For all its natural beauty, Napa Valley is a land of basic geometry: rows of vineyards that blur to the eye as you ride along Highway 29 or the Silverado Trail; coplanar, sometimes wide enough to drive a tractor through, other times more densely spaced with tangles of tressed vines that reach up to the heavens. But other lines too intersect in Napa Valley, and in extraordinary ways— family lineages that crisscross to make up the tight-knit community for which Napa is known. Stories of the family farmers who live here infuse the very soil in which the grapes are grown and the landscape we have come to cherish over the years. Ultimately, it is their passion, tenacity, foresight, and collaborative nature that place the true value on each bottle, distilled in a rich history built by those who dared to follow a dream to make this the best wine country destination in the country, if not the world.
It’s a small community with people from all walks of life. Immigrants with a dream, professionals with a desire to branch out, often stumbling on the property itself before realizing the vision. But the common denominator remains a commitment to making wines that speak to the unique quality produced from the Napa Valley terroir.
ZD Wines President Brett deLeuze’s parents came to the valley in the 1960s and Brett grew up around the winery, which was an all-consuming hobby for the first decade of its existence. “My father’s engineering job had to pay the bills in those days,” recalls deLeuze, who today can boast about the winery’s medal-winning Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, and Cabernet Sauvignons. From purchasing used barrels that he re- coopered himself to constantly updating and rewiring their equipment, Norman’s engineering background was a great match for all of this work and innovation. In 1978, he left engineering to become ZD’s first and full-time employee. Later, his son Robert joined as a cellarman and Brett finally joined after high school. “We all learned the wine business from the ground up.” Today, a third-generation family member, Brandon deLeuze, has joined as assistant winemaker.
“Family businesses have unique characteristics, and I believe that the wine industry ties very nicely into many of them,” says Brett deLeuze. “There is a special level of excitement behind creating and continuing a successful, generational business.”
Everyone in the valley knows Jim Regusci, owner of Regusci Winery. He’s the third generation of winemakers on this estate in the heart of the Stags Leap District—an estate that was originally purchased in 1932, at a time when growing grapes didn’t pay the bills. “My grandfather wrestled a living from the land, growing corn, hay, walnuts, plums, and raising cattle as well as running a dairy farm and slaughterhouse.” It wasn’t until the 1960s that his father, Angelo, started planting grapes. “My father was able to hold on to the home ranch during the hard times,” Regusci explains. Now he farms more than 2,230 acres and considers it a privilege to work and live on the same piece of ground that has sustained so many generations. “My grandfather, father, myself, and my kids are very blessed to have this way of life.”
Blood may be thicker than wine, but many of those family ties are driven by bonds created in the vineyards, Regusci explains. “The Perez family—two brothers—started with me in 1985, when I opened my vineyard management company. Now all six of their sons run different divisions of it. It’s more than just making wine for me. It is truly about family—and not just my own.”
After retiring from the military as a lieutenant colonel, Bud Robinson headed to Napa Valley in 1967 and purchased 78 acres, half of the Stags Leap Palisades. He wasn’t a wine drinker and he didn’t know anything about planting vines, but his neighbors—legendary growers Nathan Fay and Father Tom Turnbull—did. While his daughter, Susan, rode her horses all over the hills (she used to show hunters and jumpers), Bud and his neighbors experimented in the fields, eventually planting and growing grapes for home wines and to sell to other wineries. If it wasn’t for the friendships he cultivated along with those vines, Robinson Family Vineyards would never have been born. “There were many parties to celebrate their home wines,” remembers Susan Robinson, who took the winery commercial in 1998. The neighborhood rallied back then to see Bud’s eventual success, and the momentum continues to this day. “We all support each other—everyone wants everyone else to do well, and we all feel that can happen. We all socialize together and refer our guests to each other’s wineries. Besides, it’s a nice community to raise a family in,” says Susan, citing community as the big reason her three daughters and their families have moved to their hometown. Today, Susan and her husband, along with her girls and eight grandchildren, carry on the family business with a hands-on approach. “It’s a lot of work and a labor of love, but my family enjoys it. And we hope that will continue on.”
Fourth-generation Taylor Bartolucci didn’t always recognize her family’s passion for grapes as her own. Since 1922, her family has been making wine, first at the Madonna Winery and then at the Madonna Estate, after the original winery was sold. The Bartoluccis are the third- oldest winemaking family in Napa Valley, a legacy Taylor did not take lightly. “I always followed my father around the cellars when I was a kid—it was his passion. My family never pressured me to stay in the business, but I fell back into it very naturally after attending college.” Ultimately Taylor channeled her skills into sales and marketing at the company. “When I did decide to come back, my parents insisted I learn all aspects of the business first—from the office, to the tasting room, working the harvest and being in the lab as well.” Taylor is also part of Next Generation Vintners, an organization for second generationsto promote family legacy wineries. “Because this is more than just a job to me,” she adds, “it’s a lifestyle.”
A Common Goal
Perhaps in no other business do competitors come together like they do in Napa Valley. “People don’t often realize it, but Robert Mondavi brought this industry to the world stage by aggressively promoting Napa Valley first and individual brands second,” explains Jim Regusci. “That is the key to marketing Napa Valley. Here, you can take people on a journey—breaking down the districts, then the AVAs, and finally the individual producers. The bottom line is, we all make good wines due to the geographics. If a consumer comes in and likes wine, regardless if it’s mine or not, that is good for the entire community.”
It’s a shared vision. A common goal to promote the Napa Valley and share in the same brand ideology, which is rarely seen in businesses today, especially in a relative small place like this. It is what makes Napa Valley unique and their wines so good. There is a lot of cooperation and camaraderie and above all, a united desire to produce the best in the world.