery? Vintner now has to bet on a different asset class than a winery asset (or buy another winery). My guess is that there was a true economic premium offered, or else Mr. Barrett might have wanted to cash out to prepare his estate for handover to the next generation. I don’t think relative currency values really drive these deals very much. Just my opinion, of course.

  7. Morton Leslie - July 23, 2008

    I can’t believe how Motto or Fredrikson can appear so ignorant of the two dozen or so American wineries already owned by the French nor to the fact that the buyer of Montelena is not French, but Swiss! Not earthshaking by a long shot.

  8. Nicholas Solga - July 23, 2008

    Ultimate Validation – The French Acknowledge Quality:
    I can see it now, “Chateau Montelena Premier Cru”
    Perhaps now they can overcome second growth status.
    Nicholas Solga
    Fermented Thoughts

  9. Jerry Murray - July 24, 2008

    No one seems to mention that it is perhaps an attempt to get into the global sourcing game pioneered by Mondavi and now being modeled by Gallo, Constellation, Beam estates, etc. These Bordeaux houses are experts at marketing luxury items, there is no doubt they see an advantage to apply those skills to a domestic brand ( domestic here of course ). The state of the dollar is likely to have only made some of these european investors more confident that now is the time.

  10. Morton Leslie - July 24, 2008

    Global sourcing was not pioneered by Mondavi, although the company did a great job of racking up huge losses with their attempts at it. Regarding the Bordelais being experts at marketing luxury items? I suppose being a first growth for 200 years and being able to command nearly the same price as a bottle of a California “first growth” of 10 years standing makes you a master of marketing. What we have seen with Clos du Val, Dominus, even the Bordeaux side of Opus is a lack in marketing skill and a sense of entitlement that only the Bordelais seem to understand. The reality is the French have relied on American companies to sell their products and have given them little support. One thing Bordeaux did do was provide easy competition for the Harlans, Colgins, Staglins, the likes of Jean Harris, and pretty much any vintner in Napa or Sonoma who put Cabernet on their label and made an honest effort to sell it.

  11. St. Vini - July 25, 2008

    Morton Leslie: Of “the two dozen or so American wineries already owned by the French” which was purchased as an existing winery with a reputation like Montlena? I don’t think that CDV, Dominus, St. Supery, Tablas Creek, Opus One, DeLoach, etc. are quite the same, do you?
    Previous ventures/acquisitions were more of the opportunistic or build-it-yourself nature rather than a huge price paid for a turn-key/first-growth of California brand.
    That is, I think, the key distinction here.

  12. Mary B. - July 28, 2008

    Actually, SV, I am far more impressed by the French vintners and families who opted to build and plant in California–that is an investment of faith, time, reputation and the future of family in California’s soil and potential. A turnkey purchase can be sold just as easily as bought. Plus, there’s really no risk in the purchase, and where there is no risk, there is no need for faith.

  13. St. Vini - July 28, 2008

    Mary: I wasn’t addressing what was more “impressive”, though I take your point on something unproven.
    However, I do take issue with the “no risk” commment. I’m sure that for a reported $110 million, after outbidding other suitors, that price carries considerable risk which might involve price and volume increases that the Barretts haven’t been able to do themselves!
    Businesses simply do not sell so the owner can maintain the status quo. Look what the new owners of Screaming Eagle did, its now $700/bottle!
    No risk? I’d say fraught with it! Either way, good on them.

  14. Tom - July 30, 2008

    Is this the same Chateau Montelena from the new movie Bottle Shock? My wife and I happened to catch the movie at the Maui film festival when we were on vacation and I think it’s about Montelena’s first sucessful vintage? The one that beat out the French in the 70s to win the Judgement of Paris, right? The movie was great…sort of like Sidways, but more about the wine. I can’t believe the French bought it back…how ironic! I guess it just goes to show how far California wines have come….check out the trailer if you’re interested in wine.

  15. mark storer - July 30, 2008

    I guess I’m a little peeved. I’m glad that the French have descended from on high to “recognize” great wines–but all the comments here are, if I may be so bold, missing the point. This isn’t “recognition” of anything. This is a serious business decision by a French wine group who is having trouble cracking the American market with their own wines (a problem for many years now) and so bought a great American winery.
    Call me a curmudgeon, but I’m not sure that we in America need recognition from anybody to decide whether or not we’re great. That seems to be the wrong way to approach it. New World–and particularly American–wines have been fantastic for years. Do we need Europe to put their stamp on it to say it’s so? If so, then the wine world has a loooong way to go in America.

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