Last April, Napa’s celebrated OG winery, Heitz Cellars sold to an Arkansas ag tycoon. New owner Gaylon Lawrence Jr. wasted no time in putting his own mark on the Cali wine fixture. On July 19, Heitz purchased Wildwood Vineyard, adjacent to their Trailside Vineyard, for a reported $25m.
The newly acquired parcel is a famed alluvial fame called the Rutherford Bench—kind of Napa’s answer to the Cote d’Or. The Rutherford Bench runs about six miles of a valley spanning from Rutherford to Oakville and is particularly known for Cabernet Sauvignon.
In addition to Cab-Sauv, Heitz’s new lot also will arrive with Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Chardonnay vines. However, early reports indicate that the Heitz team will use combine the lot with their existing Trailside estate and expand plantings of their organic and biodynamic Cabernet Sauvignon vines.
The seller, Treasury Wine Estates (TWE), of Sterling, Penfolds, Beringer fame, confirmed the sale in a statement.
“The vineyard was considered non-core to the business’ requirements. Viticulture and world-class winemaking in the US remains important to TWE, along with marketing and selling our renowned Californian wine brands,” remarked a spokesman from TWE. “At the same time, we are continually looking for opportunities to ensure our asset base is in line with the requirements of the business.”
As for Heitz, the acquisition is a clear statement by Lawrence. The move completes a well documented goal of the former owners and signals an ambitious (25mil is a lot!) growth plan.
The Lawrence family business, the Lawrence Group, owns one of the largest agricultural companies in the nation boasting farms in Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi and Florida. For good measure, they also own several banks and an HVAC company.
The Army Air Corps Joe Heitz transferred Joe Heitz to California in the 1940’s and he never left. After logging time at Gallo and Beaulieu Vineyard, he founded Heitz Cellars in 1961. The vineyard grew steadily over time; and is credited with raising the bar for New World wines as well as popularizing single vineyard cuvées in California.
Prior to Heitz’s 2000 death, his son, David Heitz assumed responsibilities as winemaker and hi daughter, Kathleen Heitz-Meyers took the reigns as Chief Operating Officer. Last April, Lawrence bought the majority of the company’s holdings (the flagship Martha’s Vineyard land and label remained in the hands of Tom and Martha May) from the Heitz family.