by Fred McMillin
for June 26, 1998

Winery of the Week

The Water Problem


In 1980, John and Karl Giguiere wanted to start a farm in dry Yolo county northwest of Sacramento. Water was so expensive that they selected a crop requiring very little irrigation: grapes. To demonstrate the wine potential of the fruit from this unproven area, they built a large metal building and filled it with tanks and barrels. Being farmers, they brought in their college friend and enologist Clark Smith to make the wines.

...from Anthony Dias Blue's American Wine.  

The Rest of the Story

How did it turn out? Ten years after their first vintage, critic James Halliday reported that "all the wines are impressive" and annual capacity had risen to three hundred thousand cases. Here are some of the reasons.

Clark recognized that grapes deteriorate rapidly when picked in the Central Valley heat, so Karl devised a lighting system that permitted harvesting at night.

The team, including Ron McClendon as Clark's successor, found that Rhone varietals did well in the warm environment, and expanded their plantings of Syrah, Viognier, etc.

To finance expansion, they went public, issuing 1,300,000 shares of common stock in 1995.

Introduction of Toasted Head wines. That is, not only the staves of the barrel are toasted to reduce raw wood harshness, but also the heads or ends of the barrels. My tasters felt the Toasted Head 1996 Chardonnay at $12 was an excellent value.  

Just the Facts

Name—R.H. Phillips Vineyard and Winery
Location—Esparto, CA, northwest of Sacramento, Yolo County
Vineyards—Around 1500 acres in the Dunnigan Hills
Wines—Important varietal wines include Chardonnay, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and a blend of Rhone grapes called Mistura.
Contact—Lane Giguiere, (916) 662-3215
Overall Evaluation—Energetic, creative vineyard- winery producing many good buys.


Yolo was one of California's original 21 counties, created by California's first legislature on Feb. 15,1850. The committee that did the heavy lifting on the matter was chaired by northern California's first commercial vintner, General Mariano Vallejo (vuh-lay-oh).

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 and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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