When Rich Frank walks through the door of his winery, Riley, the rescue German shepherd glued to his heels, you immediately know you’re about to have some fun. Frank is wearing jeans, an untucked button down, and a baseball cap (all stitched with the Frank Family logo), and he walks up to our group like he had just stepped out for a minute. It’s clear that Frank is an important man; you can hear it in the way he speaks, see in the car that he has parked in front of the building (a 1971 cornflower blue Mercedes convertible), and feel it in the way he shakes your hand. But he never once came off as pompous. He has certainly earned the right to be a snob, there’s no doubt. His résumé would take days to rattle off, but I get the sense that he’s just the same man that he’s always been. He’s the kind of man you want to have a beer with, or better yet a glass of Frank Family wine with.
His wines are outstanding and fairly easy to find if you look hard enough (the Napa cab is available at most wine stores). But Frank Family is far more than just a big cabernet house. They vary from the most crisp, yet delicately creamy blanc de blancs that has ever tickled my tongue (we drank the 2008) to the most intensely unique and rich port I have ever had. The port, if you close your eyes, presents more like a tawny madeira, with the flavor of graham crackers and a salty-nuttiness that is utterly addictive, and yet the color is a deep, rich purplely brown. It’s decadent, it tastes of every type of chocolate, and it’s unbelievable.
A standout for me, if I really, really, had to choose one, besides the port, besides the blanc de blancs, besides the 2011 chardonnay that tasted and smelled of fresh baked apple pie, and besides the 2011 pinot that was elegantly laced with the scent of lavender and spice, would have to be the Frank Family Rouge. It’s a sparkling wine, made of the usual champagne suspects, pinot noir and chardonnay (mostly pinot), but it’s as deeply colored as a pinot itself. It’s not overpoweringly strawberried, as one might expect from the color, you get the dark cherry flavors that are typical of a pinot and a bit of orange peel, and it is so completely amazing that I had to stop myself from finding a corner on the lawn to have a moment alone with it.
We drank our wines outdoors while we nibbled on cave-aged cheeses, fresh figs, Marcona almonds, and garlic shrimp, and watched master paella-maker, Gerard, prepare our dinner for us. The table was set with purple linens and hydrangeas, we had rows and rows of grape vines surrounding us, and it all had the magical feeling of equal parts casual and fancy. Frank told story after story, each one speckled with famous people and places, each one ending with an uproar of laughter, his beautiful wife sparkled as much as the wine in my glass, and it is a scene I hope to never forget, a scene that could only be played out by such an accomplished producer.
After spending so much time with Frank, his wife, and part of his crew, sharing a delectable meal on the property that he was recently married, I feel like I know the man. I feel like I understand why his wines are so popular and coveted, his TV shows watched by millions. That old baseball cap he wore when I first met him undoubtedly has a lot of titles. His wines, as different as they all are, all speak the language that is Rich Frank — they make a statement, they’re lovable, and they make you want to come back for more.
The entire experience for me, all in all, was very, very rich.
History of Wine in the Napa Valley
Wild grapes certainly grew in abundance in early Napa Valley, but it took settler George Calvert Yount to tap the area's potential for cultivating wine grapes. Yount built one of the homesteads in the area and was the first to plant Napa Valley grapes in 1839. Soon after, other pioneers such as John Patchett and Hamilton Walker Crabb helped introduce the first vitis vinifera grapes to the area.
Pioneers and Early Expansion
Charles Krug is credited with establishing Napa Valley's first commercial winery in 1861. His success and leadership sparked a wave of new growth, and by 1889 there were more than 140 wineries in operation, including Schramsberg (founded in 1862), Beringer (1876) and Inglenook (1879).
The First Challenges
This tremendous expansion, however, was soon brought to a halt. By the turn of the 20th century the industry saw prices plummet amidst a sea of surplus grapes, and the arrival of phylloxera dealt vintners a stunning blow as more than 80% of the valley's vineyard acreage fell victim to the destructive root louse. An even greater threat to the Napa Valley wine industry arrived in 1920 with the enactment of Prohibition. Vineyards and wineries were abandoned over the next 14 years with only a handful of wineries continuing to operate by producing sacramental wines.
With the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, Napa Valley's wine industry began its slow recovery. During this time, John Daniel Jr. resurrected Inglenook, Georges de Latour re-established Beaulieu Vineyards (BV), Louis M. Martini built his winery and the Mondavi family purchased Charles Krug Winery. Andre Tchelischeff, a Russian émigré working in France, came to Napa Valley to work for BV and became one of the great figures and mentors in the history of Napa Valley wine.
Napa Valley Rocks: History
The Napa Valley's rich winemaking history began well before the California Gold Rush.
Napa Valley Vintners
The early 1940s marked an important point in Napa Valley&rsquos history when these early vintners realized they would be more successful working together than on their own. In 1944, seven vintners signed the agreement of association that formed the Napa Valley Vintners trade association, now 550 wineries strong.
The Last 50 Years
The prominence of Napa Valley wine on the world stage is largely due to the efforts of our vintners during the last 50 years. People like Robert Mondavi, Napa Valley&rsquos greatest marketer, fully embodied the collective spirit and camaraderie that gave rise to our success and quality.
If a single event can be credited with putting Napa Valley on the map, it was the Paris Tasting of 1976. This blind, comparative tasting pitted Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay from California against the best wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy in a blind tasting. When the tasting was done, the judges had given top honors to Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and Stag&rsquos Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon. Napa Valley would never be the same, and the number of wineries would grow from a few dozen to several hundred today.
In 1968, America&rsquos first agricultural preserve was established here, declaring to the world that agriculture is the highest and best use of the land in Napa Valley. The Ag Preserve was the first in a series of initiatives Napa Valley&rsquos vintners and growers often imposed upon themselves. From stream setback, hillside planting and winery definition ordinances to slow-growth initiatives, Napa Valley&rsquos wine industry is considered the most highly regulated in the world. But the purpose is clear: to protect the agrarian character of the Napa Valley. Today, proactive programs like Napa Green Certified Land and Napa Green Certified Winery continue this legacy of environmental leadership.
A new chapter in Napa Valley's history was opened in 1981, when the Napa Valley Vintners hosted the first Napa Valley Wine Auction at Meadowood Resort. Over the years, Auction Napa Valley, as it is now known, has become the world&rsquos most celebrated charity wine event, drawing participants from around the globe. As a result, the NVV through Auction proceeds has given $200 million to local health care, youth education programs and affordable housing since 1981.
Napa Valley AVA
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A Rich Production in Napa Valley - Recipescaption caption
Tucked away high above Napa Valley is a magnificent 110+ acre building site with mesmerizing views of Lake Hennessey & beautiful vineyards draped over the surrounding hillsides. Located near Pritchard Hill, one of the most coveted areas for vineyards/wineries, with vintners that include Colgin, Bryant, OVID, Nine Suns, Brand, & David Arthur. An extraordinary opportunity to own a private & serene 110+ acres which includes a prime one+ acre hillside Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard & an approved Erosion Control Plan that may allow approx. 2 additional acres of new vineyard around the building site.
Unobstructed lake and vineyard views offer an ideal site to create a private Napa Valley family compound/ranch in this gated community of striking, grand architectural estates. Approx. 15 minutes to world-renowned Auberge du Soleil Resort for fine dining. Paved road access, electricity and excellent well.
Ultimate Guide to Napa Valley
If you're looking for really good wine in the United States, head to California. Napa Valley is arguably the nation's premier winemaking region. Located off the Pacific Coast in north central California, Napa County's vineyards produce more fine wines, in more varieties, than anywhere else in North America does. California had been cranking out delicious wine without any accolades until 1976, when a French judge recognized Napa Valley wine as better than French wine in a blind taste test [source: Gray]. Since then, California vineyards have been recognized as a force to be reckoned with.
Geography and a temperate climate have fostered Napa County's reputation for great wines. The fertile river valley is located just north of San Francisco. The region includes the communities of Calistoga, St. Helena, Napa, Yountville, Angwin, Deer Park, Lake Berryessa, Rutherford, Oakville and American Canyon [source: NapaValleyOnline].
Cooled by bay winds and a coastal fog bank, Napa Valley's topography favors winegrowing because the altitude gradually rises from the south to the north. This helps temper climatic extremes. Wooded western slopes provide afternoon shade in the valley, which benefits white grapes. Vineyards on the eastern slopes favor the production of red grapes [source: Stevenson].
To designate that a wine comes from a particular region, worldwide wine industry labels usually include an Appellation of Origin. In the United States, these are called American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). The name usually refers to a geographically based or climate-specific designation of a wine. Generally, this designation can be used in the United States when 75 percent of the wine comes from grapes grown in that particular area or state. In California, the wine must include 100 percent California grapes with 85 percent coming from a specific region. [source: Napa Valley Vinters].
In this article, we'll explore Napa Valley's grapes, famous wines and the Napa Valley Wine Train.
California contains a whopping 107 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). Napa Valley received the very first designation and has continued to improve on its reputation ever since. Although Napa is best known for full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignons, other popular wines produced include Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel [source: Wine Institute].
The primary grape varieties of Napa Valley include:
- Cabernet Sauvignon is rich in color, depth and aroma, which can make for a wonderfully complex wine.
- Chardonnay is a classic, dry white wine grape, and is one of the three grape types used to make Champagne.
- Chenin Blanc is known for its high sugar content, good acidity level and thin skin. It is often used for sparkling or sweet wines. However, some dry wines, such as Savennieres, are made from this grape.
- Merlot is known for its fruity lusciousness and velvet quality.
- Pinot Noir makes a rich, very smooth wine. Flavors can range from cherry to strawberry, depending upon climate and ripeness.
- Sauvignon Blanc makes aromatic, dry wine, but it is also used in sweeter and fruity Sauternes and Barsac.
- White Riesling makes a light-bodied, intensely flavored wine that is lower in alcohol.
- Zinfandel has a berry-like character. Wine from this grape can range from light and elegant in white or rose to massive and tannic in red [source: Stevenson].
Napa Valley secondary grape varieties include: Aleatico, Alicante Bouschet, Barbera, Black Malvoisie, Burger, Cabernet Franc, Carignan, Early Burgundy, Colombard, Flora, Folle Blanche, Gamay, Gamay Beaujolais, Gewurztraminer, Gray Riesling, Green Hungarian, Grenache, Malbec, Malvasia Bianca, Mataro, Mission, Muscat Blanc, Palomino, Petite Sirah, Pinot Blanc, Pinot St. George, Ruby Cabernet, Sauvignon Vert, Semillon, Sylvander and Syrah [source: Stevenson]. Additional lesser-known grapes are also used to produce incredible wines in the region.
If you want to go to California to purchase the wine yourself, we can help point you in the right direction. Read on to learn about famous Napa Valley Wineries.
George Yount probably didn't know what he was starting when he planted grapevines in Napa Valley in 1838. In the mid-1850s, Napa became its own town, and other grape-growers decided to get in on the action. By 1850, there were roughly 200,000 grapevines growing in the Napa Valley region [source: Napa Valley Vinters].
Organic Vineyard Farm to Table Tasty Bites
Our Chef creates palate teasing bites inspired by and paired with gold medal winning O’Connell Family Wines. The Vineyard Farm to Table Bites change seasonally highlighted by key ingredients sourced from the certified organic O’Connell Family Vineyard Estate. In-house made exclusive GC Culinary infused salts, honey and olive oils, accent the bites. Vegan and Vegetarian options available with advance notice.
Experience the full circle… the plants that keep the estate vineyard naturally healthy are the ingredients for tasty bites paired with O’Connell Family Wines.
Napa Origin Gifts: Signature, small production GC Napa Valley Estate organic & sustainable products bring ourWine Country Lifestyle to you.
When we planted the O’Connell Family Napa Valley Estate Vineyard, we focused on biodiversity to support vineyard health. Today, certified organic olives, lavender, fruit trees, herbs attract the birds, bugs and bees, which keep the vineyard naturally healthy. They are the source for GC Napa Valley estate culinary, home, spa, and pooch products. Our philosophy of sustainability is expressed by beautiful barrel stave platters, trays, candle holders re-purposed from our wine barrels. Fabulous wedding gifts and entertainment items.
Napa Valley Wines Today
As it turns out, the wineries in Napa Valley have been quite successful in their quest to produce the best wine possible. One example is Screaming Eagle who released their first vintage in 1992. Screaming Eagle has become one of the most sought-after wines produced in the Napa Valley. There is about a 12-year waitlist to buy a bottle that will set you back several thousands of dollars.
Of course, there are plenty of other, more accessible, wines in the Napa Valley that are easier to obtain and at a much more affordable price. At Wine Country Travel we work with many of the best small, boutique and off the beaten path wineries with price points to fit all budgets. Come join us on an amazing Napa wine tour today! Click here to see what we can offer you!
Young Ridge Vineyards & Winery
This small, family estate, surrounded by a two-acre vineyard, sits high above Napa and Carneros. Tendrils of fog roll in from the San Pablo Bay far below, until a soft gray blanket spreads out. In the vineyard, however, you see only blue sky and sunshine, because it is above the fog line. This means longer hang time for the grapes, which allows them to develop maximum complexity and flavors.
Founders Leroy and Patty Young built their home and planted Cabernet vines here in 1992. They produced their first Cabernet in 1995. That same year, they purchased a 99-acre vineyard in eastern Napa&rsquos Pope Valley, where they built a winery production facility.
Winemaker Julianna Beckmann Gosling joined the team after honing her craft through stints at Robert Mondavi Winery, Beaulieu Vineyard, and Sterling Vineyards.
The fabulous wines we featured:
2011 Premium Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
- 93 Points, Wine Insider
- 92 Points, Christopher Sawyer, “Sommelier to the Stars”
- 90 Points, S. Kleinfeld, Certified Sommelier
Tasting Notes: Deep, dense and sophisticated. This estate wine opens up with alluring aromas of ripe berries, dark fruits, dried herbs, leather, tobacco and noticeable hints of mineral, fresh earth and spice. On the palate, the robust flavors of dark plum, cherry, black raspberry, grenadine, wild sage and bittersweet chocolate are balanced with firm tannins, silky texture, and a kiss of cedar leading to a long, velvety finish.
2012 Premium Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
- Only 500 cases produced.
- The 2012 Napa Cabernet vintage was awarded a lofty 96 points by the Wine Spectator magazine.
Tasting Notes: Nice opaque color with aromatics of black cherry, perfume, and dried herbs. This beautifully balanced blend of Cabernet, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Merlot displays rich black cherry and currant fruit, while also showing hints of dark chocolate, leather, floral notes, cedar, dried herbs, and baking spice. Dusty tannins round out the lengthy finish.
The Young Ridge Estate Vineyard sits high on the ridge to the west of the town of Napa, adjoining Brown&rsquos Valley. This area on the edge of the Carneros district is characterized by a long, moderately cool growing season sweetened by the breezes and lingering fog of San Pablo Bay.
The Pope Valley Ranch Vineyard sits at an elevation of 771 feet. Sixty acres of vines are now planted, mostly of Cabernet Sauvignon (94%) but also some Petit Verdot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Zinfandel. The wine aged for two years in French oak.
Since first working in her family&rsquos Mendocino vineyards, Kathryn Hall dreamed of a place to showcase fine wines alongside expressive art and masterful architecture. Now, Kathryn and Craig Hall are creating an unrivalled destination in the Napa Valley - where winemaking excellence and innovation meets contemporary design to celebrate life and inspire the senses.
The Halls acquired the historic St. Helena Bergfeld Winery in 2003 and re-opened as HALL St. Helena in July of that year. With a rich history spanning 150 years, HALL St. Helena&rsquos location was once the home of the Napa Valley Co-Op, producing 40% of Napa Valley&rsquos wines. In 2013, The Hall family completed the restoration of the 1885 Bergfeld Winery and merged history and innovation with the completion of California&rsquos first LEED® Gold Certified winery, in addition to a stunning Visitor Center and state-of-the-art gravity flow winemaking facility.
In addition to the impressive St. Helena winery and tasting room, HALL Rutherford, which was purchased in 1995 with the Grand Opening in March, 2005, boasts a state-of-the-art winery amid the legendary Sacrashe Vineyard in the hills of Rutherford that is dedicated to making single vineyard and limited-production wines. Both locations provide a memorable wine country experience &ndash tasting through award-winning wines, embracing incredible contemporary art and taking in the vistas.
HALL&rsquos estate vineyards encompass more than 500 acres of classic Bordeaux varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc. As winegrowers, the Halls have a strong respect for the environment and a commitment to cutting-edge vineyard technology to yield the highest quality grapes. Through meticulous attention to detail in the vineyards, HALL wines are able to express the unique and diverse character of Napa Valley&rsquos soils and climate. Under the artisan-ship of winemaker Megan Gunderson, HALL Wines continue to set new heights in Napa Valley winemaking. We invite you to discover HALL!
A Rich Production in Napa Valley - Recipes
Stu Smith and his brother, Charlie, put down a $500 option on about 200 acres of land on the slopes of Spring Mountain in 1971, eventually purchasing the property for $70,000. The views of the adjacent Napa Valley were stunning, and Smith, who had developed a passion for wine while completing his undergraduate degree in economics at Berkeley, was determined to get into the nascent California premium wine business. With Stu handling vineyards, sales and marketing and Charlie taking on winemaking, the brothers opened Smith-Madrone Winery, producing about 4,000 cases of high-end wine per year.
Unlike most wineries, Smith-Madrone doesn’t buy fruit from outside sources. All the wine is estate-bottled, meaning it is produced solely from grapes grown on the Smiths’ 38 acres of vineyards. The winery has a reputation for both wine quality and business longevity. Most of the small wineries in the Napa Valley appellation have been subsumed by corporations or, in some cases, simply gone belly-up. But Smith-Madrone has persevered and survived, and today Stu Smith—once viewed as the Napa Valley’s young upstart—is a respected elder, the doyen of hillside viticulture. Both erudite and homespun, he comfortably discusses the finer points of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations while pruning his cabernet sauvignon vines. He has a reputation for geniality and community goodwill but that doesn’t stop him from unabashedly fighting local efforts to restrict upland vineyard development.
California caught up with Smith on a recent afternoon as he attended to various chores around his vineyards.
You’ve been part of the Napa Valley wine industry for almost 50 years. Not to belabor the obvious, but the business has changed. How would you characterize it?
When we started in the early seventies, the valley was provincial, sleepy. There were no good restaurants, no expensive hotels. It was agricultural. Yes, people grew wine grapes and made wine, but other crops and livestock were also important. The industry was really taking off by the 1980s, of course, but even then, there weren’t that many of us. We all knew each other. The atmosphere was still collegial.
Any there anecdotes that illustrate that?
Here are a couple: One time I was pumping gas into my truck at the Chevron station in downtown St. Helena when Tim Mondavi [son of Robert Mondavi, and the family winemaker] pulled up on the other side of the pump and started filling up. We chatted, and he said, ‘Hey, wait a minute, I have something I’d like you to try,’ and he pulled out a shiner [unlabeled wine bottle]. It was a champagne bottle, but with a crown cap, not a cork. Tim said, ‘Here, we’re experimenting with sparkling wine. Try this out and tell me what you think of it.’ I can’t think of anything like that happening today—the winemaker from one of the largest wineries in the valley casually asking another winemaker to try an experimental product. And it was very good, by the way. I wished they had gone into commercial production.
Another incident involved Bob Trinchero and Louis Martini. Bob owned Sutter Home Winery, and he developed and made a fortune off White Zinfandel, but this was before that really took off. He had some equipment break down at a critical juncture, and in desperation he called Louis—who was just across Highway 29—and asked for some help. And Louis just opened his equipment yard, his shop, everything, and told Bob to rummage around and take whatever he needed.
Well, now, of course, the people getting into it didn’t start their operations on shoestrings like Charlie and I did, nor are they [legacy] viticulturalists and winemakers—people, in other words, who were first and foremost dedicated to wine production. It’s more like Mr. and Mrs. GotRocks sell out their widget company in Silicon Valley for a couple of gazillion dollars, and then they say to each other, ‘Gee, what should we do now?’ And they decide they just love the Napa Valley so they come up here and build a massive winery and a 15,000-square-foot home and there are Corinthian columns and fountains everywhere, and the last thing they have to worry about is turning a profit. You may know who some of these people are, but you don’t know them. You don’t interact with them. You’d never borrow their tractor.
Even a casual visitor can see the impacts in the Valley: hundreds of wineries, most with event centers, and solid gridlock along Highway 29 from Napa to Calistoga.
Yeah, and it’s not just that. The costs involved in visiting the valley now are astronomical. Wine tastings used to be free—that’s practically impossible these days for anyone, but we [Smith-Madrone] try to keep things reasonable, only charging $25 per person. But some wineries charge $250 or more for a tasting, and insist on reservations. And sometimes they’ll tell you they’ll get back to you and then do a background check on you, and if they feel you aren’t wealthy or socially significant enough they’ll call you back and say, terribly sorry, we’re fully booked. You want to go out for dinner? Plan on spending $200 to $250 a person. And if you can get into the French Laundry, maybe you and your partner can get out for $2,000. Hotel rooms are $500 a night—even $1,000 a night.
What has that meant for long-time Napa Valley residents?
Alienation. Years ago, I helped establish the Napa Valley Wine Auction. It was a good marketing vehicle for our wines, and generated some excellent publicity. The wines sold for good prices, and the money went to a good cause [the Queen of the Valley Medical Center]. But now, when you literally have someone paying $500,000 for two bottles of wine—well, that doesn’t connect with the reality that most of the people who live here experience. They’re looking at that and saying, ‘Who are these people?’ My wife and I live in St. Helena, in a simple house. It’s not much—maybe it’d cost you $250,000 or $300,000 outside the Bay Area. It’s essentially a teardown in St. Helena. But because it is where it is, it’s worth more than $1 million. Or the lot is, anyway. And what’s even stranger is that 40 to 50 percent of the homes in St. Helena are vacant these days. They’re the second or third or fourth homes of extremely wealthy people, people who may visit on occasional weekends, if that. It’s eerie. You don’t know your neighbors. Community businesses, like the hardware store, are suffering. Student enrollment is shrinking. It isn’t healthy.
Do the newcomers have anything in common with the old guard?
Maybe jumping through planning hoops. Trying to get approval for new vineyards, for example.
You have something of a reputation for fighting back vigorously against increased vineyard regulation—especially for hillside vineyards.
The regulatory burden in general is extreme. We built this winery ourselves, including the stonework. It’s small, it’s modest—no Corinthian columns here, you’ll notice—but it suits our needs. I asked the county building inspector what we needed for construction, and he said bring in a sketch and a check for $150. I drew up plans in about eight hours, and got approved. I admit that experience ruined me. If I wanted to do the same thing today, it’d take six or seven months and cost between $20,000 to $50,000. Also, I have 38 acres of vineyard [on a 200-acre property], and I have six or seven additional acres that I’d like to plant. To do that, I’d have to clear the plan with the state under the California Environmental Quality Act. I’d have to get an erosion control plan approved by the county. And I’d have to indemnify the county in case anyone sued—which is highly possible, even likely these days. So bottom line, I’d have to shell out $100,000 to $150,000 just for compliance, exclusive of actual development costs. Everyone who wants to put in vineyards faces these hurdles, of course, but it’s the smaller vintners who are really hurt. The only people who can afford it are the super wealthy. We used to joke that the billionaires are driving out the millionaires in this business. But increasingly, it’s true.
Your efforts have been at least somewhat successful. You led the campaign against Measure C, a 2018 Napa County referendum that would’ve restricted hillside vineyard development, and it was defeated. Your opponents, however, say that such ordinances are necessary to maintain the forested slopes that surround the Napa Valley, preserve biodiversity, and stem erosion. Why are they wrong?
Environmentalism, as it’s widely perceived, is completely different from conservation. Destroying small-scale viticulture—which is what’s practiced here on Spring Mountain, certainly—and depriving land owners of their property rights won’t produce major conservation gains for the region. Wildlife is abundant on my property, and soils are stable. The real danger lies in development pressure. Back in the 1960s, profitable agriculture was seen as the only thing that could stop rampant development. So in 1968, the county’s supervisors established the nation’s first agricultural preserve. Growers gave up their rights to subdivide in exchange for tax protections. And that strategy worked, which is why we see vineyards in the Napa Valley instead of housing tracts. If we’re going to continue to enjoy the real conservation benefits of sustainable viticulture, we can’t make it impossible for growers to conduct business.
You’ve also inveighed against biodynamic farming.
As differentiated from organic and sustainable farming, which are legitimate agricultural practices. The problem I have with biodynamic farming is that it’s unsupported by science. Its adherents claim with utterly no proof that the “living soils” it supposedly produces result in better expressions of terroir in wines. Further, by claiming superiority—again, with no substantiation—they implicitly belittle all other wines. I care as much about the vitality of my soils and the health of the environment as anyone else, so I resent anyone claiming a bogus method produces better soils and better wines than mine. And time has vindicated me on this. Years ago, several wineries were flogging their biodynamic credentials. Since then, they’ve quietly backed off.
So, as you look down the road, what do you see—for both yourself and the Napa Valley wine industry?
If I were smart—and apparently I’m not—I would have sold out two years ago, when property values were at their peak. So my exit strategy is to go out of here feet first. It’s literally impossible for me to retire—and besides, I love what I do. One thing I have learned is that you must be engaged. Farmers generally think they don’t have to be involved in politics. Wrong. The world is going faster and faster, and you’d better move with it or you’ll be left behind. But I’m also a realist, and that means I’m basically pessimistic about the industry. The Baby Boomers are drinking less, and they’re starting to die out. Millennials don’t have the money to buy Napa wine, and they seem to prefer cocktails and beer anyway. And what really frosts my ass is that we’ve saddled them with a mountain of educational debt. It’s scandalous. They’re struggling to survive, so fine wine is hardly an issue of concern with them. And of course, the biggest impacts are going to fall on the smaller producers. My son’s in business with me, but he can’t afford to buy a home here. I doubt he ever will. What kind of a future is that?
19. Ashes & Diamonds Winery
Ashes & Diamonds crafts approachable, food-friendly wines that are lower in alcohol and thus more old world in style—on theme with the winery’s mid-century modern architecture and design, they harken back to the early days of Napa’s wine industry—so it’s only fitting that they have a culinary component to their tastings. The A&D Wines + Food experience ($95, available Sunday-Friday) is a taste through five current release wines with a five-course selection of fresh and wood-fired dishes. The A&D Vintage Experience ($250 per person, minimum four people) takes guests back in time to 1960s and 70s Napa to learn about the inspiration behind Ashes & Diamonds. It includes an estate tour, tastings of rare Napa bottlings from those days alongside A&D wines, and food to match that was popular during that era.