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Lail Vineyards - Napa Valley


93 Points - Robert M. Parker Jr., The Wine Advocate

It is indeed fitting that the first Diamond Series selection is a winery that can literally trace its roots back to the very beginning of wine history in Napa Valley, the area in Northern California that most experts consider the finest wine-producing locale in this country.

To elucidate further, Lail Vineyards traces directly back to legendary winemaker Gustave Niebaum, the Finnish sea captain turned fur trader who founded the original Inglenook Winery back in 1879. Niebaum built his Rutherford property into one of the finest wineries in the world and produced highest caliber wines to critical worldwide acclaim.

When Niebaum died, Inglenook eventually fell to his great nephew John Daniel, Jr., who continued Niebaum’s impeccable tradition of producing great wines, and in particular great cabernets. With the repeal of Prohibition in the early 1930’s, Daniel produced a string of world-class cabernets that ended in 1964, and has seldom been equaled thereafter. Circumstances forced the sale of Inglenook and a series of corporate decisions by the new owner to utilize the scope and power of the Inglenook name soon became the downfall of the once proud winery.

Three decades later, John Daniel, Jr.’s youngest daughter, Robin Daniel Lail, who had grown up at Inglenook and had watched in disbelief as the property changed hands, decided to reenter the wine world. Robin, now a youthful 64, recalled the splendid long-lived wines her father had once produced and vowed to recreate a new winery in his memory.

“Getting back in the wine business was not something I had to do,” Robin Lail confessed. “I literally grew up in the wine business as part of its pulse. My ancestors left such a beautiful legacy and made such substantial contributions. I want if at all possible to be able to pass on some of the greatness they left.”

It’s not that Robin Lail is now without great practical experience of her own. In 1982, she co-founded (along with Christian Moueix of Chateau Petrus) the marvelous Dominus Estate that she held until 1995.

That same year, Robin Lail took the step she had always yearned for. Along with her now famous architect/husband Jon, she founded Lail Vineyards, a tiny producer of extraordinary quality wines that utilized the fruit from two vineyards she had personally selected. The first was a small vineyard in Yountville that was originally part of her family’s famous Napanook Vineyard that has produced superlative wines for many decades. She also planted a smallish 3-acre vineyard on prestigious Howell Mountain, generally considered the Mecca of Napa Valley vineyard sites.

Lail Vineyards first release came in 1998 and was only 450 cases.

“We started small and have kept our production limited,” Lail added. “This year we will only make between 700 and 900 cases, and our forecast for the next few years is about the same. We want to be very specific about which lots go into our final blend. We want to try and make the best wine in the world on an annual basis, and to do that we feel it is necessary to keep our production under a thousand cases.”

Robin Lail realizes the aforementioned might be a little difficult to achieve but is prepared to do whatever necessary to accomplish her dream.

Lail also realizes that the present time differs greatly from the period of her family’s former success.

“When you consider that 98% of today’s wines are consumed within one week of purchase,” she related, “you can see the challenge everyone in the wine business faces. The wine business is a moving target that changes constantly and it’s up to us to be aware of those changes and adjust to them. The 21st Century is an entirely new picture and we must evolve as the circumstances change.”

Robin is pleased that her daughter Erin Dixon has followed her into the business and now serves as Lail Vineyards’s operations manager. Like her mother, Erin possesses a true passion for the wine business.

“Any person in the wine business is in it for the pure passion it offers,” Robin added flatly. “You don’t do it because it is expected of you.”

Sage words from a wonderful lady with an incredible upbringing and fervor for her life’s work.

It is noteworthy that there are diamonds on Lail’s label that commemorate the diamonds on Inglenook’s greatest wines. As mentioned in our opening sentence, Lail Vineyards is an appropriate beginning for our new Diamond Series.



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