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Moët Hennessy Maps Out Ambitious Plans For Napa’s Newton Vineyard

December 2, 2014

Moët Hennessy’s Estates & Wines division is targeting a renaissance for its Newton Vineyard winery in the Napa Valley, focused on boosting the quality of its Cabernet Sauvignon Unfiltered ($60). While Newton has had ample success in recent years with its Chardonnay Unfiltered (around $60), Estates & Wines CEO Jean-Guillaume Prats tells SND there’s plenty of potential to take the Cabernet program to new heights.

This past summer, Prats installed a new estate director at Newton, Rob Mann, formerly of Moët Hennessy portfoliomate Cape Mentelle in western Australia’s Margaret River region. Previously, Newton’s Cabernet Sauvignon Unfiltered has been crafted only from its original Spring Mountain Vineyard source. Now, the brand’s sourcing will also include fruit from Moët Hennessy’s Chandon Napa holdings in Mount Veeder and Yountville, allowing it to hedge against uneven weather conditions amongst the vineyards, vintage to vintage. “That’s a big evolution,” Prats explains. “The ambition is to reestablish Newton as one of the top five or six wineries for Cabernet in the Napa Valley.”

Prats also plans to cull some non-core SKUs at Newton to focus on its unfiltered Chardonnay and Cabernet, as well as upscale blend The Puzzle and possibly a Pinot Noir. The revamp isn’t expected to impact pricing, although production could be slightly lower as the winery intensifies its quality imperative. In recent years, Newton has produced about 10,000-12,000 cases of its Chardonnay Unfiltered, along with about 3,000 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon Unfiltered and around 2,000 cases of The Puzzle ($80). It also currently makes unfiltered varieties of Syrah, Merlot and Malbec, and larger quantities of wines under its Red Label series (around $25), including Claret, Chardonnay and Cabernet.

“Across all our brands, we’re reducing SKUs and going to the core of our business, focusing on extreme quality, the best expression of terroir and making the message easy to understand for the consumer,” Prats says of the strategy at the Estates & Wines unit, whose other labels include Chandon, Cloudy Bay, Numanthia, Terrazas de los Andes, Cheval des Andes and Cape Mentelle. “Over the last 15-20 years, some of the big brands have suffered because they’ve stretched the umbrella too much, Mondavi being the best example.”

That approach, he adds, is representative of the LVMH business as a whole. “(LVMH chairman) Bernard Arnault is telling his top management, ‘Run your businesses as though they were family-owned, and everything you do is for the next generation.’ When you look at what has been done at (fellow LVMH labels) Céline, Berluti, Christian Dior, Vuitton, it’s about building the brand from a quality basis over 10-15 years.”

As Newton attempts to reassert itself in Cabernet, Prats sees Napa wines enjoying renewed growth both inside and outside the U.S. “Napa fell dramatically after the crisis in 2008, and now it’s flying out of the roof. Why? Because they’ve corrected their prices, and they continue to produce exceptional wine, with constant improvement. We see Napa rising not only in the domestic market but export markets as well.”


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