It’s very difficult to back away and shield your eyes from the glare of glitz and glamor that Napa Valley projects. The Valley is simply an exciting place that attracts people of means and keeps one focused on the present.
This is too bad in a sense, because Napa Valley has a history that is fascinating and set the stage for today’s glitterati and enthusiasts who frequent the Valley. By this measure, it’s appropriate the Vine Cliff Winery attracts a following that seeks to be in the company of the Valley’s very best since this winery also has a history that parallels the Valley’s past.
Before Charles and Neil Sweeney purchased the Vine Cliff estate in 1985 and began turning out wines that turned heads, this estate was home to the largest winery in Napa County. George Burrage and Thomas Tucker constructed a winery at the top of the hill, surrounded by rock, and burrowed into the Hillside on the east side of Napa Valley. It was a marvel of construction that attracted the curious and became a jewel of the valley. In addition, 65,000 vines were established on the hillside.
Unfortunately, the two founders did not live to see their winery develop a reputation for making great wine. That pleasure was left to a new owner, John Fry, who purchased the winery in the 1880s. Fry was a well-known and wealthy San Francisco businessman who set out to bring a reputation for great wines not only to Vine Cliff but also to the Valley. He did just that. The wines of Vine Cliff helped put Napa Valley in a position to become California’s pre-eminent wine region.
But just as Napa Valley’s star was in ascent, Phylloxera arrived in California, decimating the Valley’s vines and with it Vine Cliff’s fortunate position. After Fry died in 1901, Vine Cliff was itself destroyed by combinations of hillside fires and what was probably a combination of looting and disrepair.
Today is a different day. The Sweeney Family has resurrected Vine Cliff into one of California’s most impressive production facilities. Today, Vine Cliff is a 100-acre estate located above Silverado Trail on the east side of Napa Valley in the Oakville appellation. Twenty-four acres of terraced vineyards provide the Cabernet for which this winery has become well known. Sustainable farming methods assure the grapes arrive at the cellar in pristine condition.
By the early 1990’s, Vine Cliff winery extended it viticultural reach by planting Chardonnay on twelve acres purchased by the Sweeney family southwest of the estate in the famed Carneros region.
The resurrection of Vine Cliff into a model winery producing wines collected by enthusiasts across the country seems fitting. Napa Valley today appears to exist in a golden age of wine making. Vine Cliff led the charge in the first Golden Age of Napa Valley, and today they are helping confirm the potential of Napa Valley over 100 years after its birth.