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Tara Bella Winery and Vineyards - St. Helena, Napa


Five Gold Medals, Double Gold - International Eastern Wine Competition

The unique twist that resulted in the formulation of tiny Tara Bella Winery and Vineyards adds another interesting chapter to the California wine industry's always fascinating history.

It seems that back in 1978, Rich Minnick received an offer of employment as an auto body repair instructor from a company located in Eureka, in extreme Northern California. Minnick was then living in the small mid-western town of Plano, Illinois.

Minnick accepted the offer and moved to Northern California with his furniture following soon behind. A quirk of fate intervened in the meantime and Minnick found himself suddenly located in the town of St. Helena, in the heart of Napa Valley. He immediately bought an auto body business and set up his family.

The wine gods subsequently intervened on his behalf when the house he found to live in just happened to be located between the residences of legendary Napa Valley winemaker Chuck Wagner of Camus Vineyards and Chappellet's Joe Cafaro. The three became great friends and Minnick was soon introduced to another Napa luminary to be, winemaker Randy Dunn (at the time Camus' winemaker) where a lifelong friendship was established.

Dunn and Wagner encouraged Minnick's appreciation of Napa's wines and also urged him to buy a small six-acre vineyard that was soon planted in the group's overwhelming varietal of choice, Cabernet Sauvignon.

Minnick's vineyard prospered and its entire produce was sold to another small and emerging winery called Round Hill.

Flash ahead to 1993 and Rich Minnick, now divorced, meets a woman named Tara who will soon become his wife. The couple searches around Napa Valley for a potential winery site but Napa's soaring land prices make the situation unfeasible.

"I wanted to stay in Napa but when I saw what was available in nearby Sonoma, my decision became fairly easy," Minnick recalled. "The prices in the Russian River Region were more reasonable and we were able to afford a winery with our property."

Minnick feels that his incredible early experience with Napa heavyweights Wagner, Dunn and Cafaro have enabled him to have a leg up on most vintners in his new growing area.

He credits Sonoma's cooler, colder climate and costal marine influences with allowing his Cabernet Sauvignon to grow in a more controlled environment.

"We were forced to change our thinking in a number of different ways," he confided. Our new grapes needed more sun exposure and we were forced to change our trellising system. This change from what we employed in Napa allows the grapes to ripen more and gives them a longer hang time. For Cabernet Sauvignon, hang time is all important."

With the building of the new winery facility, Tara Bella's production is around the 500-case level. Here additional acres are under vine and will double the tiny winery's production to around 1,000 cases in about four years' time.

Rich Minnick is now 67, and is in no hurry to expand. He has been quoted as saying that he wants to allow time and nature to dictate Tara Bella's minute growth rate.

Does the change in locale from Napa Valley to Sonoma give him an edge in making superior cabernets?

"I feel this way," he added humbly, "The change has allowed me to truly understand the uniqueness of my new growing region. If I put to use all that I have learned, I feel the experience will allow me to make a wine that will eventually rival Napa Valley."

Tara Bella's reputation is practically made to order thanks to a five-minute segment on CNN's News Night with Aaron Brown. The national exposure not only changed Rich Minnick's life overnight, but also, "sold a great deal of wine in the process."

Minnick shares the limelight with his beloved Tara, the obvious choice for the winery's name. Tara Minnick works alongside her husband and handles all office duties, marketing and even some of the delicate winemaking and picking decisions.

"I trust her sensory perceptions more than my own," Minnick explained further. "She has an astute sense of being able to tell when the grapes are ready for picking and what works better when we do the blending."

It is evident from the marvelous accolades and superior marks Tara Bella Winery and Vineyards' wines have received in national competitions that the Minnicks are most certainly doing something right. That such a minuscule winery could successfully compete in the national arena is a tribute to their foresight and hard work.

It is our pleasure to introduce Tara Bella 2000 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon as this month's Platinum Series Wine Club Selection. Enjoy!



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