Edgewood Estate Winery
Napa Valley AVA
‘We at Edgewood want to grow and produce the finest red grapes in the entire valley,”
The factual history that Edgewood Estate Winery possesses is one that many Napa Valley wineries would give their eyeteeth to own even a portion of. The history is also a reminder that many winery operations are quite cyclical in nature and at this point in its evolution, Edgewood Estate is well back on the road to vinous competition and even superiority.
It all began back in 1873 with William Peterson, a successful New England sea captain, who departed New England’s harsh winters and settled into a more tranquil existence in Northern California. He immediately purchased a 40-plus acre parcel in Napa Valley that is the site of today’s Edgewood Estate Winery. It is recorded that the vineyards began bearing fruit in 1879 and by 1885, the fully operational Peterson Winery produced a total of 11,350 cases, quite a respectable number for that period of time.
Unfortunately, a series of personal and professional tragedies befell Peterson until he was finally forced to sell his winery. History records that in 1891, William Peterson sold the winery and its contents to Robert Bergfeld for a sum of 6,000 gold coin. It is also noted that phylloxera had destroyed most of the existing vineyards at the winery. In fact, a total of over 15,000 acres were destroyed in Northern California during the phylloxera outbreak of that period. Bergfeld worked and developed the winery for the next fifteen years until the catastrophic earthquake of 1906 forced him to close its operation.
Historical accuracy jumps a bit until 1910 when the winery was again sold, this time to a Theodore Gier. Gier was already active in the Napa Wine business and had already built two existing wineries. In 1904 he constructed a winery on Spring Mountain that is today’s Keenan Winery, and a year later, built a small stone winery which is the modern day Hess Collection Winery. Gier operated the expansive business (he had wine holdings as far away as the Livermore Valley) for a decade until he sold his entire Napa Valley operations to O.J. LeBaron of neighboring Healdsburg in Sonoma County.
Next came Prohibition and its death-like consequences for many wineries. LeBaron’s enterprise suffered the same fate as most of his neighbors. The winery finally emerged again in 1933 as the Mt. Helena and Calistoga Wine Company. The company was a giant of its time and produced over 500,000 gallons of wine.
A year later, the economic condition facing independent growers propelled Charles Forni to organize the Napa Valley Cooperative and in 1935, the Co-op purchased the winery. Forni was a decisive force in Napa Valley for the next fifty years until his death in 1986, a few months short of his 100th birthday. He was responsible for the Co-op he founded rise to the status of largest wine facility in the Napa Valley. As early as 1937, some 8,500 tons were consigned for crushing at the winery, estimated to be around 40% of the entire grape production in Napa.
By 1967, the Napa Valley Co-op was producing around 2,500,000 gallons annually, and was at the height of its success. Forni was ever active in matters affecting the wine industry and was one of the original four founding fathers of the Napa Valley Vintners Association, which controls the policy stance for many of today’s Napa Valley wineries.
Edgewood Estate bought the property in 1994 and embarked on an immediate course to restore the property to its original usage and statue. An incredible restoration and renovation project is still under way under the direction of Founder/President Jeff O’ Neill. O’Neill is dedicated to preserving the winery’s natural heritage and has insured that the original winery remains intact in its original location. At some point, Edgewood hopes to be able to open the site to the general public.
Another interesting historical artifact is the original architecture of the 1885 winery that today resides in the middle of Edgewood’s barrel warehouse. This ghost winery is extremely well preserved and available to visitors who know how to ask for the privilege of seeing the original workplace.
Chances are the Edgewood Estate personnel will show you the old winery without many fanfares. They are justifiably proud of their place in the history of Napa Valley and are willing to share it with you.
Gold Medal Wine Club is proud to offer Edgewood Estate’s wines to our members in much the same spirit. We know you will enjoy this month’s Gold Medal Wine Club's selections from Edgewood Estate.
Jeff O’ Neill - Wine Industry visionary
Practically everyone associated with Jeff O’ Neill is firmly convinced he is a visionary in the strictest sense of the word. At 44, he is the Founder/President of Edgewood Estates, and is purposefully positioning his winery to compete with the top wineries in Napa Valley.
O’Neill grew up in neighboring Marin County (Kentfield to be exact) and discovered his interest in wine while he was an underclassman at the University of the Pacific. First, he found that he enjoyed drinking wine and later helped pay his college bills by selling wine on a door to door basis. It’s also possible the inspiration for his efforts started a bit earlier in his family. In the post-Prohibition era around 1936, his Armenian grandfather originated a wine cooperative in the small Central Valley town of Cutler, CA and began producing wine. Jeff remembers the stories around his house when he was young and agrees that such an earlier historical influence made his decision to enter the wine business all the easier.
Today, Jeff O’Neill is determined to turn Edgewood Estates into a world class production facility and at the same time insure that the higher segment of the buying public takes note of its flagship brand. O’ Neill carefully selects the fruit that is used for each wine.
‘Because the former company was a co-op and therefore has many sources of grapes, we felt it necessary to develop a system for what we bought. Even though most of the fruit was really high quality, we were only able to buy from a small percentage of our former growers,” he confided. ‘That decision represents our dedication to be the best of the best, and we’ve managed to stick to it so far.”
The entire process of restoring/building Edgewood Estates has been a labor of love for O’ Neill. He first decided to move and then transplant some sixty sycamore trees that were scattered about the property and now make up a picturesque alley to the winery. Next came a second assessment to turn another section of the property that served as a lawn into its former usage as vineyard rows. Through it all, Jeff O’ Neill has doggedly kept Edgewood Estates heading in an upward direction. He is convinced that the moves he is making with regard to the physical plant will make it one of the real showcase facilities in Napa.
Fifteen acres at Edgewood Estates are planted in mostly Bordeaux varietals with Cabernet Sauvignon serving as the predominant type. The total production runs at an annual rate of just over 12,000 cases, a level O’Neill feels perfectly suits his operation at this stage of its development.
‘The hardest thing to find in Napa is sources of truly top class grapes,” he added. ‘Most of the great vineyards are already under long term contract to other wineries, and it’s practically impossible to make a quality statement without great fruit as a basis for your wines.”
Another seven acres will be planted this year, a fact that will maximize the property from a growing perspective. Jeff O’Neill intends to continue his search for superior independent growers, and will grow Edgewood Estates as the occasions arise.
He points with pride that Edgewood Estate wines are sold worldwide (some 30 countries) and fully realizes that his wines are each a handsell. He also realizes the thin air in Napa his competition enjoys and that fact doesn’t phase him one bit.
He points with great pride at his Estate-bottled Meritage blend that is aptly called Tradition. It is grown and produced (about 250 cases annually) exclusively at the winery and sells in the range of $35 - $45 per bottle.
‘We at Edgewood want to grow and produce the finest red grapes in the entire valley,” O’Neill offered. ‘We are fortunate to have the resources and determination to see our plan through to its natural fruition. We saw this entire project as an opportunity that was untapped and decided to do something about it.”
Napa Valley insiders have watched the transformation of the Edgewood property and the development of its wines. There are few that doubt the project is destined for success.