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Folie à Deux Winery

Sonoma County region

Leave it to two psychologists with a love of wine and a sense of humor to design their winery’s label as an ink blot.

Folie à Deux (fo-le-a h-doo´) n. Psychiatry. The sharing of delusional ideas by two people who are closely associated. The two friends’ relationship was so insular that they began to suffer folie à deux.

Leave it to two psychologists with a love of wine and a sense of humor to design their winery’s label as an ink blot. In 1981 when Folie à Deux Winery opened, the whimsical name and label was cause for immediate attention. With collective eyes focused on the winery’s first release, it was soon apparent their wines were equally distinctive. Their first wine, a 1983 Chardonnay was awarded Best of Show at the California State Fair Wine Competition, edging out over 1,400 other entries.

Evelyn and Larry Dizmang shared the same fantasy. Larry was director of the Mental Health Department of St. Helena Hospital and Evelyn was a psychological counselor. Both thought that growing grapes and starting a winery would be just the diversion they needed to step away from the everyday grind. Bouncing the idea off of their friends was said to have met with a collective cry of, “You’re both crazy!” Their colleagues jokingly suggested the couple was showing the classic symptoms of Folie à Deux. That didn’t stop Evelyn and Larry though, and in 1974 the pair of psychologists bought a 12 acre former sheep ranch and transformed its small house into a winery.

The house is actually a quaint yellow cottage situated on a knoll covered with vines. Unless you knew it was a winery you’d swear you were visiting a country neighbor. As you step through the doorway trying to avoid the dog running by and the cat sprawled in the entrance, you immediately feel the cozy and relaxed atmosphere. What was once the “living room” is now the “tasting room”, although it appears not much was changed during the transformation. The wines are displayed on the fireplace mantel and poured from atop an antique cabinet.

The first few years of production hovered around 1,500 to 2,500 cases of mostly Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. With great reviews for their wines the Dizmangs felt bullish about the winery’s future. An increase in production coincided with an expansion of vineyard land as 15 additional acres were purchased near Yountville. Production edged towards 10,000 cases moving into the late 1980s. But the good times didn’t last very long when by the early 1990s the two founders parted ways. To the detriment of wine enthusiasts, the Dizmang’s focus turned away from the winery, and the once promising future of Folie à Deux began to look bleak.

Thankfully, the Dizmangs sold the operation in 1995 to a group headed by renowned winemaker, Dr. Richard Peterson. If anyone would resurrect Folie à Deux, Dr. Peterson was the guy. His qualifications read like a wine industry Who’s Who. Dr. Peterson’s long and illustrious career began in the late 1940s at Iowa State University where he started dabbling in home winemaking. He graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering, and 4 years later earned a degree in Food Technology and a Ph.D. in Agricultural Chemistry from U.C. Berkeley. In 1958 he joined Gallo where during the next ten years he rose to the positions of Research Director and Assistant Production Manager in charge of winemaking.

From Gallo he went to Beaulieu Vineyard in Napa where he was Winemaster until 1973. At that point Dr. Peterson was wooed over to newly formed Monterey Vineyard where he was their Winemaster, and also President. At Monterey Vineyard he set the groundwork for what is now an elaborate 2 million gallon capacity winery. Leaving Monterey in 1986 he moved to Atlas Peak Vineyards to become that winery’s Chairman. At Atlas Peak Dr. Peterson spearheaded the development of 450 acres of vineyard land from virgin, volcanic soil including what is still today the largest single planting of Sangiovese in California. He also designed and oversaw the construction of California’s largest winery storage caves measuring in at 40,000 sq. ft.

In 1995 Dr. Peterson, along with several others, purchased Folie à Deux Winery from Evelyn and Larry Dizmang. Dr. Peterson is the Chairman of the winery and also continues to act as consultant to a handful of other small but high quality producers such as Diamond Creek, Schug Winery, and Newlan Winery.

Not to leave his own house without appropriate expertise, Dr. Peterson brought on wine industry veteran Scott Harvey as winemaker for Folie à Deux. Scott has been a winemaker for 20 years and was recently picked as one of Americas Ten Best Winemakers by the Los Angeles Times. Together with Dr. Peterson, the two have quickly brought Folie à Deux back to prominence.

‘Scott Harvey Returns!”

Picture of ‘Scott Harvey Returns!”

‘Scott Harvey Returns!” hails The Wine Trader magazine. ‘The winemaker who became famous at Santino & Renwood has resurfaced as winemaker at Folie à Deux Winery in Napa Valley.” One of the principles and consulting winemaker is Dr. Richard Peterson . . . that’s a team with pedigree and a track record.” ‘Readers should keep an eye on Folie à Deux as it is under new ownership, with a new team directing the winemaking, Scott Harvey formerly of Renwood,” reports Robert Parker Jr. In The Wine Advocate. The Connoisseur’s Guide says, ‘Folie à Deux will probably surprise many of you, as it did our editors. Turns out the winery is back in the groove.”

As we said, Scott’s been making great wine for a long time. Perhaps the catalyst for Scott’s winemaking prowess was when he lived in Germany as a foreign exchange student. He lived with a family in the Rhineland Pflaz wine producing region and developed a keen interest in winemaking while he was there. When he returned to the U.S. he gained experience at Montevina Winery then returned to Germany in 1974 to work as an apprentice at K. Fitz-Ritter Winery and also attended Weinbau Schule in Neustadt. Returning to California once again after his apprenticeship, Scott worked a couple of harvests at Montevina before taking over the winemaker position at Story Winery.

In the late 1970s, Scott left Story to develop a winery from the ground up for the Santino family. It is here that Scott cemented his reputation as an outstanding winemaker. He is widely considered to have put Amador County on the proverbial wine growing map. His innovative style and his ability to extract world class wines from the soils and climatic conditions of Amador County attracted the attention of the wine world. Eager to tackle new challenges, Scott moved on to Folie à Deux in 1996. Earlier this year he was named the winery’s President and General Manager.

The formidable winemaking team of Peterson and Harvey have quickly brought Folie à Deux wines back into the limelight. This is one of those rare situations that has wine writers, critics and consumers rediscovering a winery, all generating extraordinary demand by word of mouth. This means that their wines all of a sudden become highly allocated and disappear quickly after they are released. This is a chance to catch a rising star, so check out their fabulous 1995 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon as soon as you can.