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Davis Bynum Winery

Napa Valley AVA

Top medal winners year-in and year-out.

All Davis Bynum wanted to do was to help promote a group of Napa Valley wineries. In the mid-1960s the California wine industry was still in its infancy, with only a dozen or so wineries in existence in the Napa Valley. As an experienced journalist and long time home winemaker, getting the word out about these great wineries was right down his alley. “I thought there was a need for these wineries to increase their exposure and help them sell more wine,” recalls Davis. “I quickly found out they were selling more wine than they could handle.”

Now that sounded like a pretty good business to be involved in, he thought. How hard could it be in a business that sells all of their product with little or no promotion? So Davis Bynum joined the ranks and opened his own winery in 1965. He opened up in the town of Albany, just east of Berkeley, California. The building was a modest 2,500 square feet and had been previously a plumbing warehouse. “It had a great drainage system,” quips Davis. “The winery was in the back and we set up a tasting room and retail store in the front,” he says.

Since he had no vineyards to call his own, Davis bought grapes and bulk wine from a number of Napa Valley wineries. “I made a few blends and lots of Sherries and Ports, then sold it all right there in the tasting room,” he reminisces. As cash flow permitted, Davis would run up to Napa to buy more, gradually building up his operation.

Just a year into his new business, Davis dreamed up another way to help the cash flow—futures. Months and sometimes years before the scheduled release of a wine, Davis offered his regular clients the opportunity to buy case lots at a reduced price while the wine was still in the barrel. The concept met with instant success and is today a standard business practice for hundreds of wineries. Davis Bynum’s own futures business has continued strong and remains an integral part of the winery’s sales strategy.

In 1971 Davis decided to make the leap into the vineyard business. He purchased 26 acres of mostly Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the Napa Valley. To his disappointment though he was denied a permit to build a winery. At that particular time the no-growth advocates were preventing any further construction of new wineries. After two years of trying Davis finally relocated to Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley in 1973.

The move proved fortuitous. Davis bought 83 acres of what has been called one of the most prolific and valuable grape growing spots in California. Shortly after the move to Sonoma County, Davis’ son, Hampton, took over the winemaking duties. About the same time, a young college student named Gary Farrell hired on to help clear land for the winery and vineyards. Over the next five years, winery output grew from 8,000 cases to over 18,000 cases a year.

In 1978, Hampton left to start his own label (only to return in 1982 as General Manager), and turned the winemaking duties over to Gary who had quickly come up to speed by taking courses and learning hands-on.

Those of you who follow the wine trade will recognize Gary Farrell as one of the most prolific winemakers of the last dozen years or so. While maintaining his winemaking duties at Davis Bynum, he also consults for a handful of other small wineries and has his own Gary Farrell label as well. His talents have reaped numerous top awards over the years in the industry’s major wine competitions. Gary has stayed with the Bynums for over two decades and has helped establish Davis Bynum as a solid, consistent quality wine producer.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Fumé Blanc, and Chardonnay get most of the attention at Davis Bynum Winery. They are all top medal winners year-in and year-out. Currently at 12,000 cases annually, Davis plans to hold steady to keep the focus on quality.

“We struggled for a lot of years to get where we are,” says Davis. “With all that’s gone on in this industry, I’m just happy we’ve managed to stay in business,” he adds. “We did it slowly and deliberately and kept the integrity of our wines intact.”

Davis Bynum - Owner

Picture of Davis Bynum - Owner

After 15 years at the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, Davis Bynum decided it was time to do something else. A copy boy, a reporter, a feature writer, an editor—just about everything you can aspire to in the newspaper business he had done. Except maybe running one—which is exactly why he left the Chronicle in 1963. He was persuaded to move to southern California to run a trio of weekly newspapers—the Newhall Signal and the Record Ledger of Sun Valley and Tujunga.

The move also meant a return to his home town area of Pasadena. Growing up, Davis recalls his interest in wines propagated by his father who was a wine aficionado and professional wine judge at several major wine competitions. His father also collected manuscripts and worked as an historian at the Huntington Library.

‘I wanted to get into book publishing when I got out of school,” says Davis. ‘I guess I got that interest too from my father,” he recalls. To pursue that end Davis entered Stanford to study English. His education was interrupted by World War II when he was sent to Germany. Towards the end of his duty he was stationed in the Yosemite area where he met his wife, Dorothy. Interestingly, they met while she was working at the studio of famed photographer, Ansel Adams.

Davis returned to school at the University of California in Berkeley, graduating in 1948 with a degree in Latin American History. Upon graduation from college, Davis landed the job at the San Francisco Chronicle. He stayed in the newspaper business until 1964.

In March of 1965 Davis opened the doors to his new winery near Berkeley. Today, he and Dorothy spend time at their home in Berkeley as well as at their home adjacent to the winery property in Sonoma. Son Hampton is active in the business, directing the daily operations. Their daughter joined the family business too and handles the hospitality duties. Dorothy is also active in the business, designing the winery’s landscape and wine labels for some of the winery’s limited release wines.

Dear Platinum Wine Club Member,

Picture of Dear <i>Platinum Wine Club</i> Member,

The Bynum Family is pleased that you will have a chance to share this example of what our winemaker Gary Farrell has created from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown in the Russian River Valley vineyard of Dr. Roger Hedin.

Since we moved our operation to the Russian River Valley in 1973, we have been pioneers in the making of ‘New World” Pinot Noirs. However, it has only been since the recent advent of exciting innovations in pruning and trellising that we felt we could compete with the best in the making of Cabernet. Dr. Hedin, owner of the vineyard, was one of the few courageous souls who took a chance when he planted Cabernet in this cool Region 1 climate. He felt that by opening up the vines and letting in more light and ambient heat, that he could overcome the under-ripe flavors associated with ‘coastal cool” Cabernets. In addition the fruit would take advantage of the longer hang time with it’s pronounced varietal characters highlighted by the natural grape acidity.

As you are probably aware, the ‘94 vintage is considered one of the best years in this decade for Cabernet Sauvignon. We feel that this wine is a great example of what this long, cool ripening season had to offer, (these grapes were not picked until the last week of October).

The wine is beautifully balanced now and I would expect it to improve through 2006 at least. I expect that once you have opened and tasted this wine you will see the reasons that we feel firmly that the winery will be home to these grapes for many years to come.


Hampton Bynum