French Winery To Buy Napa's Chateau Montelena A legendary French winery is purchasing a famous winemaker in California. The deal comes decades after the same California winery beat French wines in a blind taste test. Vic Motto, a wine industry investment banker, says it's "a very important merger of two great wine estates."
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French Winery To Buy Napa's Chateau Montelena

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French Winery To Buy Napa's Chateau Montelena

French Winery To Buy Napa's Chateau Montelena

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A winemaker in Bordeaux, France is about to buy a California winery for an undisclosed amount, although the sale price is rumored to be well over $100 million. What's making heads turn isn't that price. Napa Valley's Chateau Montelena put California on the winemaking map when its chardonnay won a blind taste test in Paris 32 years ago. The event shocked the French. So the sale now is delicious irony.

To talk about the deal we called Vic Motto. He's a wine industry investment banker. He also advised the family about selling their winery.

Mr. VIC MOTTO (CEO, Global Wine Partners): This is a very important merger of two great wine estates. One of the best of France, Cos d'Estournel, has bought one of the best of America, Chateau Montelena.

AMOS: Is it because the dollar is so cheap now or is this a trend?

Mr. MOTTO: Well, the dollar is cheap and that's a factor. But the bigger factor is that the wine is great. It's really about the wine.

AMOS: Now, why then did the family decide now to sell this winery?

Mr. MOTTO: Well, the family reached a point where the founder is in his 80s, was not going to continue to run the winery. His son, Bo Barret, who has been the winemaker since 1982, is going to continue to be involved in the winemaking but really did not want to run the business.

AMOS: Is this also a story about a generation of California winemakers who are getting into their 80s and won't be necessarily turning these vineyards over to their children?

Mr. MOTTO: It's a tremendous story of a generation of winemakers, because this generation took an industry that is centuries old and revolutionized it with American ingenuity. And these American entrepreneurs, however, many of them do not have a succession plan and so some of these wineries are now changing hands.

AMOS: What does this say about the French and how they feel about California wines?

Mr. MOTTO: I think it's the ultimate recognition of quality, because the French, who questioned our bona fides 30 years ago, have now given us the ultimate recognition.

AMOS: The chardonnay is still what this vineyard puts out that's the top of the line?

Mr. MOTTO: Well, they won the Paris testing for the chardonnay, but what they've become even more known for in the intervening years is their cabernet, which is grown on the estate.

AMOS: And that's why somebody from Bordeaux would want to buy it.

Mr. MOTTO: Exactly. Right. Because it's the same type of wine grown in Bordeaux, the same grape variety, and a wine they understand and appreciate the best. It is - the cabernet is called the king of all the grape varieties.

AMOS: Now, when the French buy a California winery, does the wine change or do they just run the business?

Mr. MOTTO: The wine will probably change, because winemaking and grape growing are evolving. And they'll bring new tools, new techniques. The vineyards will probably be replanted over time and the winery upgraded in terms of equipment.

AMOS: Are there more French winemakers moving into the California winemaking business?

Mr. MOTTO: Yes. The world is shrinking and the wine industry is part of that. And winemakers from all over the world are looking at other regions of the world. But America is very important for two reasons. One is we're now known for making great wine. And two is we're the strongest wine market in the world.

AMOS: Well, thank you very much.

Vic Motto is CEO of wine industry investment bank Global Wine Partners.

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