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The New Generation of Napa Valley Vintners

The New Generation of Napa Valley Vintners

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In 1944, a pioneering group of winemakers sat around a dinner table and came up with a visionary idea to band together. That’s how Napa Valley Vintners was born. In the years since, it’s grown from seven founders to 550 members. In that time, the organization has also created Auction Napa Valley, which has raised $185 million for health and children’s education across the region. Here, multiple generations consider the group’s impact.

Robin Daniel Lail of Lail Vineyards / Illustration by Brian Clark
Robin Daniel Lail of Lail Vineyards / Illustration by Brian Clark

“My father, John Daniel Jr., would tell my sister and me many tales about the magnificent Inglenook, which had begun three generations earlier with [my great-granduncle] Captain Gustave Niebaum in 1879. Niebaum was followed by my grandfather, John Daniel Sr., and then dad. Papa used to say, ‘I see myself as a caretaker of the tradition. All this will be yours one day.’ Events followed which made it impossible for us girls to take over. First, the winery was sold in 1964, and then the ranch in 1973. I was inconsolable. I simply could not leave the tradition, the stories, the magnificent contributions of my forebears lying in the dustbin of history. So, in 1995, my family and I started Lail Vineyards on a shoestring and named our first Cabernet Sauvignon ‘J. Daniel Cuvée.’ Today, five generations carry forward the 140-year family quest for perfection in Napa Valley winemaking.” — Robin Daniel Lail, Lail Vineyards, fourth generation

Jaime Araujo of Accendo Cellars / Illustration by Brian Clark
Jaime Araujo of Accendo Cellars / Illustration by Brian Clark

“The ability to renew and reinvent is due to the support of the community. Having such a small community focused on one industry…gives you the freedom to go even further and do new things while standing on the shoulders of giants. We’re getting smarter about multigenerational business, open enough to listen to and learn from the older generation, but also, the older generation sees that the younger adds value. Plus, [more] women in the industry is a huge [factor]. You can’t have a successful multigenerational business without tapping into 100% of the talent. My dad [Bart Araujo] has this expression that he doesn’t want to be 100% better than one person. He wants to be 1% better than 100 other people. There’s no such thing as repeating your success in wine. It’s chaos theory meets alcoholic beverage. You always have to find new ways of looking at things.” — Jaime Araujo, Accendo Cellars, second generation

Carissa Mondavi of Continuum Estate / Illustration by Brian Clark
Carissa Mondavi of Continuum Estate / Illustration by Brian Clark

“What we are doing today with Continuum Estate was not possible 53 years ago when my grandfather began Robert Mondavi Winery. This year marks 100 years that our family has been in wine. We have not missed a harvest since 1919. We really embrace what my father says, that ‘artistic wine is an expression of man’s harmony with nature.’ For my generation, my hope is we can understand our site even better through my lifetime. We love Sir Isaac Newton’s quote, ‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’” — Carissa Mondavi, Continuum Estate, fourth generation

Samantha Rudd of Rudd Oakville Estate / Illustration by Brian Clark
Samantha Rudd of Rudd Oakville Estate / Illustration by Brian Clark

“The idea of a legacy in Napa Valley has been present on my mind with the transition of our estate from one generation to the next. The passing of my father last year keeps me very much in the present, never forgetting that the decisions I make today will affect the next generation. In looking back at my father’s legacy, one achievement that will always stick out in my mind was the launch of the all-Napa Valley wine cellar at Press, with vintages going back to the 1950s. I was inspired by the founders of the Napa Valley who were present that evening. The people in the room had truly made the Napa Valley a respected winegrowing region on a global scale.” — Samantha Rudd, Rudd Oakville Estate, second generation

Will Harlan of Promontory / Illustration by Brian Clark
Will Harlan of Promontory / Illustration by Brian Clark

“As early on as I can remember, my father ingrained in me his long-term vision, what he refers to as his ‘200-year-plan.’ The concept extends beyond our own winegrowing activities to embrace aspects of education, sustainability and community. Our efforts build upon the learnings and achievements of our forebears. One of the greatest pillars of the Napa Valley is the strength of the relationships between the vintners, ties predicated upon the shared understanding that what is good for the Napa Valley is good for us all. We remain convinced that Napa Valley has the potential to belong among the ranks of the finest winegrowing regions in the world. We also believe that we are only at the very beginning of realizing that potential.” — Will Harlan, Promontory, second generation

Hugh Davies of Schramsberg Vineyards / Illustration by Brian Clark
Hugh Davies of Schramsberg Vineyards / Illustration by Brian Clark

“I feel tremendous gratitude for the generations of growers and vintners who came before us. They did the heavy lifting, establishing a wine region where there wasn’t one. They believed fervently in the notion that ‘world-class’ wines could be produced here, and it happened. Today’s industry is thriving on the hard work and foresight of our ancestors. We can think of the monumental effort to overcome phylloxera and Prohibition. We can think of the struggle to establish an agricultural preserve and an agricultural watershed. This restrictive land zoning has protected Napa, providing a backbone for our agricultural community and industry to thrive. I also like the notion of a team effort that is, and was, required.”  — Hugh Davies, Schramsberg Vineyards, second generation

Doug Shafer of Shafer Vineyards / Illustration by Brian Clark
Doug Shafer of Shafer Vineyards / Illustration by Brian Clark

“Dad and I learned the wine business together, and we benefited enormously from the wisdom and generosity of people who came before us. Dad was helped by Louis Martini in terms of how to plant a hillside vineyard. Laurie Wood and Manny Barboza, two great vineyard guys from the early days, helped him tremendously when it came to planting our site. In a big way, Shafer is here today because of Nathan Fay, who inspired Dad to plant Cabernet Sauvignon in Stags Leap District in an era when conventional wisdom said this area was too cold for Cab. I ran into him at an event toward the end of his life, and I said, ‘Nate, I have to say I’m a little jealous because you were there at the start, you knew all the men and women, all the families who got this started.’ And he looked at me and said, ‘I’m jealous of you because you get to see what comes next.’” — Doug Shafer, Shafer Vineyards, second generation




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