The story titled “Napa Stunner” reported that Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, one of the most prestigious and historical names in Napa, sold out to wine giants Antinori and Chateau Ste. Michelle. This week’s story was so big that it almost obscured Duckhorn’s sale to a mysterious “investment group” and William Hill’s sale from Beam Wine Estates to Gallo.
It’s the second time that William Hill winery has been sold, so in a telephone interview, I asked one of their representative’s if they had any advice for Stag’s Leap and Duckhorn. “It’s tough at first—going from being part of a family to a corporate structure,” the famous Napa brand said. “You’re so used to just going out and getting a cup of coffee when you wanted, but then it changes to where you have to fill out forms to get permission to take the 45 minutes off to go to Starbucks as well as requisition papers for a double non-fat latte.”
William Hill winery grumbles on: “You hardly get to enjoy the coffee, before you’re summoned to budget meetings where navy-blue-suited calculator operators ask you to defend your purchase (“wouldn’t a tall have sufficed instead of a grande?”) and ask you to forecast your latte purchases for 2008-2015. Then they ask you if they should consider earmarking money to have Frank Gehry come in and design a special non-fat latte pavilion, which would draw a wave of foreign tourists riding the weak dollar to the winery and reinforce brand-building. ‘We should think about partnering with Starbucks on this,’ they’ll say. Anyway, that’s corporate life. And all I ever wanted to do was make wine.”
I ask if there is an upside to corporate ownership. “Well,” says the winery, “I’m out of debt, which is a good thing. And I’ve got some extra cash to play with. I’ve been thinking of starting a project in Oregon. My first love, you know, was always Pinot ….”