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Burgess Cellars Sold to the Lawrence Family, Owners of Heitz Cellar

by Cyril Penn
September 11, 2020

Burgess Cellars, the historic Napa Valley vineyard and winery founded by Tom and Linda Burgess in 1972 on the hillsides of Howell Mountain, has been sold to the Lawrence Family, owners of Heitz Cellar.

The transaction includes 25 acres of estate vineyard, a 58-acre parcel, the brand, winery, and tasting room. The vineyard has been farmed for 130 years and features 40 year-old plantings on a 27 percent slope.

For the last twenty years, Burgess Cellars has been farmed has been managed by the second generation of the family. Steven and Jim Burgess continued their father’s tradition of producing age-worthy Cabernet Sauvignon. While Cabernet and Zinfandel are the flagship varieties, the brand has included Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Chardonnay.

“My brother Jim and our winemaker Kelly Woods are all so proud of our accomplishments. It’s been such a pleasure being a part of this business but it was time to evolve,” Steven Burgess, the winery’s president told Wine Business Monthly.

“As members of a pioneering Napa Valley family, my brother Jim and I are pleased to now pass on this extraordinary estate that our parents developed fifty years ago to the Lawrence family and Carlton McCoy, Jr.” Burgess said.

Bill Sorenson was the winemaker for 41 vintages until handing the reins over to Kelly Woods in 2013. Prior to being owned by the Burgess Family, Lee Stewart owned the property starting in 1943, calling it Souverain Winery. Two of Napa’s best-known winemakers, Warren Winiarski, and Mike Grgich, worked at Souverain.

Tom Burgess passed away in 2017.

"I was introduced to Burgess Cellars through wines I purchased at auction when I was at my first wine buying job  and became a fan of those vineyards early on," Heitz Cellar CEO and Master Sommelier Carlton McCoy, Jr. told WBM. "Finding out later on that they are the same vineyards and estates as the original sauveron by Lee Stewart further confirmed what could be made on that vineyard."

McCoy said Meghan Zobeck, previously with Atelier Melka and Trois Noix, has been hired as winemaker and will lead a conversion to biodynamic farming.

Steven Burgess said the main reason he was interested in selling is he no longer wants to be on the road 80 days a year and wants more time with his family.  ”I would have preferred to have stayed on the production side of things, but when your name is on the bottle, you're on the road,” he said.

He said he’s already consulting while his brother Jim retains the Haymaker Vineyard and his separate vineyard management career.

“I’m not going to make wine,” Steven Burgess said. “There’s too many wineries in the Napa. There were two dozen when my parents started - Now there are 500 wineries and 2,000 brands. I’m not going to add to the problem. If I do anything on the production side of things, I’ll be buying some vineyard, either hillside in Napa or in Southern Oregon.”

Burgess also noted that the wine business has changed. “It isn’t the same Napa Valley my father committed himself to in 1972 and it isn’t the same Napa Valley I committed myself to in 1990,” he said. “It’s inevitable that with independent small family wineries, something is going to have to happen. They either have to be part of a group; or of a consolidated marketing effort to be more efficient; or they’re going to have to get bought up if it’s an actual small family business. If it’s a vanity winery where people don’t need the money, that’s another story. There’s lots of those.”

International Wine Associates (IWA) initiated the transaction and represented the Burgess family with the Buchalter law firm and the buyer was represented by Reidy Law Group in Saint Helena.

The deal is IWA's third Napa Valley winery transaction In 2020

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