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Lewis Cellars - Napa Valley

93 Points, Wine Spectator

At one point, Randy Lewis studied to become a doctor. Before he completed his studies, the wanderlust of the professional racecar circuit beckoned to the Atlanta native, and Randy jumped into the world of racecars on a full time basis.

Randy Lewis spent more than twenty-three years racing a varied number of cars on both international and national circuits that included Formula 3, Can Am and Indy Car racing where he qualified for the Indy 500 on four occasions with a best finish of 13th on his record. He also got in on the emerging NASCAR scene before finally retiring in the early 1990’s.

“I took a long look at my surroundings,” Lewis recently recalled, “and I knew I wasn’t getting the best equipment with which to compete. That fact also affected the sponsors who put up the money for the racing teams. I finally decided it was time to do something else I truly loved.”

The ‘something else’ was the winery business that Lewis and his wife Debbie had fallen for in a major way. Debbie had deep roots in the wine industry starting with a long term family-owned ranch in the Sacramento River Delta area to actual working relationships with the wine wholesale and retail businesses.

Randy Lewis had delved into the European wine areas while racing in Europe and always considered the wine industry as a really uplifting business that featured high caliber people and beautiful surroundings. He and Debbie had also become involved in a wine group that took wine and wineries most seriously. In 1989, the Lewis’ began helping a close friend who had recently acquired an existing winery property in Napa Valley’s Oakville District that eventually became their own entry into the wine business.

“At one point we started buying fruit with the intention of making wines,” Lewis related. It took a few years and finally the first Lewis Cellars wines were ready for release.”

The actual release date of the first 2,000 cases of wines was in 1992, and Randy Lewis began the job of securing more grapes for the future. He added additional long-term contracts and ordered some new vineyards planted that would increase his production.

In 1996, Lewis hired noted winemaker Helen Turley as a consultant, a move that was to prove extremely beneficial. The following year, Lewis Cellars produced its signature Cuvée L; the wine that Randy Lewis feels put his winery into the major leagues of the wine industry.

“We only make Cuvée L in years we feel our product is truly superior. With the marvelous fruit of the 97 vintage, we decided to give it a try. The resulting wine was incredibly well received and represented a major breakthrough for our operation. Once it was finished, most of the people involved felt we could then compete with anybody in the valley with respect to quality.”

In 1999, Debbie’s son Dennis Bell joined Lewis Cellars to make the company a real family affair. Dennis’ main responsibility rests with sales and marketing while his mother oversees the financial aspects of the winery and also involves herself in the important aspect of vineyard sampling.

Present day production is around 9,500 cases, a level that has risen ever so slightly over the past few years. “Each winery has its own level of comfort,” Lewis explained. “It’s really the point where you can totally control your product with what you have on hand. At Lewis Cellars, we do everything ourselves in a manner we have found to work best for our wines.”

Seven years ago, Lewis Cellars moved into a new winery location on Big Ranch Road, just outside the City of Napa’s northern boundary. The move was another masterstroke for the small entity that is now spoken of in the rarefied air of Napa Valley’s celebrity wineries. Three years ago, winemaker Brian Mox (formerly of Crichton Hall, Voss Vineyards) was put in control of the winery’s production, a move that Randy Lewis feels has cemented the quality aspects of his family-owned winery.

Not that all of this success has affected Randy Lewis, even a little. “We still walk the vineyards each day making sure everything is done according to our instructions,” he added. “Besides, at the end of the day, there’s nothing like the feeling one gets from driving a dirty jeep.”

  1. Lewis
    2008 Cabernet Sauvignon
    Oak Knoll Vineyard
    Napa Valley


    93 - Wine Spectator
    id: 1019