Napa Valley AVA
Emilio’s Terrace is remarkably unique from other Napa Valley wineries due to the fact that it is named after a vineyard worker rather than its owner or owner’s family. Emilio’s Terrace honors Emilio Perez, who immigrated to the United States more than 50 years ago from his native Michoacan, Mexico. Perez joined Robert Mondavi in 1966 and managed most of Mondavi’s premier vineyards for the next three decades.
Emilio’s Terrace sits on a steep hill in Oakville, arguably the heart of the Napa Valley, and home to many of Napa’s finest vineyards. It is also part of a labor of love on the part of its owner, 73-year old Phil Schlein, a native of Philadelphia.
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with an economics degree, Schlein went into the world of department store retailing and joined the massive Macy’s organization in New York. There he developed a long term love affair with wines.
“At one point,” he recalled recently, “my sister Barbara and I would hop into a cab and hit a number of wine shops in Manhattan. When the cab was full, we would then call it a day. At the time, our purchases were mostly French, but that all changed when I was sent out West.”
Schlein was tapped to run Macy’s West Coast operation in January of 1974 and was based in San Francisco, with its close proximity to Sonoma and Napa Valleys. Needless to say, his taste changed almost immediately.
By 1976, he owned a house and property in Oakville to use as a retreat from the 24/7 rigors of running a giant retail operation. His property bordered a number of remarkable Oakville vineyards and the seed of one day entering Napa Valley’s burgeoning wine business began to germinate within the mind of the successful business executive.
In 1989, Schlein decided to put a pool in at the house and realized he had all the equipment necessary to fulfill his long-time dream. Faced with a steep hillside, he consulted a civil engineer and had the property terraced to afford the chance to plant vines. As a precaution, Schlein waited a full year to insure that the terracing wouldn’t slide down the hill. The wait proved to be incredibly beneficial to the new project.
“By 1990, new rootstock had been identified that was resistant to the phylloxera that had devastated Northern California and elsewhere,” he explained. “So, the end result of waiting was that all our vines are post-phylloxera and wonderfully healthy. We certainly lucked out.”
With young vines, Schlein decided to produce a smallish (less than 100 cases) of wine in 1994. Considering it unworthy of being called Emilio’s Terrace, Schlein coined the name Moonschelin and bottled the wine. The wine drew rave reviews and Phil Schlein was on his way to continuing success.
In 1995, the first vintage of Emilio’s Terrace made its appearance, but Schlein wasn’t satisfied with the product and had the wine relabeled as Moonschlein. Again, the wine was hailed as top quality and quickly sold out.
The following year, Emilio’s Terrace made its first real release of around 400 cases. This time it achieved additional rave reviews and has continued to do so ever since. The vineyard is completely certified organic (“I just don’t like pesticides”), and produces extremely low yield due to an annual program of dropping fruit initiated by winemaker Joe Cafaro.
Schlein said that the naming of the winery after Emilio Perez was a no brainer. He paid tribute to his tireless worker who has lived with his family at the base of the property for more than three decades.
“Emilio is like part of my family and vice versa,” he added. “I went to Mexico some eight years ago for one of Emilio’s daughters’ weddings. Emilio made me sit with his family rather than with the visitors, it’s that type of warm and loving relationship. Besides, Emilio and his fellow workers have made the vineyards what they are today. If we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t really have a world class winery. I just felt it was time someone did something to honor the vineyard workers’ part in our business.”
Schlein also honors his Mother, Sophie, and his Grandmother, Rose, with a label he calls Sophie’s Rows. In fact, the label was instituted to honors mothers everywhere, an important consideration to Phil Schlein, owner of this month’s Platinum Series Wine Club selection, Emilio’s Terrace.