Napa Valley AVA
Since he can remember, it had been Paul Johnson’s lifelong dream to make wine.
Paul Johnson admits he was bitten by vinum cimex, also known as the ‘wine bug,’ at an early age.
"My family included a number of Europeans,” he recalled during a recent interview. “The kids in the family were always allowed little sips of wine during our meals and I, for one, found the taste quite delicious. That feeling has stuck with me throughout life and, if anything, has propelled me into the wine business."
Johnson also recollected that when he attended college at Southern Illinois University, he was the only one in his group who drank wine at parties while his friends preferred beer and various spirits as their favorite beverage drinks.
When he graduated, Paul Johnson entered the corporate world and rose to become CEO of several top companies in the beauty and cosmetics field. He also lived in Europe on various occasions where wines were considered the norm and he was able to continue his infatuation with the almighty grape.
Johnson eventually returned to live in California and just after the turn of the century, made the decision to enter the wine business in his home state of California.
The Los Angeles native chose a slightly circuitous route in entering the wine arena. He chose the Napa Valley as his base and partnered with wine guru and legendary winemaker Gary Galleron (Grace Family Vineyards, Vineyard 29, Whitehall Lane Winery, Château Montelena Winery, Hartwell Estate Vineyards, Del Dotto Vineyards, and Seavy Winery among others) to establish Fiftyrow Vineyards. The brand was intended to reach off premise accounts (restaurants and consumers) at reasonable price/value ratios.
The first Fiftyrow Vineyards release came in 2005, some 2,000 cases of assorted varietals. With Gary Galleron’s hand guiding the making of the wine, the brand was an immediate success with numerous high scores and high quality medals to the new winery’s credit.
Paul Johnson told Gary Galleron at the beginning of their relationship, "Do not make the wine, teach me to make the wine." Five years of on-the-job training later and the close-knit pair switched roles and Johnson became Fiftyrow Vineyards’ winemaker.
The winery focuses on single-vineyard wines from the Napa Valley and surrounding areas and has continued its initial successes. Fiftyrow Vineyards owns a single vineyard, Alice Block, and is under long-term contracts for fruit for practically all of its releases.
"We began and have remained as a boutique winery," commented Paul Johnson. "We will always make single-vineyard wines and will continue to expand our portfolio. We have recently released our first Charbono and Sauvignon Blanc varietals in limited amounts. With us, it’s all about quality and definitely not quantity."
The name 'Fiftyrow Vineyards? "I have always had this fixation on the word, 'fifty,'" explained Paul Johnson. "The thought was that I was to own a winery before I reached the age of fifty. I was determined to have it be part of our winery name. We tried a number of possibilities from a business and legal standpoint and our customer base has approved our decision by their support of our wines."
Your company’s greatest achievement in the wine business? "I would have to say," Johnson reflected, "that simply surviving this long in the business would be our greatest feat. The wine industry has changed of late and the big guys are taking over everything. Some of these wineries have double digit brands in their portfolios and that makes it difficult to compete. We have remained true to our original concept and kept Fiftyrow Vineyards small and our wines true to themselves.”
What about the future? "That’s a great question for me to answer. My upcoming business plans are not in the Napa Valley. Land prices here are through the roof. I’d like to try somewhere different, perhaps the Paso Robles growing area of the Central Coast. Things are out of control in Napa Valley and won’t change in the near future. I would even consider a business in Spain or Southern France since I’m familiar with both of those countries’ wines and would consider that another challenge."
Fiftyrow Vineyards is one of a slowly disappearing number of boutique wineries dedicated to the proposition that ‘small is better’ in incredibly competitive Napa Valley. The fact that it continues to thrive is a testament to Paul Johnson’s ability to survive problematic periods in the wine business while meeting his goal of excellent price/value relationships.
We are delighted to introduce Fiftyrow Vineyards to our Platinum Wine Club members. This great addition to your cellars will prove an exceptional value in the future. Cheers!
Map of the area
Dear Platinum Wine Club Members,
We are honored to be included in the Platinum Wine Club with our 2018 Fiftyrow Silver Dollar Vineyard, Napa Valley Petite Sirah. This wine comes from the eastern edges of the Napa Valley where Petite Sirah thrives in the warm days and cool nights. The vineyard was named after the grower and his father who found a couple of Silver Dollars many years ago while working in the vineyard.
I love to do some varietals that are not seen on every retail shelf or restaurant list, and a few years ago, I was able to source the amazing fruit that goes into this wine. Petite Sirah, known originally as Durif, is a red grape grown primarily in Australia, California, France, and Israel. In the U.S. and Israel, it is mainly known as Petite Sirah, but over 90% of the California plantings that are labeled as ‘Petite Sirah’ are actually Durif grapes.
We picked the grapes at night, when cool, and then during fermentation we did 30% whole cluster fermentation before putting the wine in one-third new barrels, one-third once used barrels, and one-third neutral barrels. We aged it for 16 months before bottling.
My wife and I started Fiftyrow in 2003 with my friend, mentor, and legendary winemaker Gary Galleron. Our goal with every vintage is to make premium, single-vineyard wines that our customers don’t have to pay $200 a bottle for. All of our Fiftyrow wines are small production and handcrafted. From the vineyard to the bottle, everything we do is done with the goal of producing the best wine we can possibly make. I hope you enjoy our Petite Sirah as much as we enjoyed making it.
Owner & Winemaker