by Fred McMillin
for November 5, 1999

 

Winery of the Week

A Honey of A Company

 

Prologue

"I am 32 years old. I have no money. I have no knowledge of the wine business. But I do have a lot of ambition. I do have a lot of nerve, and I work very hard. Would you let me move into your idle Napa Wine Company plant with no money and get it going?" (from J. Lapsley's Bottled Poetry)


The Rest of the Story

The speaker was Lou Stralla, who, with his wife, had just arrived in Calistoga as Prohibition ended in 1933. He sensed that the Napa Valley was about to awake from its 13-year slumber.

The listener was Charles Moffitt, San Francisco paper company magnate, who liked what he heard.

Twelve vintages later, Lou owned the Napa Wine Company which was the largest independent winery in the Napa Valley. It purchased something like one-fifth of all grapes grown in the valley. One of Lou's first innovations was the "Betsy Ross" brand, the handy half-size bottles selling for 15.

Stralla sold and ultimately the Wine Company became primarily a custom winemaking facility for small Napa grape growers. It handles something like FIFTY brands...and they do a first-class job...when I last checked, three of those wines had made the Wine Spectator's TOP TEN of the year! I saw names like Pahlmeyer and Staglin (see Sept. 21, 1999 WineDay).

The Napa Wine Company  
Enter Andrew Hoxsey. He was a bit better equipped than Low Stralla...U.C.-Davis grad in Agricultural Economics. He's one of six family members that became the new owners of The Company about a decade ago. They upgraded the facility, and can bottle well over a million cases a year. BUT they own something like 600 acres of prime Oakville and Yountville vineyards. Now, Andrew wasn't content to simply sell the grapes to others, so The Napa Wine Company is back into the business of making its own wines. Production is small, made from their very best grapes. In fact, veteran winemaker Randy Mason (UC-Davis enology grad, 1972) emphasizes that the fruit is SO good that he deliberately uses "minimum guidance...in marrying their distinctive flavors into world-class wines." The first releases are a Sauvignon Blanc, a Pinot Blanc and a Cabernet Sauvignon, chosen from the 13 varietals they grow. My panel will be reporting on them shortly. Meanwhile, for outlets and more info, call the office of Stephanie Grubbs, the Marketing Director who, appropriately, was born and raised in the Napa Valley...(707) 945-1211, FX (707) 944-9018... The Napa Wine Company, 7830-40 St. Helena Hwy, Oakville, CA. 94562


Postscript

The Company's roots go back to 1877, when Frenchman Jean Brun founded the original winery, called Nouveau Medoc. Coincidently, the first wines were made from two of the varietals Randy is using today, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon!

 
About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 
 

WineDay Annex

More articles by
Fred McMillin

 

Welcome to WineDay, the electronic Gourmet Guide's daily update. Monday through Thursday, WineDay presents a wine profile. Then on Fridays we present the Winery of the Week to take you through the weekend.

 

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