November 5, 2008
A French Retreat

The French won't be making one of their more dramatic incursions into Napa Valley after all. Their deal to buy historic Chateau Montelena Winery at Calistoga has fallen apart. According to the winery's principals, their French suiter, Reybier Investments, which owns the esteemed Bordeaux estate Chateau Cos d'Estournel, "has been unable to meet its obligations under its contract with the Barrett family" of Chateau Montelena.

Jim Barrett, who acquired Chateau Montelena in 1972, is to remain the estate's owner and will not put it up for sale, according to a press release issued by the winery this morning. He wasn't elaborating on what went wrong with the sale, which in July he called "a dream marriage." "This is a perfect fit...We could not have asked for a finer team to carry on this legacy," Barrett said in July.

No price was disclosed, though at the time the British wine journal Decanter speculated that Chateau Montelena was fetching $110 million from Reybier.

Chateau Montelena, founded in 1882, shot to celebrity in the spring of 1976 when its 1973 chardonnay was judged the best take on the varietal in a blind Paris tasting involving comparable French wines and French wine judges.

More recently, it served as the storyline for "Bottle Shock," a movie about the 1976 Paris tasting that was released this past summer.

Despite the collapse of the sale, Barrett said in his statement that the winery's principals are "energized by the enthusiasm and vision expressed by all the parties who bid for ownership of Chateau Montelena."

His son, Bo Barrett, is to continue as a limited partner in the winery, specifically working on undefined "special projects." Greg Ralston is to remain as managing director, while Cameron Parry will continue as winemaker and Dave Vella as vineyard manager.

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