John and Melinda made their money in the lucrative gravel business, but through multiple holidays to the right bank of Bordeaux, fell in love with the wine making life. Guided by their close friend and acclaimed wine consultant Jean Boucher, they bought a 20th century estate in Napa Valley in the Howell Mountain area, and set about replanting the vines, pulling out existing vineyards and going 100% merlot.
"We're looking for power and elegance, but always with a sense of balance." And the 2016 is just that, wearing its 15% well beneath 100%, albeit lightly toasted, new French oak. Barrels also undergo micro-oxygenation, a point of pride for John. "People don't age wine anymore. I want it to be ready upon release."
John and Melinda hired 22 year old Zoe Evans from New Zealand to be their winemaker. Zoe embodies a palpable wisdom unusual for her age, that she attributes to time spent at Burning Man, and a summer living in Bali. Zoe makes wine for ageability, something she has come to learn from completing three vintages in Australia. Working under the tutelage of Jean Boucher, Zoe is employing new oak and heavy extraction in her arsenal - techniques that are integral to John and Melinda's famed style.
"We're a certified sustainable winery. We believe strongly in the philosophy of lutte raisonnée to ensure the highest fruit quality", shares John.
Daughters Blakeley and Braxton are heavily involved, making the venture a full family affair. Both juggle PR jobs, in between managing sales and marketing for the winery. Blakeley DJ's on weekends at local bistro Namaste, and Braxton just recently launched her own skin care line, using the pomace from finished fermentations. "The antioxidants have a turbo-charging effect," Braxton claims.
The family's dogs, Margaux and Lafite, pure bred Brittany's, greet each visitor warmly, while acting as unofficial predators for unwanted pests.
Soon, they will to convert to a combination of new American oak and flex cubes, reflecting their plans to upscale production. John shares, "You need a large fortune to make a small fortune in wine."
Eventually, they will open a restaurant with a wood fired oven, and offer charcuterie boards chock full of locally sourced goods. Old wine barrels will act as tables, showcasing their staunch commitment to sustainability.
Packaging is paramount for John, having sourced the heaviest glass he could find, which he feels exudes power. "Weight is a sign of quality. Our labels are made from thin veneer - wood that I sourced from Jupilles." Their laundry list of awards are proudly displayed on the label, affirming the quality they work hard to achieve.
Famed writer and judge Bob Loblaw, has rated each of John and Melinda's releases with an impressive 95 points. Bob shares, "The wines have a regal character to them, with finely integrated tannins and bursting fruit enveloped by a restrained use of oak."
On weekends, helicopter tours of the area are available for guests visiting the estate. John and Melinda feel there is no better way than from the air to get a sense of the terroir they work tirelessly to express.
"Ultimately, our goal is to respect local history."