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A Vineyard in Napa

Doug Shafer
with Andy Demsky
Foreword by Danny Meyer
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 284
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  • Book Info
    A Vineyard in Napa
    Book Description:

    At the age of 47, when he a successful publishing executive and living with his wife and four children in an affluent Chicago suburb, John Shafer made the surprise announcement that he had purchased a vineyard in the Napa Valley. In 1973, he moved his family to California and, with no knowledge of winemaking, began the journey that would lead him, thirty years later, to own and operate what distinguished wine critic Robert M. Parker, Jr. called "one of the world’s greatest wineries." This book, narrated by Shafer’s son Doug, is a personal account of how his father turned his midlife dream into a remarkable success story.

    Set against the backdrop of Napa Valley’s transformation from a rural backwater in the 1970s through its emergence today as one of the top wine regions in the world, the book begins with the winery’s shaky start and takes the reader through the father and son’s ongoing battles against killer bugs, cellar disasters, local politics, changing consumer tastes, and the volatility of nature itself. Doug Shafer tells the story of his own education, as well as Shafer Vineyards’ innovative efforts to be environmentally sustainable, its role in spearheading the designation of a Stags Leap American Viticultural Area, and how the wine industry has changed in the contemporary era of custom-crushing and hobbyist winery investors.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95412-0
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Danny Meyer

    A Vineyard in Napais at first blush a tale of one man’s choice to impose manifest destiny on his family. But the story of John Shafer and his family wouldn’t be nearly so interesting if that’s all it was. For practicallyanyonecan convince his wife and kids to pick up sticks and move west. how unusual is it, really, to tackle a midlife crisis by giving up the comfort of a secure and successful corporate career to plant new roots—indeed, vines—on an unknown hillside positioned fifty miles north of San Francisco?

    But this is a far...

    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Map of Napa Valley, 2012
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Prologue
    (pp. 1-5)

    What you have here is pretty simple: one person’s story covering forty years in the life of a Napa Valley winery. Within these pages you won’t find an attempt to offer the definitive scientific and socioeconomic overview of the phylloxera epidemic of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Nor is there an ambitious endeavor to, say, map out the entire history of technology in winemaking or recount the biographies of all the Valley’s major players. Those books have been written by others. What you will find here is more personal: a narrative of what it was like for us at...

  7. ONE John Shafer
    (pp. 6-16)

    Up until 1973—when he was forty-eight years old—very little indicated that John Shafer was a future Napa Valley vintner. If you know where to look in his life story, you’ll find some key moments of foreshadowing here and there, but it’s all pretty subtle. Even now it’s startling to realize how it all could have gone in such a different direction, and the story of our hillside vineyards could easily have belonged to someone else.

    Dad was born in 1924 and spent most of his childhood in a small northern suburb of Chicago called Glencoe, to this day...

  8. TWO January 1973
    (pp. 17-19)

    There must be a million American stories that begin with a family packing themselves into a station wagon.

    I can still remember my dad at the wheel of our wood-paneled Country Squire flying west on I-80. He was trim and handsome, his hair thinning a bit on top. My younger brother Brad, twelve, was in the backseat with our dog, Dingo. I was riding shotgun, a lanky, basketball-obsessed seventeen-year-old who wore glasses. On that gray, frigid day in January we’d packed into our car and started driving toward California.

    The sense of adventure is hard to overstate. The only home...

  9. THREE A Wine Country Emerges from a Wilderness
    (pp. 20-24)

    This wave of newcomers in the late 1960s and early 1970s—full of new ideas and enthusiasm—was simply the latest in a series of migrations to Napa Valley over the past 150 years, each one just as bursting with energy and ambition as the one before.

    Napa Valley’s first vintage date was 1841 or 1842, when pioneer George Yount (namesake of Yountville) made the Valley’s inaugural wine from a small vineyard he’d planted not far from the river. Yount, whose original Scandinavian name was Jyunt, hailed from North Carolina by way of Missouri. He was a veteran of the...

  10. FOUR The Pendulum Swings
    (pp. 25-26)

    Home winemakers were allowed to produce as much as two hundred gallons a year for their own consumption during Prohibition. Selling wine grapes to these winemaking operations in basements across the country helped create a decent living for some growers in the Valley. There was a pretty lively illegal alcohol trade as well. According to our neighbor, Frank Perata, who lived on our property as a boy in the 1940s, there is an old moonshine that is still buried somewhere along the creek behind the winery. In addition, when Frank’s father was tearing down a decrepit outbuilding, he found a...

  11. FIVE Arrival—1973
    (pp. 27-28)

    We met my mom in San Francisco and drove into Napa Valley on a sunny January morning. The hills were vibrant green, and the air was warm enough that you could wear a T-shirt. For a Chicago native this was a jaw-dropping introduction to the season they called winter out here. We drove north on the two-lane Silverado Trail out of the town of Napa, passing walnut orchards, hay fields, and vineyards. Cattle chewed their cud and stared at us from hillside pastures.

    About seven miles north of Napa, Dad turned on the blinker, and we made a right onto...

  12. SIX Grapes
    (pp. 29-33)

    I landed at my new school, St. Helena High, pretty easily earning a position right away on the varsity basketball team—something that would never have happened back in Chicago, where the competition was unbelievably fierce. I’m still friends with fellow teammates Cyril Chappellet and Jeff Jaeger. We beat our “archrivals,” Cloverdale, in the first game, which was an auspicious start. Also, I was the new kid on campus, which had a little coolness attached to it, so life was good.

    Not all the adjustments to country living were stress-free though. On my first night after basketball practice, I drove...

  13. SEVEN Cabernet
    (pp. 34-41)

    Dad’s approach to his vineyard life evolved rapidly. Unknown to me until much later, he’d come to Napa Valley hoping to start a winery fairly quickly. (For years I thought he’d wanted to come out here and live the life of a gentleman farmer, but he swears now he always intended to get into winemaking.) However, once he got into the middle of the business, he realized how much he had to learn. Ever the realist, he decided to gradually take over the vineyard work on his own—to avoid paying fees to a management company—and focus solely on...

  14. EIGHT Grape Future
    (pp. 42-44)

    In 1974 I graduated from St. Helena High and had to start thinking about “real life” and my future. I started paying more attention to what was going on in my dad’s world. I’d cruise up our driveway, which cut through the vineyard, and there he’d be out on a tractor—which he was still learning to operate—in jeans and beat-up hat. He’d give me a big grin and a wave, and it was hard to reconcile this image of him with the dad I’d known back in Chicago—the corporate guy in the three-piece suit. I’d never seen...

  15. NINE Alfonso
    (pp. 45-47)

    If he was going to get serious about taking over his vineyards, one of the first things Dad realized he needed was manpower. His thought was to hire a foreman to live on-site to help with the increasing workload. When he asked around for recommendations, John Piña pointed him toward a young man on his own crew named Alfonso Zamora-Ortiz.

    Alfonso had little or no vineyard experience, but he had worked in a nursery and possessed valuable insights regarding plant life—how to size up the health of a vine, when to prune, how much to irrigate, and so forth....

  16. TEN 1976
    (pp. 48-53)

    By 1976 Dad and Alfonso were hard at work replacing the property’s old vines one block at a time, while simultaneously prepping and terracing new blocks of vines on the hillsides. On our property the vineyard blocks run from about 1 to 9 acres in size. We divide them up based on their geographical structure, whether they face south, southwest, or west.

    Fortunately I was at U.C. Davis during most of this period so now the rock hauling duty fell squarely on Brad and whomever Dad hired to assist.

    My dad had to move at a careful pace. If he...

  17. ELEVEN Hillside Cabernet
    (pp. 54-56)

    In 1978 it felt as if a spell had been broken. The year started with nearnormal winter and spring rains, which pulled us out of the long drought of the previous years. The year went on to become one of those growing seasons when everything goes right: a summer of warm, sun-flooded days with chilly evenings, offering no rain pressure as harvest approached. The sort of year grapes and winemakers thoroughly love.

    By early September Dad was in countdown mode. Every morning he was up before dawn gathering sample grapes and testing the sugar and acidity levels. Finally, he knew...

  18. TWELVE Family Winery
    (pp. 57-62)

    Whether the 1978 Cabernet was a success or not, Dad was irreversibly on course to start a winery. While that first vintage was still in the barrel, the winery was christened—on paper at least. One day at U.C. Davis, I received in the mail the paperwork for our family’s general partnership, which Dad had organized and outlined with his usual diligence. Under his plan, my brothers, my sister, Mom, and I would all be partners in this venture called “Shafer Vineyards.” I remember reading through the documents with a sense of admiration for Dad’s careful logic in laying it...

  19. THIRTEEN Selling Wine
    (pp. 63-69)

    The 1980 growing season had been declared a great one—one of the best in a long time—in the media even before a single grape was picked. We had winter rain at the right time, steady temperatures throughout the summer, and then some heat when we needed it. So Dad knew the grapes were fine and he could check that off his list of things to worry about. We had a young, new winemaker who’d learned his craft at a celebrated winery. Check. The winery itself was built and we had 1,100-gallon oak ovals in which we aged our...

  20. FOURTEEN Libby
    (pp. 70-71)

    In the late 1970s my sister Libby was a financial analyst in San Francisco. Dad called her one day and said, “Now that we’ve got all this wine, someone’s going to have to sell it.”

    She agreed to come to Dad’s shaky new enterprise to help with sales and work with Mom on the winery’s administrative side. To immerse herself in this industry, she took a job as a tour guide at Beringer, where she worked for a year meeting wine consumers of every imaginable stripe. Concurrently, she worked at our winery two days a week.

    As the winery expanded...

  21. FIFTEEN New York
    (pp. 72-73)

    While California was welcoming our first wine and our initial foray into London came as something of a lark, New York was another matter. Getting restaurant buyers and retail shop owners in Manhattan to pay attention to Shafer proved difficult. The East Coast wine establishment was still much more oriented toward Old World wines, specifically those of Burgundy and Bordeaux. Wine-buying habits ingrained over a couple of centuries had hardly been erased in the four years since the Judgment of Paris. The second thing that worked against us was that the only New York distributor that would have us was...

  22. SIXTEEN Chain Saws
    (pp. 74-78)

    Randy Mason had been vineyard manager at Chappellet from 1973 through 1979 and was hired away by the Battat brothers (Harry, Frank, and Ralph) to start Lakespring. Their first harvest was 1980, so when I came on in the summer of’ 81, Lakespring was still a new operation. In the cellar I was working with Cabernet and Chardonnay, as well as Merlot, a grape that was new to me.

    Before 1980 only a few Napa Valley wineries produced a Merlot. The two I can recall were Louis Martini, who unveiled the first wine bearing the Merlot label in 1973 or...

  23. SEVENTEEN Napa Vintners
    (pp. 79-82)

    With his first wine officially released, Dad had signed on to join the Napa Valley Vintners Association, which was on the verge of a new project then called the Napa Valley Wine Auction.

    The inception of the Napa Valley Vintners took place in the spring of 1943, when Louis M. Martini invited fellow winery owners John Daniel Jr. (Inglenook), Charles Forni (Napa Valley Cooperative Winery), and Louis Stralla (Napa Wine Company) to an informal outdoor lunch in the Monte Rosso Vineyard. They must have had a good time sharing wine and talking about the wine business, because it became a...

  24. EIGHTEEN Arson
    (pp. 83-87)

    On the Monday morning after the success of that first auction, Napa Valley woke up to yet another day of blasting heat. I drove over to Lake-spring and walked into work and the first thing Randy said was, “It’s fire weather.”

    Altogether we’d had eight or ten days of unrelenting 100-degree temperatures, along with constant, strong north winds and low humidity. It was like taking a giant blow-dryer to the already parched grass and underbrush that covered the eastern slopes of the Vaca Mountains where Shafer Vineyards and other wineries and homes were nestled.

    At lunchtime Randy and I went...

  25. NINETEEN Trouble
    (pp. 88-90)

    After the harvest of 1982 Dad called me up and asked if I wanted to play a round of golf at Chimney Rock. I met him a day or so later, and I could tell something was wrong. A couple of holes in, he finally told me that there were problems in the cellar. The 1978 and 1979 Cabernet Sauvignons had been very well received by consumers and the wine trade. TheWine Spectator,which did not score wine in that era, had nonetheless listed them among noteworthy new releases and listed both among a handful of “Recommended” wines. At...

  26. TWENTY January 1983
    (pp. 91-96)

    Almost ten years to the day that our family had first driven onto this property, I walked into the cellar as winemaker. It should have been a great day, a reason for celebration, but I was knotted up inside. Something wasn’t right.

    I looked around the interior of the cellar. The ceiling was about forty feet high to accommodate the series of fermentation tanks. I looked at the 1,100-gallon German oak ovals that even then were beginning to fall out of favor in the winemaking world, as were our 2,200-gallon oak uprights. We also had a few stainless steel tanks...

  27. TWENTY-ONE 1982 Cabernet
    (pp. 97-99)

    Of course I hadn’t inherited one wine but two. At some point during the various other debacles, I started tasting through the different lots of 1982 Cabernet. Some of it was from our own property—by now it was planted throughout—and some of it was from fruit that we’d purchased, which meant most of it came from within a two- or three-mile radius of the winery.

    After each harvest, once the wines have been “put to bed” in their barrels, a winemaker tastes through the various lots to see what he or she has to work with from that...

  28. TWENTY-TWO Other Labels
    (pp. 100-102)

    The upshot of all this maneuvering in the cellar was that Dad at some point had to announce to the world that there would be no 1981 Shafer Cabernet. He just said we’d had trouble with the vintage and it wasn’t up to our standards. And the world continued to turn on its axis. Meanwhile we produced a one-off bottling of 1981 Shafer Red Table Wine, which was a blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, and a little bit of salvageable Cabernet. I think we may have purchased some additional wine from our neighbors.

    In some ways it wasn’t a bad time...

  29. TWENTY-THREE Elias
    (pp. 103-114)

    By early March 1984 I had put up a notice on the jobs board at U.C. Davis advertising for an assistant winemaker (I’d finally lost patience and fired my first assistant, whose track record for showing up late or not at all showed no signs of change). A week later I was in the barrel room topping off barrels when Dad walked in with a candidate—a skinny young guy who looked like he was about fourteen years old. He introduced himself as Elias Fernandez. In three weeks he was going to graduate from U.C. Davis with a degree in...

  30. TWENTY-FOUR Napa Valley Wine Technical Group
    (pp. 115-116)

    We weren’t alone in the kinds of winemaking challenges facing us. These same difficulties were making cellar crews sweat blood and bullets throughout the Valley. Back in the 1940s Andre Tchelistcheff, Beaulieu Vineyards’ brilliant winemaker, believed quite rightly that the more vintners and winemakers talked to one another and shared ideas, the better the wines of the whole region would become—the concept that a rising tide floats all boats. With this in mind Tchelistcheff organized the Napa Valley Wine Technical Group as a forum that would allow people in the industry to pool knowledge on what they were struggling...

  31. TWENTY-FIVE The Food—Wine Era
    (pp. 117-123)

    During and just after the brutal harvest of 1984, our winemaking consultant would come by and taste the initial wines and let us know how much acid we should add to the wine. We were picking on sugars, meaning that we were nailing that 22.5- to 23-degree Brix sweet spot, because the winemaking consultant and our U.C. Davis training told us we should, just as Dad had been told he should and was mortified when he’d missed it in ’78 and ’79. We’d been instructed to pick at 22.5 degrees because that’s what everyone did then. I suspect this went...

  32. TWENTY-SIX Hillside Select
    (pp. 124-125)

    By about the midpoint of 1985 Dad and I had been out on the road introducing our 1982 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon to countless consumers and retailers. We would taste the wine with distributor partners, with restaurant buyers, and at big charity tastings, and no matter the venue, we were peppered with the same question, “What does reserve mean?”

    It was a valid question. By that time a growing number of wineries throughout California were latching onto this term in various iterations, such asvintners reserve, barrel reserve, special reserve,and so on. There was and still is no regulation of...

  33. TWENTY-SEVEN The Good, the Bad, and the Very Bad
    (pp. 126-130)

    On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving Day 1986, Dad, Elias, and I uncorked a bottle of the ’85 Merlot and the newly bottled ’84 Cabernet to see how things were progressing and were a little freaked out to discover that both wines reeked aggressively of rotten eggs. Bottle variation can be a real phenomenon, as Parker had pointed out, and pinning my hopes on that very slender possibility we opened more bottles—but one after another noxiously exhibited the same problem.

    This was far worse than the day I had walked into the cellar in 1983 and discovered the mess I’d...

  34. TWENTY-EIGHT The War of the Apostrophes
    (pp. 131-135)

    The property next to ours, with its castle-like, 1890s-era manor house and surrounding vineyard, had passed through various hands over time. During World War II it had served as a rest camp for naval officers and was the setting for at least three Hollywood movies, includingThis Earth Is Mine.During the later 1940s and into the 1950s it remained a visible landmark in Napa Valley as a well-known resort. After passing to new ownership in 1956, the place closed down as a guest facility and went into quiet decline. Yet at least some grape growing continued on the ranch,...

    (pp. 136-140)

    The Warren and Carl imbroglio represented a small-scale version of much larger events that were coming together in the early ’80s having to do with the role of vineyard sites in the evolving world of California fine wine. For a long time in this country, there were really only two kinds of wine: red and white. Occasionally you’d see them dressed up with names like Hearty Burgundy or Chablis, but wine was essentially known by its color. By the 1960s and into the 1970s a shift was occurring, and consumers began to associate quality with the names of specific grape...

  36. THIRTY The District
    (pp. 141-153)

    The first subappellation out of the starting gate was Los Carneros, a clean, beautiful growing area along the edges of San Pablo Bay, which is the northernmost tip of San Francisco Bay. Wine grapes had been grown here since the late 1800s.

    In the fall of 1980, even before the Napa AVA was approved, Beaulieu Vineyard submitted a petition to award Carneros AVA status. Their concept was to keep Carneros entirely within the boundaries of Napa County. The BATF published notice that December in theFederal Registerthat they’d received the petition and solicited public comment—which they got. Growers...

  37. THIRTY-ONE The Hearing
    (pp. 154-157)

    December I was rainy and overcast, typical weather for the holidays here. Inside the packed hearing room on day one, Dad opened with an overview of the process thus far and introduced the main tenants of their group’s argument for maintaining the current boundary lines.

    Each of the Appellation Committee’s chosen speakers focused on specific areas of their contention with regard to the AVA’s features. Winiarski spoke about the importance of maintaining their boundaries, saying, “The northern ring of hills is the key geographical link in the circle. Going beyond that ring to the Yountville Cross Road . . ....

  38. THIRTY-TWO Chardonnay
    (pp. 158-163)

    I have to back up a bit now, because a couple of other significant stories were playing out while the Stags Leap Appellation drama was under way.

    In addition to buying Cabernet from neighbors such as Richard Chambers, by the mid-1980s we were making more Chardonnay, augmenting our own fruit with tonnage purchased from Monticello Vineyards, located several miles south of us on Big Ranch Road, and Spicer Vineyard, situated across the road from us on Silverado Trail, as well as other nearby growers. (At that time you could buy Chardonnay from vineyards planted throughout the length of the Valley,...

  39. THIRTY-THREE Killer Bugs
    (pp. 164-172)

    By the spring of 1990, I was feeling a little guilty about not doing more with our new property. Then one morning I was up at 5:30 as usual and went down to a now-defunct coffee shop in St. Helena, where among the usual crowd I saw Bob Steinhauer, the longtime, highly respected vineyard manager for Beringer.

    (As a quick aside, I have to say that I’ve learned more about what was happening in the wine industry at St. Helena coffee shops before 6 a.m. than I can possibly relate.)

    Bob called me over and said to me, “You guys...

  40. THIRTY-FOUR Sustainability
    (pp. 173-178)

    One of the reasons I’d been too busy to head full-bore into our Carneros planting is that Dad had turned vineyard operations over to me in 1988. It was a lot to take on, first just to get all the details right regarding the annual processes that needed to happen, such as pruning, discing, and spraying. Of course none of this was made easier thanks to the industry-wide uncertainty inspired by phylloxera.

    From the time Dad had planted our first vine, up through the late 1980s, a vineyard was supposed to looked as flat and clean as a pool table....

  41. THIRTY-FIVE Identity Crisis
    (pp. 179-184)

    In the early 1980s Napa Valley was already recognized as California’s second most popular tourist destination, clocking in just behind Disneyland in annual numbers of visitors—somewhere around 2.5 million. Cars began to choke Highway 29’s two lanes from Yountville to St. Helena on weekends. About the same time we started seeing circus-colored hot air balloons rising into the sky each morning, when conditions were clear, to give intrepid bands of tourists a bird’s-eye view of the Valley’s vineyards. (I remember a couple of times balloons got caught in our little box canyon where the winery sits, and the airflows...

  42. THIRTY-SIX Down and Up Again
    (pp. 185-187)

    The down economy of the early 1990s hurt the Valley more than I think a lot of people outside the industry realized. It was a perfect storm—big inventories were built up with the massive 1990 harvest, the bottom dropped out of the wine market, thanks to a recession sparked by the savings and loan crisis, and the phylloxera-mandated replants were break-the-bank expensive. A lot of people with high hopes who’d gotten into the wine business in the ’70s and ’80s got out, selling their wineries and land at the very moment prices were dropping. In 1989 the Eisele Vineyard...

  43. THIRTY-SEVEN Sangio–what?
    (pp. 188-191)

    A few years after theFalcon Crestpeople filmed Lana Turner’s casket being lowered into the knoll below my parents’ house, that whole little hilltop was still unplanted. We’d tried once before, but there was so little soil and so much bedrock we tipped over a tractor trying to prep the site for planting.

    By 1988 Dad still hoped to plant the site to an as-yet-undetermined red grape as part of an idea of creating a new wine that would be a red proprietary blend. He felt that this could be a wine that would fill out our portfolio. We...

  44. THIRTY-EIGHT Identity Crisis (This Time It’s Personal)
    (pp. 192-201)

    By 1994 the team of Elias, Dad, and me had been working together for ten years. In that time we’d started from a difficult place of inexperience and had, through a lot of effort, moved to an exciting new era, filled with experimentation and new confidence.

    We’d learned a great deal in the cellar—a lot of which would bore you to death, because it has to do with flters, barrel types, adhesives for labels, cork quality, yeast types, pumps, and so forth. But in important ways the boring stuff makes a huge different. (Whoever said “Don’t sweat the small...

  45. THIRTY-NINE Nonstop Nineties
    (pp. 202-204)

    The 1990s were an incredible time of change for Napa Valley and for us. In 1991 we dug a wine cave, needing more space for barrels to keep up with expanding production and the increasing amount of time we were letting the wine mature in oak.

    In 1992 we finally tore down the old adobe house that we inherited with the property. In its place we built a winery structure that would house the administrative area, as well as a guest reception area in the front.

    By 1996 Napa Valley was enjoying a string of great vintages, and interest in...

  46. FORTY Syrah
    (pp. 205-209)

    No matter what you’re going through, life in the vineyards continues, a constant process of change and maturity. As harvest-related work ramped up, Elias and I started grabbing a bite to eat after work more frequently as a way to unwind. A lot of times we’d end up over in Yountville at Mustards or the (much missed) Diner. I found that I was hungry for something new wine-wise and started searching restaurant lists for a varietal with which I wasn’t as familiar. This led to the wines of France’s Rhone Valley, and specifically Syrah.

    When we had moved here in...

  47. FORTY-ONE Cults
    (pp. 210-221)

    By the mid-to late 1990s the Napa Valley I knew was in the middle of another transition. The tech bubble was in full effervescence. Billions of dollars in venture capital were flooding Silicon Valley and San Francisco. Twenty- somethings in the Bay Area were, it seems, being awoken every morning by the thud of bales of cash falling all around them. The birth of the Internet was under way, and it had all the hallmarks of another gold rush. Overnight, computer programmers with a PC and a dream were finding themselves behind the wheel of a new Italian sports car....

  48. FORTY-TWO El Niño
    (pp. 222-225)

    I can imagine that from the outside looking in, the roaring tech boom of the 1990s must have looked like a nonstop party. But in fact there was plenty going on to keep us anchored to planet Earth.

    If nothing else, every growing season delivers a whole new lineup of challenges. Amigo Bob has said before, “Mother Nature bats first and last.” Any time you’re tempted to feel like a Master of the Universe, the natural world is always more than happy to pound your ego like a cheap piñata.

    The 1990s had delivered a string of outstanding vintages, including...

  49. FORTY-THREE A New Millennium
    (pp. 226-229)

    Following the stellar conditions of the 1999 vintage, our hopes were that another string of great growing seasons was on its way. However, the 2000 vintage turned out to be another wet one, in which we had to work harder than usual to get the best possible fruit. After that, though, we did get back into a great stride with ideal conditions in 2001 and 2002. There’s little point in reviewing the details of those growing seasons, because in the best vintages very little happens. The vines simply experience day after day of beautiful weather. As a result the best...

  50. FORTY-FOUR Going Solar
    (pp. 230-233)

    At about the age of eighty my dad took up sculpture, making a lovingly lifelike bust of his yellow Labrador, Tucker. He did an impressive job, and the sculpture lived for a couple of years at the bottom of our stairway up to the winery visitor area. Next, he produced a life-sized model in clay of Tucker and had it cast in bronze; today it welcomes guests as they enter the winery. People love to rub the sculpture’s head and pose for photos with it. Dad also stayed busy with a variety of charitable causes. In 2000 he’d helped conceptualize...

  51. FORTY-FIVE Hospitality
    (pp. 234-237)

    While we continued to explore new ways to run our winery in earth-friendly ways, we also worked toward the goals we’d outlined in our 2010 plan. That end date was looming faster than we’d expected. An important part of the plan was to create an unforgettable experience for those who visited the winery. And we knew we hadn’t adequately tackled that one. Until about 2003, if you entered our winery’s hospitality area, you’d be greeted by one of our staff members at the front desk, who would pour a taste or two of what ever bottle happened to be open...

  52. FORTY-SIX Television Gets Real
    (pp. 238-241)

    As our world was changing in terms of how we met people in our visitor area, we also began to sense other rapid changes in the larger world of wine. A whole new generation of wine and food enthusiasts was emerging who didn’t know much about us. This is a phenomenon that never goes away, and we’ve experimented with many different marketing tactics over the years and are open to new ideas that enhance the brand and have the potential to introduce our wines to new consumers.

    In the first part of the 2000s one such new concept landed in...

  53. FORTY-SEVEN The Internet
    (pp. 242-245)

    While we explored the possibilities in television, we also began to wrap our heads around another medium that made TV feel almost antiquated—the Internet. In the late 1990s I hadn’t really seen where the Internet was going. But everyone said you had to do something with it, so we did. Our first website was an electronic version of one of our brochures. “There,” I thought, “pictures, words, done.” But the Internet would not let go.

    Since the mid-1980s we’ve worked with a designer and marketing consultant named Michael Kavish. I first befriended Michael when we were both students at...

  54. FORTY-EIGHT Points
    (pp. 246-247)

    On September 1 of each year we release a small allocation of our new release of Hillside Select to anyone who visits the winery. This is a limited production wine, which is difficult to acquire, but we want to make it as accessible as possible. This is one way of accomplishing that. We limit it to two bottles per purchaser for the length of this particular allocation. We specifically use the word “purchaser,” because one year an overzealous attorney challenged us on the previous wording, which was simply “two bottles per person.” He showed up with his wife and two...

  55. FORTY-NINE The Downside
    (pp. 248-251)

    By the end of 2007 and the start of 2008, we had much bigger headaches to deal with than the wiles of flippers. Since the ’70s we’d seen plenty of ups and downs in the national economy and in the fortunes of fine wine. But this was something new—the biggest, deepest recession we’d ever seen was under way and it was a rock-solid reminder that this business is all about investing in the highs in order to survive the lows.

    Guests were still reserving spaces in our tasting visits, but they were buying fewer bottles on their way out...

  56. Postscript: Stags Leap at Last
    (pp. 252-256)

    If you stand on our oval lawn in front of the winery looking south, you can see the heart of Stags Leap District—formed by the huge, rocky palisades and dry Vaca Mountains on your left and a line of thickly wooded hills to the right. The width of this little valley within Napa Valley may be a quarter of a mile across.

    If you let your eye move along the base of the palisades, you’ll see a thick cluster of trees with a couple of palms sticking out. Obscured by that foliage is where Horace Chase’s imposing stone manor...

  57. INDEX
    (pp. 257-270)