Napa Valley AVA
91 Points - The Connoisseurs' Guide
If ever there was a Napa Valley winery that could correctly owe its existence to being born on a dream, then tiny Clark-Claudon Vineyards could easily lay claim to that enriching assertion.
The winery’s two principals, Tom Clark, 59, and his wife Laurie Claudon, 58, are the stuff Hollywood movies are made of. The pair met in college, Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo, to be exact, and graduated in the early 1970’s. After a stint in the Peace Corps, a friend told the Clarks of a potential job opening in Napa Valley. The Clarks jumped at the chance and moved to St. Helena in 1974. Tom had left a career with Hunt-Wesson in the tomato and peaches sector to concentrate on the more exciting field of grape growing. He started managing vineyards and eventually began his own successful vineyard management company in 1980 that handled many of Napa Valley’s more prestigious vineyards.
“The mid 1970’s and early 1980’s were a marvelous time in Napa Valley,” related Laurie Clark recently. “The Napa Valley of today was just starting to evolve and the people in the business were incredibly giving in their time and expertise. Everyone helped everyone else and the wines and wineries of the valley tended to grow and prosper. It was a magical time for everyone.”
Some time during 1989, the Clark’s good friend, Tom Burgess (Burgess Cellars), mentioned to the Clarks a piece of property that was for sale. The Clarks weren’t really interested in purchasing property but went to see the land. The landowner wanted to hand pick the new owners for his property and by then Tom’s reputation as a vineyard manager was solidly etched in stone. A lease was worked out with an option to buy and the first vineyards were planted.
When the first wines were made in 1992, the Clarks bought back one of the first barrels. Both were impressed with the wine’s quality and decided it was time to consider a winery operation of their own.
“We wanted to be able to do something ourselves,” Laurie Clark confided. “The problem was that all of the grapes were under contract due to Tom’s sterling reputation. We were able to produce a little more on our own and finally made our first release of 70 cases in 1993.”
As each of the growing contracts expired, the fledgling winery ‘s case production began to grow, a painstakingly slow process in the wine business. By 1998, all of the production of the Clark-Claudon Vineyard could finally be turned into Clark-Claudon Vineyards wines.
A pair of feathers was featured on the label, a symbol of the joint resolve of the two founders along with the preservation of the environment that surrounds the winery property.
The annual production of Clark-Claudon peaked at around 1900 cases with the 2003 vintage and has been cut back to around 1400 for this year’s releases. The latter figure is where Laurie Clark feels more comfortable.
“We know our vineyard and its capabilities, and we simply want to make the best possible wine for our customers,” she added. “We have a very specific mix of barrels that contributes to our quality. Everything is right when we produce around 1400 cases and that’s where we will remain for the foreseeable future.”
The Clark’s are delighted that their son Josh, 32, is also involved in the Clark-Claudon Vineyards picture. Josh took over the vineyard management company in 2000 and is today completely responsible for its vineyards. His younger sister, Briana Clark Forgie, is also involved in the marketing of the winery and insures the business will always be run as a true family winery.
For her part, Laurie Claudon Clark is happiest just being part of the marvelous world that constitutes the California wine industry.
“To become completely enamored with something as wonderful as the wine industry is perfect for a true romantic such as me,” she finalized. “We are all small parts of the story that wine has played in the history of mankind. When you consider the many facets that wine brings to our everyday lives, it is truly a humbling thought. Both my husband Tom and I consider ourselves to be lucky to be a part of that happening.”
From the accolades Clark-Claudon has garnered since its inception, it might be consumers who are the lucky ones. Enjoy!