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
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
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
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