The Grace Family wine adventure started serendipitously in January 1976 with a chance encounter between Dick and Ann Grace and Realtor Ned Smith.. "One thing led to another", Dick Grace reminisces, "and we decided to look at a property that had just come on the market. San Francisco's stock market wakes up at 6:30a.m. to be in step with East Coast financial markets and we were looking for a retreat. The Realtor showed us this run down, but lovely Victorian house and Ann and I didn't even have to discuss it. We bought it on the spot."

Although the original Grace intention was to garden, not farm, the Cabernet Sauvignons that have evolved from the original one-acre vineyard on the property have now become legend, bringing at charity auctions more money than any other wine made in America. Dick Grace has been quoted as saying "Even if I only had an acre, I wanted the grapes to be the best they could possibly be".

Entirely organic farming techniques, pristine vineyard conditions, all new Sequin Moreau oak barrels and avid attention to detail fit in perfectly with the Grace Family mission statement adopted in 1993: "Wine as a catalyst towards healing our planet." Starting with the first harvest in 1978 to the present everything is harvested by hand, scrupulously reviewed and rushed to the crusher in record time. In that first year, five family members and seven friends participated in the harvest; in recent years the number approaches 100 with friends and family coming from 27 states and seven foreign countries to "get sweaty and dirty and do good work."

Initially, Grace intended to sell his grapes to Charlie Wagner; the proprietor of Caymus Vineyards offered to purchase the fruit to blend with his own Cabernet Sauvignon bottlings. After harvest however Wagner decided to vinify the fruit separately due to what he perceived as outstanding quality. After bottling, the wine carried the Caymus label with the designation Grace Family Vineyards. "This was a lark", says Grace, "but also serious business for us and we were as proud as new parents when we had our 49 cases boxed. Then we dropped one and broke it, so we were down to 48. It was a lot of hard work to bring the wine to market, but was extremely satisfying."

Until 1987, the one-acre Grace Family Vineyard produced about 150 cases of wine annually. The couple's oldest son, Kirk, now 35, saw to the planting of another acre in the 1985. A small section of this parcel (enough for100 vines) belongs to a next-door neighbor who has been so impressed by Dick Grace's care of the land that she has leased her portion to him for thirty years for $1.

After the 1994 vintage was harvested (which looks to be the finest Grace Family vintage to date) the original acre of vines was pulled due to an ongoing battle with oak root fungus. That original vineyard was, to the Grace Family knowledge, the oldest closely spaced vineyard in the Napa Valley, with 1100 vines per acre as opposed to the normal 560. The replanting was accomplished this year with a remarkable 3465 vines per acre. Due to the replanting of this vineyard, only 1+ tons of fruit were harvested from the remaining vineyard acre in the 1995 vintage.

Dick Grace attributes most of the success of the Grace Family wines to the land. "We are stewards; I think that's true of vintners whether their grapes come from one acre or a thousand. I think the quality of the finished wine is due primarily to the particular plot of land that produce the grapes as well as the winemakers attention to detail through every step of the process." Adding "I think winemakers have often gotten in the way of nature, and wine is a natural product. We live in the era of the winemaker, but the best ones are the ones who are best prepared and interfere the least."

Production techniques used at the winery are traditional. "We punch down the cap rather than pump the wine over it to extract color and flavor during fermentation. We do it every two to four hours, around the clock, for the entire fermentation period. That's a lot of work, but we're convinced it's the best way to get the color and flavor balance we want." Aside from the wine's unique qualities, consistently praised by critics, price and scarcity also add to the Grace Family Vineyards mystique. The wine is sold only through a mailing list of approximately 480 clients, each of whom is allowed to purchase four 750 ml bottles and one magnum. The standard bottle sells for $75 and the etched-magnum for $375, packed distinctively in wood- branded cases. The Grace Family Vineyards waiting list is currently in excess of 1200.

Dick and Ann Grace's adherence to the principles of quality and an abiding respect for the land and its product has led to partnership alliances with like-minded Bob and Judy Hartwell of Hartwell Vineyards and Tom Paine and Teresa Norton, of nearby Vineyard 29.

As of February, 1995 winemaker Heidi Peterson Barrett took over winemaking duties from seven-year Grace Family winemaking veteran Gary Galleron. Heidi is currently, and will continue, making wines at Dalle Valle and Paradigm and will be responsible for making the Grace Family Cabernet Sauvignon as well as finishing the '93 and '94 Hartwell Cabernet Sauvignon and all subsequent vintages of Vineyard 29 Cabernet Sauvignon, all of which are produced at the Grace Family Winery.

Bob Hartwell, of Hartwell Vineyards, recollects another chance encounter that had far-reaching repercussions. In 1986 Bob, whose company designs and manufactures liquid control valves and specialized plumbing products, closed escrow on a property in the Stag's Leap District of Napa Valley. After deciding that he wanted vines in the 1-acre meadow adjacent to his house, he hired a vineyard consultant who took him to many small vineyards in the area, one of which was the Grace Family Vineyards. Once again the pristine property found an admirer, leading Hartwell to ask Dick Grace for budwood, which Grace supplied. Meeting again a year later led to Dick visiting the Hartwell property and finding himself impressed in turn. This led to an arrangement in which, from 1990 through 1994, the Hartwell Home Vineyard fruit was vinified and aged at the Grace Family winery . The Hartwell Home Vineyard wine produced from these five vintages is sold through a combination of the Grace Family and the Hartwell Vineyards mailing lists. Unfortunately, due to a series of vineyard calamities including phylloxera and oak root fungus, Bob Hartwell had to pull up his Home Vineyard this year, precluding a 1995 vintage. Replanting of the Home Vineyard, which is 400 feet above the valley floor, will be accomplished in the spring of '96. Bob also owns a 20-acre parcel called the Sunshine Vineyard as well as a 90-acre tract comprising half of a mountain -- the other half belonging to Robert Mondavi.

Beginning in the late-70s, Tom Paine and Teresa Norton made many trips to the Wine Country from their home on the east coast. Totally taken with the area, they purchased a 28-acre property in 1988, subsequently met the Graces, and shortly thereafter began discussing cooperative efforts. Tom and Teresa's Vineyard 29, named for their address (2929 Highway 29), is located about 100 meters south of Grace Family Vineyards and offers the same soil, exposure and micro-climate. In 1990, 2 acres of vineyard were planted using Grace Family budwood, 1993 saw the planting of an additional 1+ acres. Tom notes that Vineyard 29 is so close to the Grace Family winery that grapes can go from vine to crusher in 10 minutes. The first Vineyard 29 vintage was produced in 1992 and will be released just after the beginning of 1996.

Dick and Ann, one of the founders of the Napa Valley Mustard Company, recall being asked some years ago what the family name meant. In the course of some research Dick discovered one of the earliest meanings was "an unwarranted gift" and believes that "that is exactly what the vineyards and winery have been to our family." As a way of acknowledging the many blessings they feel their family has received, each vintage a number of double magnums and Imperials are produced which are not sold commercially but reserved for auctions to benefit gravely ill children and their families. Over the last years, their wines have raised many hundreds of thousands of dollars to benefit such charities as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Magic Moments, The Taylor Family Foundation, The Family House, the Hospice of Monterey County and LA Shanti. In 1994, they started The Grace Family Vineyards Student Enrichment Program in St. Helena. This program serves approximately 16 students from each of the sophomore, junior and senior classes by providing them with professional counseling to assist them in becoming the best that they can be. Each year Ann and Dick also travel to Nepal to aid an international medical team to provide surgical services to needy children.

Bob and Judy Hartwell and Tom Paine and Teresa Norton share with the Graces not only the philosophy of "Grow the best grapes, make the best wines", but also concur with the Grace Family Vineyards mission statement: "Wine as a catalyst toward healing our planet." Each year both vineyards make a certain number of large-size bottles for charitable auctions.

"Be Optimystic", which is imprinted on Grace Family Vineyard corks, sums up the sense of harmony and optimism that is the catalyst to the Grace family's success and happiness. Last year, after a tour and tasting at the winery, a woman remarked to the Graces that they must be very proud of the winery's many accomplishments. Dick said, "The word proud started me thinking and I have decided that a better word is grateful. As pride connotes the ego, grateful embodies humility. We are grateful to be the trusted stewards of such a wonderful property; grateful for our role in helping wine act as a positive catalyst on our planet, and last but not least, are certainly grateful to each of our valued clients for making it all possible."

Webster's defines grace as: beauty or harmony of form, attitude, ease and elegance. We believe that the Graces of the Grace Family Vineyard are aptly named.

- Carolyn Stewart Clark -
From The Insiders' Wine Line

Grace Family Vineyards / 1210 Rockland Dr. / St. Helena, CA  94574 / 707-963-0808

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