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lewis Cellars - Napa Valley

90 Points - Wine Spectator magazine

When racecar driver Randy Lewis hit the retaining wall in his qualifying run for the Indy 500 race in 1991, he began to realize his life was about to change. Even though he walked away from the crash unscathed, Lewis embarked on a thought process that eventually led him to the wine business.

The Atlanta native, now 60, had his first exposure to wine as a student at San Jose State University in the late 1960’s and later as a driver on the European racing circuit. There he found wine to be an important ingredient in the everyday European’s uplifted life style.

Some years before his fateful crash, Lewis became friendly with one of software giant Oracle’s founders, Bob Miner. Miner eventually purchased acreage in Oakville, Napa Valley and along with Lewis, began producing wines as Oakville Ranch Vineyards. While Miner owned the land and vineyards, Randy Lewis made the wines. Sometime in 1994, after Miner became ill, Richard and his wife Debbie set off on their own and the fledgling Lewis Vineyards became a reality.

The new entity’s first release came in 1994 and was immediately hailed by consumer and critics as a real comer in the competitive Napa Valley wine world. To Napa insiders, Lewis’s wines were among the limited production “buzz” wines that everyone talked about and compared on every possible occasion.

Production levels for Lewis Cellars have gradually increased and will reach around 9,000 cases this year, all of which is allocated. The greater portion of Lewis Cellars attention is directed toward the production of Lewis’ well-regarded Cabernet Sauvignon, but Randy’s personal interest has a distinctive Rhone Valley flavor, gleaned from his former years on the European car circuit.

Randy has recently delved into Rhone varietals and won significant accolades for his remarkable
Syrah and another Rhone-dominated blend, Alec’s Blend, named after his grandchild. Both wines are rich and full of extensive flavors and have captured the imagination of wine aficionados throughout the country.

During its developmental stage, Lewis Cellars has remained a relative gypsy with regard to a permanent production facility, preferring to utilize custom-crush facilities in several different locations. From the very beginning, Randy Lewis has remained consistent about his grape sources, and credits those sources for the successes of his wines. He has also become heavily involved with grape growing, and really enjoys that particular aspect of the wine business.

“I was forced to get really involved in the vineyards,” Lewis recalled in a recent interview. “It was really the last thing I learned about winemaking. I may drop too much fruit (in some years) but at least we get it ripe and that’s the most important aspect of the process.”

Randy and Debbie Lewis both work full time in Lewis Cellars’ operation and compliment each other perfectly. Randy supervises the vineyards and tends to the winemaking and Debbie runs the business end. The two are quite close and share a common passion for producing the finest wines their company is capable of producing.

And both share a mutual dream for the future, a vision complete with new vineyards and a production facility that will carry Lewis Cellars to its next level.

“We have been actively looking for property for the past few years,” added Lewis. “But the fact is we simply haven’t found the right opportunity. I know exactly what I am looking for, but I haven’t come across the right acreage. I can promise you, I’ll know it when I see it.”

Both time and circumstances are on the Lewis’ side. Their winery continues to sell out all its production and will do so for the foreseeable future.

“We don’t plan to grow the winery at all,” stated General Manager Dennis Bell, Debbie’s son. “It is not our goal to expand one case, but rather our specific aim is to become better at what we do, which, happily, is to make really great wines.”

These are encouraging words from the confident Napa Valley entity. Too many wineries today feel that expansion is the only means to success, and therefore compromise some quality in their attempt to expand.

Not so with Randy and Debbie Lewis’s Lewis Cellars. Their fiercely loyal customer base knows that at Lewis Cellars, size and quality are considered mutually significant.

It is with that introspective thought that we leave you to enjoy this month’s Platinum Series wine club selection from Lewis Cellars.