It's not every day that you see an established winery up on the auction blocks, although the sight does seem to be becoming more common all the time. This afternoon saw the sale of Cap*Rock Winery, which is one of the most troubled, but also most beautiful, wineries in West Texas. The winery itself is an approximately 23,000 sq ft facility that is situated on almost 25 acres of land.
Cap*Rock winery filed for bankruptcy last December, with unpaid creditors accumulating over time. The auction date was set for yesterday, July 12th, and interested parties attended from around the state, as well as those from outside the state. Ultimately, the winning bidder was Laurent Gruet, the famed producer of sparkling wines. When all of the dust had settled, the winery sold for $6.5 million. Early estimates that I had heard for the winery were closer to the $2.5 million range, and Gruet himself stated that he planned to purchase the business for $3.5 million. There were other parties involved in the bidding, including wineries from the Texas Hill Country. Representatives from large Texas wineries, Becker Vineyards and Llano Estacado were present at the sale, as well as a number of well known Texas growers and wine authorities. Here is what it looks like to spend $6.5 million in less than three minutes.
Gruet is originally from Champagne France, and his new acquisition will join with his wineries in France, and in New Mexico. Gruet Winery in Albuquerque, New Mexico has been extremely successful during a time when many wineries in more notable wine regions have been suffering. It seems like the Gruet family likes a challenge, and having conquered the challenge of producing quality sparkling wines in New Mexico, they have turned their sights to the Texas High Plains. Gruet plans to grow grapes in the area, and says that he intends to make his new winery into the Champagne style producer of Texas. My assumption is that the plan is to bring in fruit for their initial vintage (or vintages), as Laurent Gruet claims that he would like to distribute a brut to the Cowboys at the Superbowl.
I have already seen questions about whether Gruet will be producing Texas wines at the facility, or merely bringing in fruit from other locations. If his history with producing sparkling wines in the deserts of New Mexico is any indication, I would say that it is extremely likely that he will produce at least some Texas wines. I think the real question is what kinds of wines he will be producing. Based on comments that Gruet made after the auction, it sounds like he plans to continue producing many of the wines that are currently being made at the facility, as well as adding to the repertoire. Sparkling wines will definitely be one of the additions, but it could be interesting to see Pinot noir and Chardonnay being grown in West Texas for use in Méthode Champenoise, or wines made in the fashion of traditional Champagnes. There are few examples of these grapes being grown in this area, and I'm curious to see if an attempt is made by the Gruets to grow them, or if they will choose other varieties to experiment with. Given what I saw today, my feeling is that Gruet is going to take a stab at producing true "Texas Champagne", which is something I'm excited to see.
I think that the real winner in this whole scenario, is the Texas wine industry. Before the auction I was talking with my fellow Texas blogger, Russ Kane from VintageTexas, and we both agreed that we were hoping for something exciting to take place in the auction, and I think that we got exactly that. This is definitely going to be something different, something unique for Texas. On top of the excitement of the new products that will be produced by this winery, there also seems to be a lot of potential for additional attention to come to the state's wines, as well as a new challenge to existing wineries to step up their game to start to produce truly world class wines. Only time will tell how this story plays out, but I'm excited to see where it goes.
Original breaking news story is here.
Photo taken from the LubbockOnline.com site
Title idea from a conversation with Dusty Timmons at the auction
Update: I talked with Phillip Anderson from Cap*Rock, and he indicated that Laurent Gruet is looking to purchase Texas fruit this harvest season, rather than bring in fruit from elsewhere. Looks like Gruet is definitely committed to attempting to make Texas wines, even in the short-term. The long view seems to be that they will plant their own vineyards to produce their own fruit here in Texas.