This story was updated on April 20.
In a dramatic move that marks its first foray into American wine, French company Maisons & Domaines Henriot has acquired a majority ownership stake in Beaux Frères, one of Oregon’s most prominent Pinot Noir producers. The sale, which closed April 12, includes the winery in Newberg and about 35 acres of vines. The purchase price has not been disclosed.
Winemaker and cofounder Michael Etzel will remain a partner. French-Canadian investor Robert Roy sold his shares while Etzel’s brother-in-law, wine critic Robert Parker Jr., retains only a small percentage of his.
Etzel told Wine Spectator that his two partners approached him about a year ago about selling. “Both of them were of the same mindset, ‘Let’s just simplify our lives,’” he said. Etzel, 62, adds that he was not financially situated to buy out his partners, so the group quietly put out feelers.
Numerous suitors approached the winery, he said, but the Paris-based Henriot stood out. “Henriot was the most likeminded. It was not strictly a financial decision,” Etzel said. “The relationship had to work.”
Henriot has built an impressive winery portfolio in recent decades that includes Champagne Henriot, venerable Burgundy négociants Bouchard Père & Fils in Beaune and William Fèvre in Chablis, and Château de Poncié in Beaujolais.
“When [a broker] contacted us and proposed that we visit, immediately we were interested," Gilles de Larouzière, Henriot's president, told Wine Spectator. "The US is our first market export-wise. There are many knowledgeable consumers. It’s a continent with great terroirs, with great potential, like Oregon."
De Larouzière says that the winemaking team from Bouchard came with him to assess the viticulture and winemaking. "Beyond business considerations, Beaux Frères wines are a great match with what we like to do in our family: an artisanal philosophy, trying to make unique wines, not due to the people who make them but due to the uniqueness of the place that makes them."
Named after the French term for "brothers-in-law," Beaux Frères was part of the second wave of the rebirth of the Oregon wine industry, following in the footsteps of pioneers like David Lett and Dick Erath. In 1986, while working as a wholesale wine salesman in Colorado Springs, Colo., Etzel was vacationing in Oregon when he stumbled on an 88-acre pig ranch for sale in northern Willamette Valley. With Parker as an investor, Etzel purchased the ranch and resettled his family from Colorado, working four harvests at Ponzi winery while his vineyards matured.
“We originally only wanted to grow grapes, but financially we just couldn’t make it work,” Etzel said.
The Beaux Frères Pinot Noirs were quickly recognized for their depth and power and typically have been rated as outstanding, or 90 points or higher, on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale. Since the late 1990s, as his vineyards matured, Etzel dialed back on tannin levels and ripeness to create more elegant wines without sacrificing richness. He made about 8,500 cases of Pinot in 2016. That same year, the Beaux Frères Pinot Noir Ribbon Ridge The Beaux Frères Vineyard 2014 earned the No. 3 spot in Wine Spectator's Top 100 Wines of the Year.
Etzel remains president and CEO of the winery, and his son, co-winemaker and viticulturist Mike Etzel Jr. has stayed on board as well. Etzel and his wife, Carey Critchlow, retain ownership of a second label, Sequitur, and its 12-acre vineyard, and will continue to produce the wine at Beaux Frères.
“Michael is a magnificent person," said de Larouzière. "He’s a highly talented vigneron and winemaker. I invited him for a trip with me this summer to each of our domaines, so we can deepen our relationship and develop our common future. Beaux Frères is not going to be a remote domaine. We want to intensify the relationship.”
De Larouzière says Henriot is not considering expanding the size of the business. “We found a jewel on promising terroir. We want to help it grow with the terroir. Getting big doesn’t bring you anything but bigger problems."