'Oentrepreneurs' Hit Napa

Rich execs ditch fast-paced careers, look to winemaking
By Rebecca Smith Hurd,  Newser User
Posted Oct 9, 2008 1:34 PM CDT
Robert Mondavi, models a jacket made of corks as Jay Leno, background, auctions it off during the live auction event at the Napa Valley wine auction in St. Helena, Calif., on June 4, 2005.    (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
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(Newser) – A new breed of winemakers is flowing into Napa Valley, writes Jeffrey O'Brien in a colorful look at the trend in Fortune. Investment bankers, tech entrepreneurs, and other wealthy refugees of the white-collar rat race are buying up vineyards at $400,000 per acre to pursue second careers that let them have a business—and a life. These "oentrepreneurs" aren’t just looking to make a buck; they’d rather generate buzz with sought-after, high-end cult wines.

That's a good thing considering start-up costs and a fancy winery costs tens of millions. "And then what?" asks O'Brien. "Selling 400 cases at $200 a bottle grosses less than $1 million. The good news is that as long as bottles of first-growth bordeaux are selling for $1,200 and up, there's the appearance of headroom." To that end, some are relying less on Robert Parker's rating and more on scarcity and star power: limited production and buy-in from celebs help ensure high-priced wines sell out.