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Robert Young Estate Winery - Napa Valley

96 Points, Editor’s Choice - Wine Enthusiast magazine

The term pioneer is rarely applied to many modern day circumstances, with good reason. When pioneer relates specifically to the wine industry, the idiom infrequently appears. Such is not the case with Robert Ashley Young, founder of Robert Young Estate Winery, this month’s Platinum Series selection.

To adequately describe the Robert Young Estate Winery, it is necessary to go back four generations, to the time when Peter Young left upstate New York to seek his fortune in California’s gold fields of the 1840’s. Young liked what he saw and decided to remain in California, settling around Healdsburg in Sonoma County. Peter’s son, Silas Henry Young also became a farmer and later fathered Robert Ashley Young, who eventually presided over a large and productive prune operation on the family’s rich lands in Sonoma County.

Sometime in 1963, Robert Young decided to make the jump into premium varietals wine grapes, and in particular, Cabernet Sauvignon. Young turned out to be a most innovative farmer and his grapes soon became the premier fruit grown in the area. In 1975, another outstanding young winemaker talent named Richard Arrowood at Chateau St. Jean made Young’s grapes famous by making Robert Young’s Chardonnay the first vineyard-designated wine produced in the United States.

The story then fast-forwards to the present time, 1997 to be exact. Robert Young’s sons and daughters take the advice of their peers and decide to open their own winery.

“It was our family’s way of expanding our operation without having to buy any more additional property to grow grapes,” explained Susan Young Sheehy, 57, who now serves as the winery’s hospitality coordinator and unofficial historian. “We had been growing grapes for over 40 years and just decided to head in a slightly different direction.”

In order to do that, the Young Family had to secure permission from Chateau St. Jean to use the Robert Young name since the name’s exclusivity had been established nearly three decades before. Once attained, plans were set in motion to build a modern underground winery on the family’s 500 acres near Geyserville.

Robert Young Estate Winery’s first release of 443 cases came in 1997, and was aptly called Scion in honor of the descendents of Robert Young. That was soon followed by another nearly 1,000 cases of 1999 Chardonnay that positioned the new winery at a specific level.

In addition to Susan, her sister JoAnn, and brothers Jim and Fred, occupy various positions of responsibility at the winery. JoAnn and Susan handle the hospitality and tasting room duties, while Jim manages Robert Young Vineyards and Ted handles the remainder of the family’s wine properties.

“Starting up the winery allowed all of us to get involved,” related Susan Sheehy, “we’ve always been of the mind that the Alexander Valley had great potential among the finest wine producing areas in California. Now we have a hand in seeing our fruit reach fruition through our wines.”

Susan Sheehy also said the Robert Young Estate Winery capacity is around 7,000 cases, and that the company’s present production is fast approaching that level.

“We don’t really intend to get much bigger,” Susan Sheehy recently stated. “Around here, it’s all about showcasing our wines, making them the very best they can be. It is all very much a community effort, and everyone has their own part in it.”

The “everyone” also includes founder Robert Ashley Young, now a young 86, who remains actively involved in many of the winery’s ongoing projects.

He is considered one of Sonoma’s premier community leaders and was given the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award by the California State Fair in 2004. This latest award is but one in a number that has been given to this most active leader of a most lively and vibrant family. Robert Young has traveled around the world on behalf of California’s wine industry and is considered among the world’s premier grape growers.

It is fitting that the Robert Young Estate Winery bears his name and that his wines are finally available on a commercial basis. It is the final jewel in a career that has spanned more than four decades and brought both prestige and credit to the California wine industry.