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Gold Medal Wine Club
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Santa Barbara, California 93111
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Somerston Wine Company

A winery firmly headed toward Napa Valley stardom

If you feel the name Somerston has a British ring to it, you are most certainly correct. It seems that the Somerston’s principal owner, Alan Chapman, is of English heritage. His family was also heavily involved in shipping. When the family’s fortunes were moved to the Bahamas, a relative named Somers ran the entire operation.

After purchasing a large property in Napa Valley, Alan Chapman met wine industry veteran Craig Becker. The pair then decided to enter the wine business. A search for names for the new venture finally settled on Somers. The addition of ton (for the family’s shipping heritage) produced the newly formed Somerston Wine Company.

“Sometime in the future, we will become Somerston Estate Vineyard and Winery,” commented Becker, who serves as the entity’s general manager and winemaker. “Even though we grow a good deal of grapes, we actually sell off around 45 percent of what we grow.”

Somerston Wine Company is actually a huge estate that occupies some 1,628 acres in Eastern Napa Valley. It is made up of two distinct plots of land that were combined when the property was purchased in 2005.

The first piece, known as Soda Valley, was originally called the Priest Ranch and was settled during the 1849 California Gold Rush. It was comprised of 638 acres and was mostly used for cattle and farming. The second section of Somerston is 990 acres of rolling, volcanic land and was originally settled in 1841. It became known as Elder Valley in 1877 and its first grapes were planted in 1970.

The combined properties sit at elevations of between 800 and 2,400 feet and provide an incredible number of potential growing sites. At this point, there are some 215 acres under vine and all are considered hillside plantings. Due to replantation, only 156 acres currently produce useable fruit. As more vineyards become operational, it is Somerston’s plan to increase its annual production.

“We have a future business plan that calls for us to be around 2,000 cases in the next few years. At our peak, I would hope to be around 5,000 cases, but that is some time in the distant future,” Becker added.

Somerston Wine Company’s first release of around 300 cases came in 2009 and will top out at just over 800 cases this calendar year. “We have been quite selective about our releases,” Becker recalled. “We believe we are really good at what we do with our fruit and our intention is to showcase our incredible property. We have divided the ranches into different blocks and each block is named after a clipper ship. At this point we are focusing on individual blocks for individual varietals, but that will probably change in the future.

“When we took over the land, a total of seventeen different varietals were planted. With the changes we have made, we will probably wind up with eight or nine different varietals. One thing I can say for sure is that 85 percent of our grapes will be Cabernet Sauvignon.”

Craig Becker is adamant about his company’s effort to reestablish the basics that made Napa Valley famous. To that extent, the Somerston Wine Company label attempts just that. “Our property is something special, and deserves to be showcased. We wanted one shot that showed our acreage, the hillside vineyards and a number of other things. So many wineries have just a name or a picture of something relatively nonsensical. Our labels feature scratch art and makes a statement. We worked long and hard on the concept and we hope it works for everyone.”

Becker is a successful wine industry executive with imposing credentials. After wandering through several college scenarios he wound up at Santa Rosa Junior College in Sonoma. While there he discovered the joys of science and met his future wife during a wine appreciation course. Once bitten by the wine bug, Becker eventually enrolled at nearby UC Davis where he furthered his avocation and graduated with a degree in enology and viticulture.

In 1997 he became the winemaker for Napa Valley’s prestigious Spring Mountain Vineyard, one of St. Helena’s most revered wineries. He stayed until 2003 and then began consulting for other wineries. He is the person responsible for Somerston Wine Company’s entry into the rarified air of super-premium Napa Valley wineries.

From its early accomplishments, Somerston Wine Company seems firmly headed toward Napa Valley stardom. With a sensible business plan in place, there seems to be no limits to its success.

  1. Somerston
    2010 Cabernet Sauvignon
    Estate Grown
    Napa Valley


    95 - Robert Parker
    id: 2328