It was announced today that the legendary Heitz Wine Cellars has sold. The buyer is Arkansas billionaire Gaylon Lawrence. The Lawrence Group made its money from farming and perhaps that bodes well for Heitz.
The 1970 Heitz Wine Cellars Martha's Vineyard cabernet sauvignon placed third in the famous Judgment of Paris competition in which first-growth Bordeaux was bested by California cabs in a blind competition. That was the producer's zenith as the world flocked to its doors for the privilege of tasting Joe Heitz's fabulous and complex wines. More recent times have not been so kind.
It is only a matter of time for wineries to succumb to the temptation of big investors -- the rumor is that Heitz sold for as much as $180 million, according to Bloomberg News. How can you resist that when you get older and none of the offspring want to carry on?
In a press release Mrs. Heitz Myers said, “Our family founded Heitz Wine Cellars in 1961, and we have treasured our role in helping to shape the history of Napa Valley winemaking for three generations. We feel this is the right time for us to pass this rich legacy to another family. When we met with Gaylon, it seemed a perfect match. Fundamentally, in the wine business we are all farmers and with the Lawrence family’s history in agriculture we feel Heitz Cellars will be in good hands.”
I remember drinking Heitz in its heyday. It's not the same today. But neither are a lot of other legendary wines scarfed up by investors. Family owned wineries tend to concentrate on quality while corporations like E.J. Gallo and Kendall-Jackson tend to focus on the bottom line. One exception is Francis Ford Coppola who has invested a lot of time and money to resurrect the reputation of Inglenook.
One only hopes that a billionaire farmer will resurrect Heitz for the good of its customers and not his bottom line.