August has already witnessed a slew of significant vineyard purchases in California wine country.
California winery sales
Yesterday, Williams Selyem announced the acquisition of the 33-acre Saitone Vineyard in Sonoma County, an historic site first planted in 1895 that is home to some of the state’s oldest vines, including 12 acres of 121-year-old Zinfandel, and the source of vineyard-designate bottlings from producers including Bedrock and Carlisle.
On the same day, Sea Smoke purchased Rita’s Crown Vineyard in Santa Barbara’s Sta. Rita Hills AVA: some 61 acres of high-density Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, planted in 2007 and source of single-vineyard bottlings from the producers including Babcock and Sandhi.
Less than a week earlier, news broke that Kosta Browne had acquired Cerise Vineyards in Anderson Valley: a 59 acre site which includes the Demuth and Knez vineyards, planted principally with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and source of bottlings from wineries including Littorai, Saintsbury and Anthill Farms.
August’s news follows on the heels of another significant transaction in July: Paul Hobbs Winery’s acquisition of the 42-acre Goldrock Ridge Vineyard on the so-called True Sonoma Coast near Annapolis.
As Alex Kanzler, a grape-grower and winemaker based in Sonoma County’s Sebastapol Hills, observes, ‘there definitely seems to be a trend that Pinot Noir-centric wineries with available capital are investing in estate properties’.
‘Inventories of top sites, planted or unplanted, are low and shrinking fast’, explains Paul Hobbs, adding that restrictions on developing new vineyard land in Sonoma County is exacerbating the shortage.
Prime vineyards, he tells me, are not only an appreciating asset but also guarantee supply of top quality fruit in an evermore competitive marketplace. What’s more, ownership gives winemakers like Hobbs ultimate control over farming practices in a region where top producers are increasingly fastidious about viticulture.
Some are concerned, however, that the consolidation of vineyard in fewer hands may make it difficult for new start-ups—as well as wineries that rely on purchasing fruit—to compete with the established players.
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August’s purchases, however, have been met with optimism. Raj Parr, whose Sandhi label has produced a vineyard-designate Chardonnay bottling from Rita’s Crown Vineyard since 2010, hopes to have the chance to continue working with the site.
‘The folks at Sea Smoke know that part of Santa Rita very well, and I’m sure they will take good care of the vineyard’, he commented.
Ted Lemon of Littorai, who has bottled a Cerise Pinot Noir since 2001, was also positive: ‘We’re already working with Kosta Browne for this year’s upcoming harvest at Cerise’, he told me.
‘We have had several good meetings and they have indicated great enthusiasm for continuing on with Littorai. I have known them, and especially founder Dan Kosta, who is a good friend, for many, many years.’
‘Cerise is a great vineyard site,’ he adds, ‘one of the finest in Anderson Valley, and it will benefit enormously from the resources which Kosta Browne can bring to it.’
Webster Marquez, whose Anthill Farms label has worked with fruit from the Knez Vineyard at Cerise since 2004, agrees. ‘We’re very excited for the property,’ he tells me: ‘It’s a supremely tricky site to farm—there’s a wide variety of soils and exposures, vertiginous terrain, and sometimes punishingly low yields. Everything we’ve heard from the folks at Kosta Brown gives us confidence that they are ready to embrace the history of the property and also take the farming to a whole new place. In short, we couldn’t be happier.’
What seems certain is that if this trend continues, California wine country will soon be a very different place.
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