Where would Napa be today without some of its early pioneers? Napa Valley has certainly emerged as one of the premiere growing regions in the world, known for powerful Cabernet Sauvignon with soft tannins and aggressive fruit. Since 1861, when Charles Krug first opened for business, northern California knew it had something special. By 1890 there were 140 wineries in the valley, a number Napa would not see again for a century. The future appeared to be bright for Napa, but in 1920 the great social experiment known as prohibition took affect and halted this burgeoning industry. After it’s repeal in 1933 Napa essentially had to start over. Many wineries were abandoned, vines had been ripped out, and the land was neglected. It was not until the 1960’s that many new wineries began to open. By the end of the 1960’s there were a meager 18 wineries in operation. The 1970’s brought a renewed interest to Napa with 58 wineries operating by the end of the decade. Through the end of the 1980’s and into the 1990’s Napa grew at a feverish pace doubling the number each decade. Today there are 475 physical wineries and over 1200 total wine labels. It is many of the early wineries of the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s that have gone on to lay the groundwork for the Napa of today. The likes of Groth, Larkmead, Fisher and of course Robert Mondavi have all had significant impact on the landscape of the valley.
Dennis Groth, Former CEO of Atari, founded his eponymous winery in 1981. He and his wife Judy purchased a 121-acre property in Oakville then called the Oak cross Vineyard. This vineyard however was not just any vineyard. It was a vineyard planted by Justin Meyer and Ray Duncan of Silver Oak almost a decade earlier. As it turned out, this vineyard went on to produce the first 100 Pt wine Robert Parker ever gave to a Napa property, the Groth 1985 Reserve Cabernet. This one wine, and the impact it had on the sales and style, continue to be felt today. Wineries continue to chase the elusive 100 pointers so that their wines can create a demand and drive prices. Many of today’s wineries will farm fruit and produce wine in an intentional style that is more friendly to the press in hopes to receive a higher score. Today, the framework of Groth remains essentially the same. Michael Weiss, who has been at the helm of winemaking since 1994, continues to craft these classics, and Dennis and Judy have turned the winery over to their children to run. Groth continues to make very structured and age-worthy wines and The Groth Reserve Cabernet is one of the benchmark wines of Napa.
While the idea of having both a Napa and Sonoma property is not un-common, and in many ways is very sensible, in 1973 when the Fred and Juelle Fisher purchased 100 acres on the Sonoma Side of Spring Mountain, it was unheard of. Two years later they purchased another 60 acres across the street from the famed Eisele Vineyard in Calistoga. Here they produce Coach Insignia, a Cabernet Sauvignon homage to the Fisher family’s history as coach builders in Detroit. They were also one of the first to pioneer hillside farming at a time when wineries favored the valley floor for their vineyards. Their unique dedication to both Napa and Sonoma were an easy allure for many of Napa valley’s royalty such as David Abreu, Paul Hobbs, Mia Klein, and Aaron Potts, all who have spent time working at the winery. After 20 years in the making, 2019 paved the way to the future for Fisher as the family opened their new winemaking facility on their estate property in Napa. Today, the past, present and future are all evident in both the Fisher Mountain Estate wines from Sonoma as well as the Coach Insignia from Napa.
It would be fair to say that Robert Mondavi was the single greatest influence that Napa had. One to never tire of promoting the merits of the wines of Napa, Mondavi became a champion for not only his own now iconic winery, but all wineries in the Napa Valley. The first harvest from the property was in 1966 and over the next forty years he continued to challenge, shape, and share the norms. The winery has always been more than just a place to make wine. At the core of their beliefs was that through the sharing of knowledge and experimentation they could make Napa a world destination for premium wines. The winery has always helped others in need whether that be in lending equipment or knowledge. Mondavi’s door was always open. Though the winery has faced new ownership in the more recent decades, both the winery and the wines have remained true to a style long forgotten in the modern era. The winery’s famed Tokalon Vineyard, which encompasses the winery in Oakville, is widely regarded as the best vineyard site in Napa. The 2016 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet may be the finest example the winery has ever produced.
In 1942, Larry had purchased the 110-acre Larkmead Estate, that was first planted in 1868, as it had struggled to make it through Prohibition. Larry had just purchased the property when he was offered a job with Italian Swiss Colony Trading Company. His marching orders were to convince the American people that wine should be served with every meal. This grass roots approach endeared Larry to many of fledgling wineries in Napa and served as a catalyst to inspire Robert Mondavi to embark on his crusade for Napa. It was not just the Solari that made Larkmead special, it was the place as well. Sitting at the confluence of three distinct alluvial fans, the property’s fruit has long been sought after for its quality and complexity. The fruit from the Larkmead estate served as the backbone to many of the early classic’s wines of Napa. The vineyard was a favorite site of Andre Tchelistcheff, and Kerner Rombauer to name a few. It has also served as a distinct place in the Napa Valley to study the correlation between clones and soils. Many of the modern clones of Cabernet were developed on the Larkmead property by the famed geneticist Dr. Harold Olmo. Today, with Dan Petroski leading the winery, Larkmead is making some of the finest examples of long-lived wines in Napa.
While there are certainly others that have left an enduring mark on the domestic wine industry, we at Epiphany Wine Company are proud to represent some of the pioneers in Napa. Please reach out to your sales consultants to inquire about the wines.
Fisher Winery – Spring Mountain, Sonoma
Rob, Whitney and Cameron Fisher
Dan Petroski-Larkmead winery
Robert Mondavi Winery