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  • Jancis Robinson
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  • Jancis Robinson
23 Jul 2008

All I can say about the fact that Chateau Montelena of the Napa Valley has been acquired by the Swiss owner of Chateau Cos d'Estournel, Michel Reybier, is to congratulate him on the stealth with which he managed it.

When we were in the Napa Valley three weeks ago there was much talk of Chateau Montelena's being sold, but the buyers were always referred to as "Italians". Perhaps it was all done through a law firm in Ticino?

The Calistoga estate of Chateau Montelena is of considerable importance in the Napa Valley, not least because its 1973 Chardonnay peformed so well against top white burgundies in the famous Judgment of Paris tasting in 1976, but also because of its history. It was established in 1882 and by 1896 was the Valley's seventh largest winery. The estate had been largely abandoned in 1972 when the Barrett family acquired it and renovated it under the management of Jim Barrett and his son Bo, who has made the wines since 1982. The reds are unusually famous in the Napa Valley for their longevity - a reputation historically shared by Cos.

"The Reybier and Barrett families share a relentless pursuit of quality," according to Michel Reybier's official statement. "More than anything else, great wine is about place. These two estates are 7,000 miles apart, but share many common qualities and experiences. The merge of that experience will allow both estates to continue improving over time with the combined knowledge of the two families."

"This is a perfect fit – a dream marriage," said Jim Barrett. "We could not have asked for a finer team to carry on this legacy." His son Bo will continue to provide input to the new owners.

Certainly lack of funds does not appear to be a Reybier problem. Vast amounts are currently being spent at Cos d'Estournel, the highly regarded second growth St-Estèphe, on new chais and improvements in vineyard technology - employing techniques now common in the Napa Valley in fact.

See here for a California view of the likely effects of the current euro/dollar exchange rate on winery acquisitions by Europeans.