“NAPA VALLEY STUNNER—FAMED WINERY SOLD,” screamed the front page of yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, the winery that conquered the 1976 Paris Tasting with its Cabernet Sauvignon (an event over which film rights are still being fought), sold to a partnership made up of Marchese Piero Antinori and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates for $185 million.

The fact that this is the third major Napa Valley winery sale announced this week has some muttering about corporatization. “Napa has been moving toward corporate-adult-disneyland for the last few years,” writes Ben Fowler of the Happy Wine Blog:

Last year Mondavi sold out to Constellation for $1.36 billion, making Constellation the largest wine company in the U.S. This seemed to signal a straying away from the original family owned and operated winery of previous decades, and a definitive momentum toward corporate conglomerate ownership.

Tom Wark, who writes Fermentation: The Daily Wine Blog, disagrees:

The fact is, today in America and in California we are in a GOLDEN AGE of small, artisan winemaking.

The vast majority of wineries in CA are privately owned. You can’t travel on foot in this state without tripping over a new winery or brand ‘dedicated to exposing the unique terroir of (name the region)’.

In fact, Wark wonders how it is that big investment funds and even bigger corporations haven’t yet bought up more of Napa Valley, let alone Sonoma, Santa Barbara, or Mendocino.

Corporate America hasn’t even begun to dabble in wine. Corporate and Investment Fund purchases of wineries are infrequent, few and far between. Now, that might change as more and more Americans drink wine or as India and China mature as markets.

Indeed, according to a recent study, the United States is forecast to be the largest wine-consuming country in the world by the year 2010. Where demand leads, corporations follow.

In the meantime, says Dave Chambers of the Sideways Wine Club, it’s a good time to buy up existing vintages.

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