French luxury company takes majority stake in Folio Fine Wine Partners

EPI Wine & Champagne Division has bought a majority stake in Napa Valley’s Folio Fine Wine Partners.

Folio FIne Wine Partners is based in California.
Folio FIne Wine Partners is based in California.

EPI Group, one of France’s major luxury companies, has bought a majority stake in Napa importer Folio Fine Wine Partners.

Folio Fine Wine Partners will now become part of EPI’s Wine & Champagne Division, whose portfolio includes Charles Heidsieck Champagne and Piper-Heidsieck Champagne, along with a majority share of Brunello di Montalcino Biondi Santi, and part shares in Rhône negociant Tardieu-Laurent and Britain’s Liberty Wines. The EPI Group is privately owned by French entrepreneur Christopher Descours.

“Our family is delighted to be partnering with business visionary Christopher Descours with whom we have built a wonderful relationship over the last five years,” said Michael Mondavi, founder of Folio Fine Wine Partners. “This partnership will enable us to continue our growth trajectory and continue to bring fine wines from some of the best winemaking families to our distributors, customers and wine lovers across the US.”

The Descours family

Christopher Descours, who has a background in finance, is the grandson of French industrialist Jean-Louis Descours who bought J.M. Weston footwear company in 1974, from which he built a luxury company that has a number of important fashion and footwear brands, including Kookaï, plus an investment and real estate arm. In 1981, Jean-Louis Descours bought the 150-ha La Verrerie, situated in the Lubéron region of the Rhône Valley, on which he built the wine-production facility now known as Château La Verrerie Today, EPI Group is a family-owned company valued in excess of $1 billion.

In a 2016 interview with Meininger’s, Mr Descours said that wine has always been part of his background. “I saw my father and grandfather really work on the property at Château La Verrerie. They worked on the vines, built the winery, and I got quite interested in this business,” he said. “The wine business is a wonderful business for a family to own, because it’s asset-based. It’s also very entrepreneurial. Nowadays, selling and promoting wine is very tough, but I am passionate about developing the business and not just sitting on the asset.”

He also said that his company serves end consumers who are people “who are interested in knowing about craftsmanship. It’s a category that is growing everywhere in the world.”

His company bought Charles Heidsieck and Piper-Heidsieck in 2011; Charles Heidsieck, in particular, was seen as a brand that had lost its lustre, and Descours set out to revive it. According to Jancis Robinson MW, he succeeded.

“I take my hat off to Descours and his team because, in a remarkably short time, they have put “Charles” — as it is known — back in the champagne mainstream where it deserves to be, while increasing sales tenfold,” she wrote in the Financial Times. “Thanks to a succession of top-quality winemakers, the wine has always been good, but it is now much more widely recognised as such.”

The latest acquisition

Folio Fine Wines, founded in 2004 by Michael and Isabel Mondavi, along with their children Dina and Rob, is a Napa-based importer, fine wine agency and producer, who represent producers including Donnafugata, Laurenz V, Ricasoli, Susana Balbo and Villa Sandi, among others.

Michael Mondavi will continue as chairman of the newly formed Folio Fine Wine Partners Board, while Damien Lafaurie, president of EPI’s Wine and Champagne Division, will join Folio’s Board of Directors. Paolo Battegazzore will continue as CEO of Folio Fine Wine Partners.

“We are delighted to join Folio as a shareholder and to develop it further,” said Lafaurie.

Felicity Carter

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