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Lafite plan their own Napa Opus, with help

18 May 2004 by JR

Agustin Huneeus is a clever chap. Plans have just been announced for the creation of a ritzy new California wine joint venture in which there will be three players: the vast  and currently hugely successful American drinks company Constellation Brands (see many an earlier story here); Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Ch Lafite et al); and the Huneeus family.

The intention is that the 54 per cent of holdings in the Chalone Group not already in Rothschild hands will be bought out by the new entity, so that Chalone's many interests will form the basis of the operation. To these will be added some prime Oakville vineyard in the Napa Valley that is currently part of Constellation's broad portfolio, notably Franciscan (until recently run by Huneeus), and the Huneeus's own Quintessa operation, also in the Napa Valley. Huneeus, whose son is also in the business, will run the new conglomerate.

This all looks very tidy and promising. Australian Stephen Millar, who used to run BRL Hardys and was promoted to run the entire global Constellation Wines group from Adelaide, must be crowing over the relative fates of his company and arch-rival Southcorp (Penfolds. Rosemount et al) for whom the term 'beleaguered' has lingered far too long. The new group has been careful to include in its offer for Chalone Group shares continuing perks which for long were one of the main attractions of the stock.

Plans include the establishment of a Lafite answer to Opus One, a new icon wine for the Napa Valley (Australians love the term 'icon'). Baron Eric de Rothschild has long been adventurous with Domaines Barons de Rothschild already operating in Chile, Portugal and Argentina as well as France. How long before another first growth finally takes the plunge outside France? The cosmopolitan interests behind Ch Haut-Brion would be obvious candidates.



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