My mother and I first came to the Napa Valley in 1975. It was a day trip from Los Angeles, and we were to visit two wineries that were offered for sale. The wines of Napa Valley were making exciting news around the world. We were curious about the wine country, and intrigued by the idea that it might be a good investment. Ron was unable to go with us this first time, but we came home with the decision that we would seek some proven vineyard land as our investment rather than an existing winery. We would get income from the land, and perhaps build our own winery someday.
Harry See’s property was offered. Again, mother and I went up to see it. It was a beautiful property, approximately 90 acres planted. The Napa River was the western boundary, the Silverado Trail on the east. See’s home was quite wonderful…a very masculine California ranch style, with heavy beams and lots of glass. A flattened pad on top of a small hill on the property was where See said he’d planned to build his winery. We made an offer, and it was accepted. During the escrow, however, he changed his mind.
About the same time another property was brought to our attention. It was owned by See’s niece, and was directly across the river from his property. I couldn’t go this time, but Ron could, and he went with mother to see it. They came home full of enthusiasm. It was approximately 80 acres of planted Chardonnay, with some Gewürztraminer. There was a charming old home, in very good condition because of its previous owners. We made an offer, and it was accepted. Then the See property became available again. Mother purchased it, and we went for the second parcel….a bold investment. We’ve never regretted it.
For several years we continued to sell the grapes that were already contracted for. Our Chardonnay was going to Mike Grgich. We replanted much of the vineyards on AXR root stock at the advice of our vineyard management. On mother’s property we had cabernet and merlot, and we replanted the Gewürztraminer on our property to Sauvignon Blanc. Some years later the entire valley would be forced to replant everything planted on AXR, because it did not prove to be resistant to the root louse that caused phyloxera.
When we decided to build our winery we chose Richard Keith as our architect. It would be built on the site that See had chosen. Richard got a call one day from a young winemaker looking for a job making wine. Jack Stuart called Richard from a pay phone on his lunch break, we agreed to meet him, and he became our founding Winemaker, and General Manager as well, because we were living in Southern California at the time. It would be some years before we were able to move to Napa and make it our home.
Jack made beautiful wine for us. He’d actually picked some of the Gewürztraminer before it was ripped out and made some in his basement before the winery was built. It was lovely. We really enjoyed those few bottles.
Ron and I began to seek out additional vineyards. We went with Jack to look at existing vineyards and raw land. We eventually purchased historic vineyard sites that needed redeveloping. We acquired the Mount George property in 1988, which is now completely replanted to red grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with small amounts of Cabernet Franc and, more recently, Malbec. In 1988 we also purchased the Carneros property that we now call “Firetree”, which was partially planted to Chardonnay and we added more. Then in 1992 we purchased the beautiful Soda Canyon property, which we planted to Sangiovese, Zinfandel, and later added Sauvignon Blanc. The olive trees on that property are the source of the oil we offer for sale. Another Carneros property, our Vineburg Vineyard, is our most recent and maybe final acquisition, and is the source of our best Chardonnay.
We’ve added on to the winery twice, and it is now complete. Our oldest granddaughter, Annabelle, created our new label to celebrate our more impressive presence on the hill. Jack Stuart retired in 2004 and Russell Weis is now our General Manager. Jon Emmerich, who had worked with Jack for many years, now has filled his place. Elena Franceschi and Fred Hansen complete the winemaking staff, and had also worked with Jack, and have been with us for many years, as has our cellar master Rick Thomas.
New farming ideas, different trellising and pruning techniques have changed the look of the valley. Every harvest is different in size and quality of fruit. Some years, of course, produce outstanding wines, and we are always thrilled with those. But our wine is consistent in its quality. We’ve gone to the screw cap on our white wines to eliminate the possibility of a corky bottle. We grow the fruit and make the wine the Napa Valley is known for, and we are so glad to be here!