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Gold Medal Wine Club
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Santa Barbara, California 93111
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Davis Bynum Winery - Napa Valley

David Bynum Winery Begins Fourth Decade of Excellence

All Davis Bynum wanted to do was to help promote a group of Napa Valley wineries. In the mid 1960s the California wine industry was still in its infancy, with only a dozen or so wineries in existence in the Napa Valley. As an experienced journalist and long time home winemaker, getting the word out about these great wineries was right down his alley. “I thought there was a need for these wineries to increase their exposure and help them sell more wine,” recalls Davis. “I quickly found out they were selling more wine than they could handle,” he adds.

Now that sounded like a pretty good business to be involved in, he thought. How hard could it be in a business that sells all of their product with little or no promotion? So Davis Bynum joined the ranks and opened his own winery in 1965. He opened up in the town of Albany, just east of Berkeley, California. The building was a modest 2,500 square feet and had been previously a plumbing warehouse. “It had a great drainage system,” quips Davis. “The winery was in the back and we set up a tasting room and retail store in the front,” he says.

Since he had no vineyards to call his own, Davis bought grapes and bulk wine from a number of Napa Valley wineries. “I made a few blends and lots of sherries and ports then sold it all right there in the tasting room,” he reminisces. As cash flow permitted, Davis would run up to Napa to buy more, gradually building up his operation.

Just a year into his new business, Davis dreamed up another way to help the cash flow—futures. Months and sometimes years before the scheduled release of a wine, Davis offered his regular clients the opportunity to buy case lots at a reduced price while the wine was still in the barrel. The concept met with instant success and is today a standard business practice for hundreds of wineries. Davis Bynum’s own futures business has continued strong and remains an integral part of the winery’s sales strategy.

In yet another deft move, Davis Bynum introduced in his tasting room a wine he labeled “Barefoot Bynum”,—a carry-over brand from his home winemaking days. It was a tongue-in-cheek idea that made light of the so-serious French wines. Barefoot Bynum was introduced and promoted as the Chateau LaFeet of California! “I almost got cold-feet and pulled the idea,” says a grinning Davis Bynum. “I finally went ahead and knew right away it would be a hit when the very first customer who saw it bought a case!” Those of you who have been enjoying wines for at least a couple of decades may remember the popularity of this brand which had its own cult-type following. Davis has since sold the brand to another winery.

In 1971 Davis decided to make the leap into the vineyard business. He purchased 26 acres of mostly Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the Napa Valley. To his disappointment though he was denied a permit to build a winery. At that particular time the no-growth advocates were preventing any further construction of new wineries. After two years of trying Davis finally relocated to Sonoma county’s Russian River Valley in 1973.

The move proved fortuitous. Davis bought 83 acres of what has been called one of the most prolific and valuable grape growing spots in California. It is an extraordinary geographical area where the well-drained, gravely soil and unique microclimate combine to help produce some of the world’s best wines. The region is superbly suited to Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer and Merlot. But the lions share of fame centers around the world class Pinot Noirs that are produced from Russian River grapes.

Shortly after the move to Sonoma county, Davis’ son, Hampton, took over the winemaking duties. About the same time, a young college student named Gary Farrell hired on to help clear land for the winery and vineyards. Over the next five years, winery output grew from 8,000 cases to over 18,000 cases a year. In 1978, Hampton left to start his own label and turned the winemaking duties over to Gary who had quickly come up to speed by taking courses and learning hands-on.

Those of you who follow the wine trade will recognize Gary Farrell as one of the most prolific winemakers of the last ten years. While maintaining his winemaking duties at Davis Bynum, he also consults for a handful of other small wineries and has his own “Gary Farrell” label as well. His talents have reaped numerous top awards over the years in the industry’s major wine competitions. In fact, in last year’s Sonoma County Harvest Fair Wine Competition, Gary took home almost 10% of the Gold and Silver medals for the wines under various labels which he helped produce. If anyone kept track of those sorts of things, the accomplishment would no doubt be unprecedented. Gary has stayed with the Bynums for over two decades and has helped establish Davis Bynum as a solid , consistent quality wine producer.

Pinot Noir, Fumé Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon get most of the attention at Davis Bynum Winery. They are all top medal winners year-in and year-out. Small amounts of Zinfandel, Merlot and Gewurztraminer are also produced but sold mostly out of the tasting room. Currently at 22,000 cases annually, Davis plans to increase another 10,000 cases then level off. “We struggled for a lot of years to get where we are,” says Davis. “With all that’s gone on in this industry, I’m just happy we’ve managed to stay in business,” he adds. “We did it slowly and deliberately and kept the integrity of our wines intact.”

You can taste the integrity in their 1994 Fumé Blanc. “It’s one of the best wines we’ve made,” says a proud Davis Bynum. The honors are still coming in and has already won Best of Class and Best White Wine at the National Orange Show Competition, as well as the Chairman’s Award for best wine at the Riverside National Wine Show. We were greatly impressed by this wine, we think you will be too.

Davis Bynum

After 15 years at the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, Davis Bynum decided it was time to do something else. A copy boy, a reporter, a feature writer, an editor—just about everything you can aspire to in the newspaper business he had done. Except maybe running one—which is exactly why he left the Chronicle in 1963. He was persuaded to move to southern California to run a trio of weekly newspapers—the Newhall Signal and the Record Ledger of Sun Valley and Tujunga.

The move also meant a return to his home town area of Pasadena. Growing up Davis recalls his interest in wines propagated by his father who was a wine aficionado and professional wine judge at several major wine competitions. His father also collected manuscripts and worked as an historian at the Huntington Library.

‘I wanted to get into book publishing when I got out of school,” says Davis. ‘I guess I got that interest too from my father,” he recalls. To pursue that end Davis entered Stanford to study English. His education was interrupted by World War II when he was sent to Germany. Towards the end of his duty he was stationed in the Yosemite area where he met his wife, Dorothy. Interestingly, they met while she was working at the studio of famed photographer, Ansel Adams.

Davis returned to school at the University of California in Berkeley, graduating in 1948 with a degree in Latin American History. Upon graduation from college, Davis landed the job at the San Francisco Chronicle. He stayed in the newspaper business until 1964.

In March of 1965 Davis opened the doors to his new winery near Berkeley. Today, he and Dorothy spend time at their home in Berkeley as well as at their home adjacent to the winery property in Sonoma. Son Hampton is active in the business, directing the sales and marketing efforts. Their daughter has just opened a southwest-style restaurant in Clinton, New Jersey, called Kiki Rios. Dorothy is also active in the business, designing the winery’s landscape and wine labels for some of the winery’s limited release wines.