Napa icon Heitz Cellars sold to Arkansas billionaire

Napa Valley icon Heitz Wine Cellars has been sold to Arkansas banking billionaire Gaylon M. Lawrence Jr. for a rumoured US$180 million.

Martha’s Vineyard, a 34-acre vineyard in Oakville from which Heitz has made Cabernet since 1966, will remain in the hands of its owners Tom and Martha May, though the contract allowing Heitz to buy its grapes will stay in place.

“I’ve enjoyed coming to the Napa Valley for some time and have long admired the wine industry from afar.

“Our family was fortunate to have an extraordinary opportunity to acquire such a remarkable family business with Heitz Cellars. We’re very excited about the winery’s bright future,” Lawrence Jr. said.

“The Heitz family were true pioneers in the Napa Valley, setting new quality benchmarks and earning international recognition for their wines.

“We are committed to the same core values of fine winemaking, and we look forward to advancing the legacy of Heitz Cellars for generations to come,” he added.

Age 53, Lawrence Jr. is a director of Tennessee Bank & Trust and a principal investor in farming company The Lawrence Group. He also serves on a number of boards including Bloomberg.

“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,” Kathleen Heitz-Myers said.

“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,” she added.

Robert Boyd the former president of Joseph Phelps, has been appointed president and CEO of Heitz.

“In my years in the wine industry I have watched the developments at Heitz with interest. When I was approached about the role, the chance to help with the transition from one family to another was intriguing to me.

“I look forward to working with Gaylon and his family and to safeguarding the Heitz family legacy and all that goes with it,” Boyd said.

Winemaker Joe Heitz and his wife Alice started out in the Napa Valley in 1961 with an eight-acre vineyard just south of St. Helena.

He went on to pioneer single vineyard expressions and grow Heitz to be one of the most revered estates in the Napa Valley.

Today the Heitz estate stretches to 1,100 acres in Napa Valley, 425 acres of which are planted with vines, including the ranch surrounding the property.

Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet sells for around $250 a bottle. The estate also makes thee other Cabs, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Grinolino.

Lawrence Jr. owns seven community banks with 31 offices in northeast Arkansas, southeast Missouri and Tennessee.

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