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
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.