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Laird Family Winery

Napa Valley AVA

92 Points - Connoisseurs’ Guide

A most advantageous trip through the telephone book more than thirty-three years ago has ultimately resulted in the establishment of one of Napa Valley’s emerging winery stars.

It all started back in 1970 when an adventuresome entrepreneur named Ken Laird decided to purchase a seventy acre parcel that was home to a prune orchard located about two miles north of the city of Calistoga. Laird and his wife Gail were ex-New Yorkers living in the East Bay City of Diablo. The pair had ventured to Napa without their children one weekend and fallen hopelessly in love with California’s exquisite growing valley. Without much forethought, Ken and Gail Laird decided that the Napa Valley must play a pivotal part in the rest of their lives.

With no farming or practical experience in grape growing, Ken Laird went immediately to a local Napa bank who first balked at making the loan on the property. The Union Carbide engineer was advised to find an existing winery that was willing to agree in writing to purchase the grapes that would be grown on the property before the loan could be finalized. Opportunistically, Laird searched the Napa phone book until he settled on a name that looked familiar to him. He called the person and asked him to meet at the prune orchard the following day. When Robert Mondavi showed up and agreed to buy his fruit, Ken Laird’s name was forever carved in the history of Napa Valley.

For the next thirty years, Ken Laird and his family continued to supply many of the high caliber wineries with superb fruit, winning many awards and accolades along the way. The family’s holdings grew steadily until they became the largest vineyard owner in Napa Valley, with over 2,000 acres under vine.

Some six or seven years ago, Ken Laird began to foresee the impending wine glut that presently grips much of California’s wine producing regions. He observed a number of his better customers beginning to scale back and wisely decided to hedge the fortunes of his vast wine holdings. He realized that he had learned a great deal from his customers during the nearly three decades of his company’s existence and decided to put that experience to good use.

Along with the next generation of his family, son Justin, 40, and daughter Rebecca, 38, Laird began construction on a sparkling new winery that he felt could serve Napa’s definitive needs. He also banked on the prospect that a number of his own customers could easily benefit from the construction of the new winery. Before a single spade touched Napa’s rich soil, the heralded Merryvale Vineyard cast its lot with Laird and the fledgling winery project was an instant success.

Today the winery crushes over 3,000 tons and is home to forty-five different brands of wine. From this huge crush, a minute 1.5 percent of the juice goes into the production of Laird Family Estate wines.

Today’s production level sits firmly at the 5,000 case mark, and Rebecca Laird, the winery’s general manager, says candidly that there are no plans for expansion beyond current levels.

“At this point we are simply interested in continuing the development of our brand,” she stated, “and also maintaining the consistency and quality of our wines. We have managed to establish some really high quality levels and that factor is incredibly important to everyone involved.”

The Laird Family Estate is also quite true to its name. At 68, Ken Laird still arrives daily at the winery and considers himself “the idea man” for some time to come. Most of the vast vineyard management responsibilities fall directly to Justin Laird while Rebecca’s general manager duties help her forget she was once a top buyer of men’s suits for retail giant Macy’s.

It is also evident that the feet of the Laird Family are firmly planted on Napa’s richened soil.

“It is extremely important to everyone concerned,” Rebecca Laird explained, “that everything we have built here stays within our family. Even though the wine industry outlook at present isn’t all that rosy, we have great hopes for the future. We are making plans to have all our family’s future generations involved, thereby preserving what we have built.”

From all indications, such conservation won’t be all that hard to achieve. After all, Laird Family Estate’s commitment to excellence is well known throughout Napa Valley and their customers are mostly of the long-term variety.

Just ask Robert Mondavi. It’s a fact that Laird still sells grapes to their very first customer.