D.R. Stephens Estate
Napa Valley AVA
A proven entity with numerous accolades
For a number of years, real estate executive D. R. Stephens lived in the Napa Valley and made many friends. A number of these friends were in the wine business and conversations often included new releases and honors garnered by his friends’ wines.
In 1995, Stephens, now 75, decided it was time to venture into the wine business himself and purchased a 35-acre site that included an old olive orchard. He set about to grow his own grapes and produce his own wines. The company’s first release of only 140 cases of Chardonnay occurred in 2001 and was immediately recognized as really top quality by both the wine industry and consumers alike.
Fast forward to today. The D.R. Stevens Estate is a proven entity with numerous accolades, a bevy of highly rated wines and top scores from the wine industry’s assortment of periodicals. D.R. Stephens Estate has ascended into the rarefied air of highest quality producers within Napa Valley.
“My father decided that he would do whatever was needed to make the best possible wines,” informed Justin Stephens, the winery’s managing partner. “Everything we have done at D.R. Stephens Estate was planned with the long term in mind. We intended that our wines be able to compete with any wine in the entire world.”
The younger Stephens has put together a world-class winery team to accomplish those ends. “Our management team is something of a cliché,” Justin Stephens continued. “They do all the work, they really do. They provide us with great tools and the result is a fine portfolio of wines.”
The team includes two Michaels. First, there is Winemaker Michael Hirby, an early associate of Les Behrens (Berhens and Hitchcock) and formerly winemaker at Realm Cellars. Also included is Michael Wolf who serves as vineyard manager. Wolf’s composite includes the likes of Bond Estates, Duckhorn Vineyards, Harlan Estate, Lewis Cellars, Vineyard 29 and Scarecrow Winery to name a few industry icons.
The original winery label was designed by D.R. Stephens and remains in use to this day. It is an old style label with the original Stephens home serving as the background. D.R. Stephens is less active in today’s winery business and has taken a laissez faire approach to his Napa Valley gem. As the winery has evolved into its present status he has chosen to leave it in the hands of his son and employees.
“I worked with my father for several years until he was sure that his goals and mine were properly aligned,” Justin Stephens added. “Once he was satisfied, he let me take care of the day to day details. I am proud to say that he now sits back and enjoys the foundations he has built and what our winery has become.”
Justin Stephens also heads his own winery, the successful Hunnicutt Winery where all of D.R. Stephens Estate wines are produced. A plan has been formulated to begin construction on a new winery for D.R. Stephens Estate on the family’s Napa Valley property this year.
Currently, around 2,000 cases of wines are produced annually by D.R. Stephens Estate. In addition to the company’s fabled Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are apart of the estate’s portfolio.
Is there a chance of expansion in the future for D. R. Stephens Estate?
“I think we are both active and passive in that regard,” responded Justin Stephens. “There are really few sweet deals available around Napa Valley, and the prices asked make the decision to buy very difficult. You simply cannot put money into property that will at best break even in the process.”
Stephens is quite upbeat with the fact that one of his family’s closest friends and Cabernet Sauvignon suppliers has recently acquired some additional contingent acreage. This plot had already been cleared and will present usable fruit in 2016.
“It’s all about measured growth,” Stephens explained. “And we are quite happy with what we have now.”
So goes it at the top of the proverbial heap, the lofty location that D.R. Stephens Estate currently enjoys. As always, enjoy!
A Letter from Justin H. Stephens
Dear Platinum Series Members,
Included in your shipment is our D.R. Stephens Estate 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon DRII. We have been farming a vineyard in St. Helena, Moose Valley Vineyard, since 1996, and another in Rutherford, Walther River Block, since 2000. Historically, these two vineyards were kept separate throughout the production process and constituted individual vineyard designated bottlings bearing their respective names. With the 2004 vintage, we decided to introduce a third wine that married these two vineyards, hence the “II.”
The 2008 vintage was remarkable in that we experienced one of the coldest spells during bud break history. This was followed by a substantial heat spike in May, accompanied by dry winds while the vines were flowering. Both of these events conspired us to reduce the crop dramatically. Damage throughout Napa ranged from complete vineyard decimation to substantial potential crop loss – no vineyard was unscathed. Fortunately, these factors play a role in quantity, not quality, and after this challenging start, Napa Valley experienced near-perfect growing conditions. Arguably, this natural crop reduction served to concentrate flavors. The 2008 DRII certainly reflects this.
Justin H. Stephens