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French Winemakers Are Headed for Napa Valley

From Mount Veeder to Calistoga, Napa estates are selling fast to Bordelais vintners


French winemakers are moving west and investing in vineyards located in the lush Napa Valley of California. According to Bloomberg Business, a number of vintners from Bordeaux are quickly snatching up vineyards in America's wine country. One such vintner is Alfred Tesseron, owner of Bordeaux chåteau Pontet-Canet, who searched for years for the perfect property in Napa before purchasing Robin Williams's 640-acre villa located on Mount Veeder. Named Villa Sorriso, the Tesseron family purchased it in September for $18.1 million — a deep discount from its original price tag of $35 million.

Despite the fact that global warming is improving the taste of French wines, the past few years have shown a spike in interest from Bordeaux winemakers who have been looking to expand to California. Pan Sutong —€” a Hong Kong businessman who also owns several chåteaux in Bordeaux — purchased Sloan Estate for $40 million in 2011. In 2013, Francois Pinault, owner of famed Chateau Latour, purchased Araujo Estate — considered a "jewel property" due to its rich history and outstanding reputation. Following suit, billionaire owners of fashion house Chanel, Alain and Gerard Wertheimer, recently added St. Supéry estate in Napa to their impressive list of vineyards, which includes two chåteaux in Bordeaux. Purchased last October, many speculate the price tag of St. Supéry was close to $125 million. Realtors in the Napa area say interest is continuing to grow, particularly in the past six months.

The interest is said to be driven by several factors, the most important of which is financial. Many Bordelais chåteau owners consider this expansion a way to diversify their investments in the wine industry. Many collectors have moved toward Burgundy wines in place of those from Bordeaux due to high prices and less-than-stellar vintages in recent years. However, Napa wines — particularly cabernets — are steadily growing in popularity and sales have dramatically increased over the past year. French vintners do not seem to be deterred by the recent weather conditions or wildfires that may negatively impact the California wine industry.

Another component that continues to motivate Bordelais buyers to continue investing in Napa is the success of previous buyers. Since the 1980s, French winemakers have been slowly moving into California wines. A perfect example is Baron Philippe de Rothschild, who partnered with Robert Mondavi to create the acclaimed Opus One. This slow move has picked up pace in recent years, cementing Napa's reputation as a global brand that produces fine wine. As many Napa wineries go on the market in the upcoming years when winemakers retire, Bordelais interest will be viewed as good news for the region.

So, what does this French migration mean for the wines that will be coming out of Napa in the coming years? Experts feel it could result in wines that are more focused on elegance and refinement. The reputation that follows many of the Bordelais buyers to California also is sure to bring more international attention to Napa wineries.