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Heidi Peterson Barrett on the Cos-Montelena deal


Heidi is the wife of Bo Barrett, Chateau Montelena’s winemaker; he’s the son of the winery’s founder, James Barrett, who just sold Montelena to Cos d’Estournel. I got to know Heidi pretty well after including her in New Classic Winemakers of California. We chatted right after the sale.

SH: We knew the family was interested in selling, but Cos d’Estournel was a real surprise.
HB: I love it, that no one had any inkling at all. Isn’t that the best part?

SH: Why did Mr. Barrett want to sell?
HB: Well, he’s 81, and wants to retire. He just doesn’t feel up to running the winery anymore, and it couldn’t pass to the second generation.

SH: Why not?
HB: The taxes would have killed everybody, and we [Bo and Heidi] couldn’t afford to buy him out.

SH: The sales price is said to have been $110 million.
HB: That’s wrong, just incorrect. And no one’s going to talk about it, because it’s nobody’s business. Probably some of the people who put in offers early on are guessing.

SH: Like who?
HB: I can’t say. But we refused them all.

SH: Why?
HB: They weren’t the right person. We were really looking for a steward of the property. They [Cos d’Estournel] understand quality, and they won’t lose the integrity of the chateau. They realize what a jewel it is.

SH: It would have been terrible if some big corporation bought it.
HB: I agree, and I think most people in the valley would have hated to see that happen.

SH: Well, whatever the price was, now you’re all rich.
HB: Well, we’re not, because we don’t own the winery. It’s owned by my father-in-law and Bo’s mom. Bo’s just been an employee all these years. People assume that [we’re rich] but they’re just wrong. It’s like, when Screaming Eagle was sold, people thought I got millions, but I got nothing. I was just getting a paycheck.

SH: What will Bo do?
HB: He’ll stay on, for now; it’s all being decided. He’s definitely interested in staying on, but in more of an executive position, which might involve him going to France and working with their winemakers. And we’re working on something together.

SH: You and Bo?
HB: Yes. We bought a property in Calistoga and we’ll start planting next year. It’s a project we’ll do that we’re jokingly calling über-Cab.

SH: What’s new at your personal brand, La Sirena?
HB: I’m trying to establish that as the new Screaming Eagle. I see a little opening there, with the changes they’re making in quantity and wine style. They’re leaving that space wide open and I want to grab it.

SH: How would you describe that style?
HB: Very layered, very pure concentration of flavors. Other than that, La Sirena is doing really well. The Cabernet is at French Laundry, and so is the Barrett Syrah.

P.S. Please visit my Wine Enthusiast blog.

  1. Steve,

    Thanks for this timely and informative interview. It’s nice to get a sense of what actually happened – not presupposing anything. It would be interesting to hear about the offers that were turned down . . . and I wonder if Cos came to them or if they went looking – any ideas?

    I was fortunate to have visited Chateau Montelena many years ago as I was just getting into wine, and an early 80’s cab that I tried at the tasting room really was my ‘epiphany’ wine – for its aromatics alone! I am still the proud owner of a couple of bottles from the late 80’s and early 90’s, and I eagerly look forward to opening each and every one of these . . . but I’n not in a hurry!

    Thanks again. Cheers!

  2. Larry, I too have had older Montelenas that have blown my mind. Do you remember the TCA scandal of a few years ago? What a joke that was. A scam to sell magazines, in my constitutionally protected opinion. As for the details of the deal, who knows? My own feeling is Cos came to them.

  3. Steve,

    Regarding the TCA issue, if I remember correctly, Montelena did go about doing a major retooling of their cellar a la Hanzell and bore a new cave – is this correct?

    I know many people that have had the 01 Cab that another reviewer claimed had systemic TCA issues and none of them have ever picked it up . . . This certainly does not mean that it’s not there – we ALL know that threshholds for many chemicals widely varies among people.

    This brings up the ‘power’ of reviewers within the industry . . . but that’s another topic to be dealt with on another blog, eh?!?!?!?


  4. Yes, that’s another issue!

  5. I’m curious about how the Barret family feels about the new movie that’s coming out about their big triumph in 76 called “Bottle Shock” I saw the movie at the Seattle Film Festival and thought it was just delightful. Are they happy with their portrayal? Check out the trailer if you’re interested…

  6. Steve – My sense is the real news is what is hidden in this story. Today’s big story is not terroir or the critics’ scores; it’s the sale of the top companies such as this one. A huge story appears to be hidden by the industry. Is it largely economic as was the case with Robert Mondavi Winery? Does the economic downturn start with negative critics and media coverage? Or is it succession planning gone awry? Are we entering a new era with new leadership? – Leo

  7. Leo, the questions you pose are fascinating and complex and volumes could be written about each (and probably will!). I think it’s a combo of all 3. HOWEVER I do not think the Cos-Montelena deal was th biggest news story of the last 30 years, as you-know-who reported.

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