Sonoma County region
Year after year, Sonoma’s Hambrecht Family consistently produces wines of exceptional quality and value!
“Our most valuable asset is our vineyards,” says Hambrecht Family Wines owner, Bill Hambrecht. And Bill Hambrecht knows a good vineyard when he sees it. Over the last twenty plus years he has systematically accumulated half-dozen different premium Sonoma County vineyards totaling more than 500 acres. “Good vineyards are as valuable as gold to a winery, and we have some of Sonoma County’s best vineyards,” he emphatically adds. That “gold” he refers to just may be a reference to the multitude of Gold Medals won over the years for his Belvedere Chardonnays and Cabernets. Year in and year out, Belvedere consistently produces wines of exceptional quality—a tribute to his top-notch vineyards located in Sonoma County’s finest growing regions—Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley, and Dry Creek Valley. And, prior to the new millennium, the winery added its first vineyard located outside of Sonoma County, in Mendocino’s Anderson Valley.
Belvedere was founded in 1979 by Peter Friedman and Bill Hambrecht. Friedman, in 1961, was a co-founder of Sonoma Vineyards, which over the years underwent a multitude of gyrations before ending up in 1984 as Rodney Strong Vineyards. Bill Hambrecht, in addition to being Peter’s friend and tennis partner, was (and still is) a venture capitalist. This was to be Bill’s first venture into the wine business (see Spotlight story). “Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a farming side of me that wanted to grow things, so this was an opportunity to do that,” recalls Bill. His dear friend and partner Peter Friedman passed away in the 1990’s but his presence is still felt around Belvedere.
Initially, Belvedere made their wines at other facilities until their own winery was built in 1982. The new winery is state-of-the-art, built in the coastal foothills overlooking the Russian River in Sonoma County. In 1989, Bill purchased majority ownership in Belvedere, and became its acting President.
Meanwhile, he began buying vineyard land. Naturally, these vineyards now supply the majority of grapes to the Belvedere operation. “We still buy some Chardonnay from a few growers who we’ve dealt with for over 10 years, says Bill Hambrecht. “But given the diversity and quality of our own vineyards, we use our grapes as much as possible.” Bill Hambrecht saw good quality Chardonnay as the wine of the future in America. Upon taking control, he immediately refocused the operation’s efforts to producing super-premium, barrel fermented Chardonnay.
Winemaker Troy McEnery joined the Hambrecht Family Wines team more than 7 ½ years ago, a move that provides another strong link to Hambrecht Family’s chain of success. Troy brought with him a successful career resume including a stint as winemaker at the highly-regarded Gallo-Sonoma operation. A graduate of Fresno State, McEnery is a no-nonsense winemaker whose stamp can be found on practically every Hambrecht Family wine offering.
Current overall production runs about 78,000 cases. The vast majority of the winery’s production is devoted to four different bottlings of Chardonnay. A popular priced Sonoma Chardonnay is the biggest production wine at 25,000 cases. Two higher quality, smaller production Chardonnays are labeled as Alexander Valley and Russian River Valley. And yet a fourth is a high-end, Preferred Stock, sold only at the winery. Fewer than 5,000 cases each are produced of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Merlot. Several other wines, including a Syrah, Sangiovese and Petite Syrah are limited to the winery tasting room offerings and are not available in the retail marketplace. The newest jewel in the Hambrecht family crown is the addition of the Bradford Mountain label, named for the nearby area where Bill Hambrecht owns three vineyards. First released in 2000, Bradford Mountain only produces two varietals, a pair of estate Zinfandels and a single estate Syrah. The winery’s entire production is organic, further raising the specter of Hambrecht Family’s superior family of wines. Current Bradford Mountain production is around 2,500 cases and figures to remain at that level.
“The terroir of these vineyards is ideal for varietals like Zinfandel and Syrah,” winemaker Troy McEnery adds. “It seems like it would be great for any reds, but we have seen these two prosper in the 75 acres that Bradford Mountain owns.”
Bill Hambrecht, venture capitalist, winery owner
So, how is it that a successful high-tech oriented investment banker ended up in the wine business’ As founder, President, and CEO of Hambrecht & Quist, a San Francisco based investment banking firm, Bill Hambrecht’s focus had always been on the high-tech industry. In the late 1960s he and the late George Quist saw a big demand for a strong regional investment bank to service the small, quickly emerging companies of the Silicon Valley. This niche proved to be right on target. The firm at one point in the 1970s managed over a half billion dollars in venture capital for a handful of very successful companies. Then, in 1979, venture capitalist Bill Hambrecht, made an investment that would change his life.
It started as a personal investment to help his friend and tennis partner, Peter Friedman, open a new winery. Peter ran the winery while Bill’s fascination of this newfound industry led him to seek other wine-related investment opportunities. In 1982, he formed a partnership with Fred Peterson and began buying up hundreds of acres of prime vineyard land. In 1983, he invested in the Chalone Group, which at that time consisted of Chalone Winery and Carmenet Winery. The following year his firm, Hambrecht & Quist managed Chalone’s successful public stock offering. With add-on brands, Acacia and Edna Valley, the Chalone Group was the first publicly owned premium winery operation in the U.S.
Bill has also been a major investor in a number of other wineries including Ridge Vineyards, Nalle Vineyards, and Saintsbury. In 1989, he sold his Chalone stock to Baron Eric de Rothschild, then bought majority interest in Belvedere where he remains an active and involved owner.
Bill Hambrecht was born in Oceanside, New York. He attended college at Princeton University and later studied at the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business. He has spent virtually all his career in the investment banking and brokerage business.
Bill’s profession as a venture capitalist and passion for vineyards fits neatly side by side, as both endeavors are certainly growth oriented, literally and figuratively. And he has no immediate plans to abandon either one. His firm Hambrecht & Quist, is today one of the most successful investment banking firms in the world, and his Belvedere wines are equally world-class.
‘What appeals to me,” says Bill, ‘is producing quality wine, doing what we do well, and sparing no expense on production. Our unique combination of vineyards, winery, and skill gives us an advantage in bringing consistent quality to the consumer.”