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Chanel buys Rutherford’s St. Supery Estate Vineyards and Winery

St. Supery Estate Vineyards & Winery in Rutherford has been bought by Chanel Inc. (WWW.STSUPERY.COM)

ROBERT DIGITALE , THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

French fashion house Chanel Inc., whose owners collect high-end Bordeaux wineries while creating exotic fragrances and haute couture, is entering the U.S. wine business with the purchase of a Napa Valley winery.

The privately held Chanel, considered one of France’s best-known brands, is acquiring Rutherford’s St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery for an undisclosed sum, the winery announced Tuesday.

The sale is impressive given that Chanel “is one of the most extraordinary luxury goods companies in the world,” said Robert Nicholson, principal at International Wine Associates in Healdsburg. The purchase appears to be the company’s first in the United States, he said.

Chanel may be best known to Americans of a certain age for its Chanel No. 5 perfume, its breakthrough “little black dress” designs and its iconic founder, Coco Chanel, who died in 1971.

But the company’s current owners, brothers Alain and Gerard Wertheimer, also are reported to be serious wine lovers and owners of French wine estates Rauzan-Ségla and Chateau Canon.

Forbes’ website estimates the net worth of the brothers at $9.6 billion each — the two of them tied for the ranking of the seventh-richest person in France.

The Chanel deal is one of an increasing number of winery sales, a trend that Nicholson predicts is “going to heat up.” One reason is the U.S. wine market is the world’s largest and growing, with 375 million cases consumed last year.

“This is a market where you want to be if you’re in the global wine business,” he said.

Representatives for Chanel couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.

The owners of St. Supéry also have roots in France. The company website describes the winery’s owners, the Skalli family, as a “French viticultural family” involved in the wine industry for four generations.

“I am delighted to hand over St. Supéry to such a well-regarded company that understands luxury brands and will continue to enhance this special property,” winery founder Robert Skalli said in a statement about the sale to Chanel. “I am confident that they will continue my vision of a Napa Valley Chateau, crafting world-class estate wines, and will build on that foundation, ever improving quality.”

Robert Skalli’s grandfather established vineyards in the 1920s in Algeria. His father began a French wine business, Les Chais du Sud, which Robert Skalli joined in 1974.

In 1982 Robert Skalli purchased 1,530 acres in the Napa Valley and three years later bought an additional 52 acres in Rutherford. The winery, which opened in 1989, features more than 500 acres of vineyards.

St. Supéry specializes in sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon, producing about 100,000 cases a year. The winery calls itself “the largest family owned, sustainably farmed and estate produced winery in Napa Valley.”

The winery sale will be completed later this month, the company said.

The appearance of Chanel comes as another luxury brand is expanding its Wine Country offerings.

Moët Hennessy, part of the conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, this month announced a new line of wines made with Sonoma County grapes. The company, which owns Napa sparkling wine house Domaine Chandon, launched the wines under its new Smoke Tree brand.

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rdigit