Pinault of Chateau Latour Buys Napa Estate – A Look at Latour’s Expanding Empire

Chateau Latour’s owner, François Pinault has purchased the 65 hectare Araujo Estate in Napa. Araujo lies in the north east Napa Valley, just east of Calistoga and dates back to 1884. It had been owned by the Araujo family since 1990 and Michel Rolland was their consultant oenologist.

According to The Drinks Business the jewel in the crown at estate is the 15 hectare Eisele Vineyard which has been making ‘stellar Cabernets since the ’70s.’

French billionaire Pinault is one of the world’s richest men and is the owner of the French luxury goods company (PPR) which owns Christies Auction House, Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent.

He purchased Latour in 1993, bringing the chateau back under the control of a resident Bordelais after 30 years of British ownership. Latour has benefited under Pinault’s ownership in terms of investment and over the past decade Pinault has made a number of strategic vineyard acquisitions.

Notably in 2011 Pinault purchased Chateau La Becasse, a small unclassified property of 4 hectares with old vines near Chateau Lynch Bages and Latour.  La Becasse had been owned the Fonteneau family and insiders had long recognised that its top quality terroir produced good wines. The last vintage La Becasse produced was in 2011 and from now on its wines will be integrated with those of Latour.

Incidentally Pinault broke ranks with the Bordeaux system of selling wines and announced that Latour will no longer continue to sell wine at En Primeur from 2012.

Instead they will keep complete control of their wine and sell it when they consider it to be ready for drinking – which could mean that some vintages will not be released for years. Most importantly it means that Latour can control the supply of its wines and play the markets directly rather than watch others do it.

Pinault is also one of the very few wine producers who own both Burgundy and Bordeaux estates. In 2006 Pinault purchased Domaine René Engel and renamed it Domaine d’Eugénie after his grandmother. The estate is situated in Vosne Romanée, in the heart of La Côte de Nuits between Nuits Saint Georges and Gevrey Chambertin.

In 2012 Pinault bought an ouvrée (1.03 acres or 0.417 hectares) of vineyard from Chateau de Puligny Montrachet and two ouvrées (2.06 acres or 0.834 hectares) of vineyard from the Montrachet Grand Cru Bâtard-Montrachet.

Also in 2011 Pinault bought Chateau Grillet in the Rhone from the Neyret-Gachet family who had been owners of the chateau since 1830. The chateau lies near the hamlets of St Michel sur Rhone and Verin and produces a rare dry white wine made solely from the Viognier grape.

Production is between 10,000 and 13,000 bottles per year. The wine bottles that Grillet uses are more akin to an Alsace style than to the Rhone – they are slim brown bottles and are used by no other French winery. The estate also produces two Brandies: Fine du Château Grillet and Marc du Château Grillet.

Chateau Grillet is unusual in that it forms its own AOC. This is known as a monopole (an area controlled by a single winery). It is rare to find a monopole outside Burgundy and the AOC Chateau Grillet neighbours the Condrieu AOC. The entire AOC Chateau Grillet only covers 9.4 acres and was officially created in 1936.

Whether Pinault’s Napa purchase is the last in a series of acquisitions is not known but I will keep you posted.

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