Steve Lagier knows firsthand about vins de garage, having made wine in several garages and carports. He’s been making wine since 1980, first with friends and later at Robert Mondavi Winery in the Napa Valley. After working at Mondavi for 14 years, he left in 1999 to devote all his time to our vineyard and wine. Despite long hours spent toiling in the vineyard, he still finds time for pickup basketball.
Carole Meredith left her day job in 2003. For 22 years she was a professor in the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California at Davis. She survived the long commute between Napa and Davis with the aid of audio books and stops at every Starbucks between Napa and Davis. In addition to teaching courses, she conducted research in grape genetics. Her research group used DNA typing methods to discover the origins of some of the greatest old wine varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Syrah, and most recently Zinfandel.
We bought this property in 1986 and have lived here ever since. The property had been on the market for several years and nobody else wanted it. Other prospective buyers were no doubt put off by the steep, bumpy, rutted 1.5 mile dirt access road and the rather minimal house on the property. We’ve since improved on both the road and the house.
There were no vines on the property when we got here but there was a small grove of olive trees that had been planted in the 1880’s. The olives are very small, like Niçoise olives, so every year we cure our olives in the Niçoise-style, using the traditional recipe.
It took us a long time to prepare the land for vines because we both had day jobs at the time. Although the area that we wanted to plant had been cleared, many remaining stumps and roots had to be removed and the soil had to be disked and sown to a grass cover crop to protect it from erosion. We planted the first vines in 1994 and released our first commercial wine in 2000.
So it took us a long time to get here. They say that the way to make a small fortune in the wine business in Napa is to start with a large fortune. But we didn’t have any kind of fortune at all, only our paychecks and the willingness to work hard and live cheap.
The vineyard occupies only a small part of our 84-acre property. The rest remains in its natural state—a rich and complex forest composed of redwoods, Douglas fir, madrone, black oak, big leaf maple and bay laurel (and the ubiquitous poison oak). We share the land with deer, turkeys, raccoons, foxes, skunks, bobcats, squirrels, coyotes and the occasional mountain lion. We capture and deport the rattlesnakes that we regularly encounter near the house. (We did kill and eat one once. It really does taste like chicken. Chicken with way too many bones.)