The Wine Blog

Napa Valley Characters

February 14, 2014


Napa Valley is home to some of the most remarkable characters in the world of wine.

Sure, Napa has the rock and soil, sun and rain, to grow perfect grapes.  And Napa has a lot of people who make good wine. But among the many winemakers are some with a truly unique vision.  They not only march to a different drummer, they write their own music.

Napa Valley is considered by many to be the premier wine-growing region in the world. It is one of the world’s top producers of Cabernet Sauvignon, among others. This area had been made famous by its favorable climate and its talented winemakers, perhaps the most famous among  which being Robert Mondavi, considered to be the father of the modern American wine industry.

It’s difficult to define Napa Valley by any specific characteristic because there are so many different appellations and wine styles. Indeed, its name translates directly to “Land of Plenty”, from the Wappo Indian nation, the first settlers of the area.


By 1889 there were more than 140 established wineries in the valley, but these numbers fell dramatically due to Prohibition and the Phylloxera disease that killed many vintners’ crops. By 1960, only 25 wineries survived. Numbers have since recuperated, with over 500 wineries in business.Untitled2


Napa Valley stretches about 30 miles to the northwest and is approximately 5 miles wide. The valley is surrounded by the Mayacamas Mountains to the west, separating it from Sonoma Valley, and by the dry and rugged Vaca range to the east. The days are usually warm, and the nights cool—this allows for slow ripening of grapes, making superior harvests.

Napa Valley AVAs:

Atlas Peak

Chiles Valley

Diamond Mountain

Howell MountainUntitled3

Los Carneros

Mount Veeder

Napa Valley

Oak Knoll District



St. Helena

Spring Mountain District

Stags Leap District

Wild Horse Valley



 A Few of the memorable pioneers of Napa Valley

John Williams of Frog’s Leap:

Untitled4Started his career as a dairy farmer in New York, then moved to Napa in 1975. He is committed to sustainable farming practices and ecological awareness. All grapes on his property are organically grown, and the winery is 100% solar powered. John is a champion of dry farming methods.



Mike Grgich of Grgich Hills Estate:

Untitled5The winemaker behind the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that best many white burgundies during the famous wine tasting event, The Judgment of Paris.

He has won several awards in recognition not only to the wine industry, but also for his leadership and role in raising landmine awareness and removal.

His is a certified organic and biodynamic winery converted to solar energy.


Dick Ward of Saintsbury:

Untitled6A native of North Carolina, Dick graduated with a master’s degree in structural engineering and enology from UC David.

Decided to found Saintsbury in 1981 while working with his housemate David Graves, seeking to become internationally renown for fine Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.


Dan Duckhorn of Duckhorn Vineyards:Untitled11

Dan co-founded Duckhorn in 1976, and it has since become one of the Us’s premier producers of Bordeaux varietals.

Dan takes an artisan’s approach to winemaking, blending his wines from 200 distinctive lots, using taste and instinct as his guides.  25 different types of oak are using in his extensive barrel program.


Dr. J Bernard Seps of Storybook Mountain Vineyards:

Untitled7Jerry and his wife bought 90 acres of land surrounding a ghost winery that has been built in 1883, falling in love with the wild and abandoned landscape. They created their own winery, which they called Storybook Mountain Vineyards, and planted Zinfandel an the ideal match to their vineyard’s terroir. Their 1984 Reserve became one o the highest rated Zinfandels in history.



Francis Ford Coppola of Inglenook Vineyard:Untitled8

The five-time Oscar-winning director, writer, and producer bought the the Inglenook Estate in 1975, uniting the property with its mansion with the profits from The Godfather films.

The first harvest from Inglenook is named Rubicon, a red Bordeaux-style blend, named after Ceasar’s famous crossing of a river.


Joseph Phelps of Joseph Phelps Vineyards:

Untitled9The owner of one of the largest construction companies in the US, Joseph won the rights to build Souverain Winery (Now Rutherford Hill). In 1973, contemplating a career change, Joseph bought the Connolly Cattle Range in Spring Mountain and began planting vineyards.

His wine, Insignia, is recognized as one of the world’s greatest wines. It won a 100 point perfect score for the 1991, 1997, and 2002 vintages.



paul_wagner_webPaul Wagner is a regular columnist for Vineyards & Winery Management Magazine, a member of the board of directors of the Society of Wine Educators and contributes to in the field of wine and food. Paul Wagner has judged many national and international wine competitions, is a founding member of the Academy of Wine Communications, a member of the nominations committee of the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintner’s Hall of Fame, and was inducted into the Spadarini della Castellania di Soave in 2005. In 2009 he was honored with a ‘Life Dedicated to Wine’ award at the Feria Nacional del Vino (FENAVIN) in Spain.