There is perhaps no other business that people enter into solely because they love the place, the people and the product so much that they want to change their lives for it. That the romance of wine. It’s what draws people to it. The mountains and valleys of Napa are dotted with family-owned wineries, and those families have poured their hearts into their work. The results are among the best wines in the world. They are hidden gems waiting to be discovered.
The story goes like this: A wine-loving couple drawn to the splendor of Napa Valley decides to pack up and move there to “make a go of it” in the wine business. Georgia native Suzanne Phifer Pavitt and Southern Californian Shane Pavitt asked themselves, “If we could live anywhere and do whatever we wanted, where would be go and what would we do?” They responded in unison, “Live in Napa Valley and open our own boutique winery.”
They built their winery on upper Silverado Trail, east of Calistoga. The winery and tasting room is a 100-year-old re-milled redwood barn that is rustic yet elegant inside and out. What makes a visit to Phifer Pavitt so special is that the experience feels truly authentic. Suzanne herself hosts tastings in the old redwood barn, and so guests get to hear the story first-hand.
Under their namesake Phifer Pavitt label, Suzanne and Shane focus on making small-production, high-quality Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc from carefully-sourced fruit selected by their winemaker Ted Osborne.
What does stonewashed denim and the current-highest-rated Merlot in the world have in common? The answer is Claude Blankiet. He is singlehandedly responsible for bringing stonewash to America, and his 2012 Merlot is regarded as the best in the world. The French-born textile giant and his wife Katherine are owners of Blankiet Estate, an architectural marvel of medieval style nestled in the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains, west of Yountville.
The Blankiets purchased the property in 1996 and spent two years building their home and winery. Under the direction of renowned viticulturist David Abreau, they cultivated 16 acres of vineyard with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot, all procured from first-growth Bordeaux estates. Winemaker Denis Malbec crafts their wines, which are consistently the highest-rated Bordeaux-style California wines in the world. Blankiet produces four reds, and each year those wines earn 96 points or higher from Robert Parker, the world’s leading wine critic. The 2012 Blankiet Estate Rive Droite garnered 99 points from Parker, making it the highest-rated Merlot in the world. Blankiet also produces a Bordeaux Medoc blend of predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot; and a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, all from Blankiet Estates’ Paradise Hills Vineyard.
Veteran winemaker Tom Eddy graduated from UC Davis with a degree in enology in 1974. His graduating class of winemakers is credited with catapulting the quality of California wines. Eddy went on to make wine for many well-known producers, as well as develop a consulting business with an international client base. He is a published author and highly regarding wine expert. 2016 will be Eddy’s 43rd commercial harvest.
When Eddy and his wife Kerry founded their own wine company, he didn’t need to seek outside expertise. He was the expert. They purchased 22 acres of rugged land perched 1,000 feet above Napa’s valley floor and crossing over the Napa-Sonoma county lines. The only development on the property was and a 100-year-old olive orchard, from which they also make olive oil.
The Eddys built the winery and home on the property and planted a small Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard named Kerry’s Vineyard. The focus of their wine production is high-quality Cabernet Sauvignon from mountain vineyards. He sources fruit from Napa’s Atlas Peak, Pritchard Hill, Diamond Mountain and the Oakville Bench—all renowned for their quality. His total production is 5,000 cases. Of that, 25% is TENZ Sauvignon Blanc, a program he developed in New Zealand. TENZ is cellared and bottled in New Zealand and imported to California.
Despite his lofty credentials, Eddy is very down-to-earth. A visit to his winey is like a trip back in time. He hosts tastings personally, and is a living textbook of Napa Valley.
California Bay Area native Barry Waitte, who achieved considerable professional success in the high-tech world, developed a life-long passion for wine while in college. In 1999, longing for a slower-paced life, he left Silicon Valley for Napa Valley. Waitte purchased two vineyard properties in Yountville and Oakville and started his Tamber Bey Vineyards wine company shortly thereafter. He released his first vintage of wine in 2001, made by then-relatively unknown winemaker Thomas Brown, who is now hailed as one of the best in the world and the youngest winemaker to receive multiple 100-point scores from Parker.
In the early days, Waitte would invite people over to his house in Oakville, and they would all sit around a large vintage oak table on the back porch to taste wine. Even after he completed construction on a winery facility in 2012, Waitte continued to invite guests to his house to taste wine on the porch with him. “This is how I got started and this is how I still like to share my wines,” he says.