Napa Valley AVA
95 Points - Robert Whitley, host of Wineonline
A propitious choice in 1996 by a movie company that wanted to rent their Montana log home while filming caused Pat and Ann Stotesbery to eventually become interested in the wine business. The Stotesberys chose a Napa Valley vacation to fill their summer time away from their home and discovered their long-term interest in wine had not evaporated one drop. Their decision to become part of the California wine scene took all of six days.
The Stotesberys met while attending college, Pat at Stanford and Anne at the University of San Francisco. The time was during the mid-1970’s, the era when the California wine industry was beginning its incredible evolution into today’s mega-business. Like many other couples, the Stotesberys began to appreciate wine, never dreaming they would one day become the owners of a California winery operation.
The couple’s first vineyard was a small Chardonnay-planted plot on Mt. Veeder. The following year, the Stotesberys purchased another marvelous Mt. Veeder property, the 480-acre Lone Canyon Ranch that today has approximately 75-planted acres. This historic acreage was once the property of legendary founder Mariano Vallejo, who then gave the land as a gift to George Yount, after whom the City of Yountville is named. Yount ceded the property to Charles Howell, a member of the first immigrant wagon train in 1841.
In 1991, another 185-acre vineyard was acquired by the Stotesberys on eminent Howell Mountain and is the site of today’s Ladera Vineyards. Ladera, for the record, is Spanish for hillside, and owner Pat Stotesbery proudly explained “that all our vineyards are hillside, thereby providing the very finest fruit available.”
The Howell Mountain Vineyard contained an historic three-story stone winery building that dated back to 1886. The 30-inch walls were partially dug into the side of a hill and according to Stotesbery, was “a bat-laden, leaky stone storage shed,” when first acquired. After two years of planning and another two years of reconstruction, the fully restored Ladera Vineyards winery is a reality.
The two vineyards present an interesting comparison of fruit from opposite sides of the Napa Valley. Lone Canyon stands at around 1100 feet, is relatively steep and is mostly planted in cabernet sauvignon with a sprinkling of other varietals. The Howell Mountain vineyard ranges from 1600- 1800 feet and the terrain is gentle and sloping. It is also planted almost entirely in Cabernet Sauvignon.
Ladera Vineyards’ first release came in 2001, approximately 450 cases that were met with instant critical acclaim and high scores by the wine tabloids. Ladera’s volume has increased to between 5 and 6,000 cases and Pat Stotesbery feels further growth lies ahead.
“I hope to reach somewhere between 8 and 9,000 cases as early as next year,” he explained. “It will allow us to reach our goal of creating the ultimate expression our estate-owned hillside cabernet.”
Stotesbery also stated that he is most comfortable in either the vineyards or the Ladera winery. His wife of thirty-two years, Anne, handles the sales and direct shipping to Ladera’s extensive wine club. His daughter, Nicole Duncan, handles a portion of the company’s sales and marketing, as does son Dan Stotesbery.
Ladera Vineyards employs a well-known consulting winemaker named Karen Culler who has gained a huge following with her creative approach to winemaking. She consults for several other wineries and makes her own wine under the Culler Wines label.
The process of selecting the final blends to go into a Ladera release is a three way process involving Pat and Anne Stotesbery and Culler. In case of a tie, the decision always goes to Culler.
“It is very seldom that we don’t agree,” Pat Stotesbery informed. “But in those rare cases, I trust Karen’s judgment completely. She has a great palate and is usually right in her choices.”
Pat Stotesbery is somewhat unique in today’s wine industry in that he considers himself a farmer first and a vintner second. He tells everyone who will listen that he ventured into the wine business because “I liked it and it’s nice to be able to be involved with your family in a business when it works out well.”
That statement summarizes Ladera Vineyards perfectly. Ladera is a no-nonsense family-run operation that believes quality comes before anything else. The fact that Ladera Vineyards owns some of the finest individual vineyards in Napa Valley is strictly icing on the cake.