Napa Valley AVA
Three wine brands, each representing the Lawer's dedication to crafting the best possible wines
The collection of wine labels that comprise Lawer Estates require some explanation to understand their identity and meaning.
Starting at the beginning, Lawer Estates is owned by an Alaskan couple, Betsy and David Lawer, and their daughter Sarah. David Lawer is a lawyer and General Counsel for the 1st National Bank of Alaska and Betsy is the Chair and President of the Bank.
The couple became interested in wine when annually visiting Napa and Sonoma Valleys during Alaska’s cold winter periods. During Thanksgiving, the entire Lawer family gathered in different locations around wine country. This allowed the Lawers to traverse a good deal of Northern California’s wine regions before becoming involved (along with a number of other investors) with the sale of the then defunct Folie à Deux Winery in 1995. The introduction to California’s wine industry proved rewarding for the couple and the Lawers decided to attempt to locate some acreage that they could purchase on their own.
In 2002, a remarkable property that totaled nearly 106 acres became available just outside Calistoga, in the eastern reaches of Sonoma County. It contained a neglected vineyard that the Lawers were told could be easily worked into production.
The deal was completed and Betsy and David Lawer began the process of becoming growers in the Knights Valley of Sonoma County.
“All we intended to do was grow some really top notch fruit to sell to some of the local wineries,” confessed Betsy Lawer during a recent interview. “Well, once we got started, everything began to fall into place. The fruit we were producing turned out to be top quality and we decided on taking everything to the next step.”
The couple decided on producing a series of wines, each expected to fulfill a particular niche. The process also involved finding a home in which to make the Lawer Estates winery. Today’s Lawer Estates wines are made at Hunnicutt Winery, a top flight winery in St. Helena (Napa Valley). Winemaker Scott Harvey (who had been at Folie à Deux) agreed to make the first Lawer Estates wines.
The Lawers then enlisted the services of renowned winemaker Larry Levin, who served as the Lawer Estates winemaker for a number of years. Levin’s resume was almost legendary and included names like Franciscan Estates, Mt. Veeder Winery and Dry Creek Vineyards just to name a few. The winemaker position has recently been handed to Cary Gott and Kelly Deianni, who now share the role at Lawer Estates.
Three labels comprise the Lawer Estates entity - Three Coins, Hooker, and Lawer Estates - each with a distinct, incredible story attached, providing a unique look into the Lawer Family background and personality. Hooker is dedicated to her husband David, and is an amusing story in its own right, and Three Coins honors her father’s Alaskan heritage (see Spotlight for a more in depth explanation).
“I felt each brand had a story to tell and what better way to do it,” Betsy Lawer added. “We love Alaska and we want to remember it whenever possible. The people up there are great and it’s a wonderful place to live.”
Betsy admits to coming south once the cold weather starts in her home state. She considers herself a banker with an avocation, and applies strict rules to the Lawer Estates portfolio.
“We run a tight ship regarding the winery. We keep our overhead extremely low and our quality high. We also listen to the dictates of the market as to which way we go with everything,” she said.
The company’s first release of almost 1,000 cases came in 2003 and was met with instant success and rave reviews. The wine industry quickly opened its arms to the fledgling winery.
Was this early achievement expected?
“Not at all,” she replied. “In fact, we were all surprised, thrilled in fact. We knew our vineyard was special, and that our land was prized for its volcanic content. We are firm believers that everything starts in the vineyard, so we are blessed with that aspect of our operation.”
Production levels have risen to around 2,000 cases, with the possibility of adding more volume in the future.
“Whatever the market decides, we will listen,” Lawer finalized. “It would be unwise to do anything else.”
About the Vineyard
Lawer Estates owns a large 106-acre estate that is located above the upper Napa Valley City of Calistoga in Sonoma County. The property has 20 acres under vine (Betsy’s Vineyard) and is actually located in the Franz Valley area, a part of the Knight’s Valley Appellation. Knight’s Valley is highly attractive to many nearby Napa and Sonoma wineries for its tremendous fruit quality and versatility.
One of Sonoma County’s original five American Viticulture Areas (AVA’s), Knight's Valley includes approximately 37,000 acres (2,000 acres under vine) and was officially designated in 1983. Nestled between the Alexander Valley and Chalk Hill AVA, it is the easternmost designated Sonoma County wine region with the warmest climate in the immediate area. Geographically, Knight's Valley separates the rest of Sonoma County from the Napa Valley AVA.
The wines for Lawer Estates are produced from grapes either grown on the estate Betsy’s Vineyard in Knight's Valley (known for its exceptional terroir and unique climate), or from grapes purchased from different sections of Napa Valley.
The Lawers are deeply committed to sustainable farming and excellence in their grape growing, thus the Lawer Estate vineyard is sustainably farmed, thoughtfully managed, meticulously maintained, and hand harvested. Betsy and David Lawer hope to continue these traditions for many years to come.
The Art of Fine Wine
Painted by Bruno Segatta, a native of Italy who has practiced the study and mastery of art since earning his degree from Northridge University. He is inspired by his surroundings and specializes in landscapes portrayed in an abstract style.
Cary Gott & Kelly DeIanni - Winemakers
The Lawer winemaking team consists of Cary Gott and Kelly DeIanni who posses a rare blend of winemaking passion, bold creativity and exacting standards of excellence. Since 2013, they have shared Lawer’s winemaking responsibilities with the goal of producing distinctive, finely balanced, terroir-driven wines.
Cary Gott serves as the lead winemaker for Lawer Family Winery. The fourth generation of his family to join the wine business, Cary has a lifetime of experience making ultra premium wines and creating successful brands for over forty years. He is also the founding principal of Vineyard & Winery Estates, where he assists wine brands in establishing operations and developing wineries. He has worked with such prominent estates as Round Pond, Ram’s Gate, Sterling Vineyards, and Mumm Napa Valley.
Kelly DeIanni brings over two decades of vineyard and winemaking experience to Lawer Family Winery, and has made wine for more than a dozen leading wine brands (including Gloria Ferrer, Australia’s Pierro Winery, St. Supéry, Metaphora, Carrefour, and Revenant). She is passionate about making balanced, palate-pleasing wines for everyone to enjoy and collect.
More about Betsy Lawer
Betsy Lawer generates a great deal of personality and energy when she speaks. It is quickly apparent that she is the driving and motivating force behind Lawer Estates. She met her husband David while they were students at Duke University in her youth and has shared a mutual love affair with him and the wine industry for a number of years.
“I tend to make most of the decisions about the winery,” she injected playfully, “and David does what he loves most – plays golf.”
Betsy Lawer has injected a good deal of her definitive personality and family history into the winery’s three brands. The Three Coins brand symbolizes the hard work, attention to detail, and dedication it takes to do any job right. It is named for her father’s practice of tossing three coins down a hill in Alaska that she and her sisters planned to mine. This test was her father’s quality control check to ensure the very best results - if those three coins weren’t at the bottom of the sluice box at clean up, that meant the water pressure had been too high and the coins had been washed into the tailing pile...along with some gold.
The Hooker brand is dedicated to her husband, David, now an excellent golfer, but formerly a standout hooker on the Duke Rugby team during his college days. Her father was also a former hooker on the Stanford rugby team. In his eyes, that simple fact made David a suitable husband for Betsy.
The Lawer Estates brand is a tribute to their love of business - whether its banking or winemaking. The Lawers designed this label to harken back to the era of fine, inscribed bonds or stock certificates, artfully merging their banking and winemaking worlds. The landscape etching on the Lawer Estates label is one of their favorite vineyard views. This brand also celebrates their commitment to sustainable farming and excellence in their grape growing and winemaking. The Lawers hope to continue these traditions for generations to come.
The three preceding paragraphs present a keen insight into what makes Betsy Lawer a special woman. Not only is she on the board of the world famous Smithsonian, but she also served on the board of the 12th District Federal Reserve Bank.
“I tend to be quite proactive,” she offered. “I also like to see just where my adventures take me and that’s the real fun of it all. If something makes sense to me, I like to follow it through to its conclusion.”
She has also put together a fabulous management team, from well-respected John Piña (vineyard management) to the passionate winemaking team of Cary Gott and Kelly DeIanni to insure the future quality of Lawer Estates wines. Betsy is also looking around for a tasting facility to be located in or around Calistoga.
“Calistoga is one of the really fun places in Napa Valley, but not everyone comes all the way up the valley to see for themselves. We were going to build something on our property, but we decided to respect the traditional values of all our neighbors and place it in or around Calistoga. That’s my next project.”
The new tasting facility will certainly not be Betsy Lawer’s last project. People with her keen sense of business and extreme joy of life are hard to find and even harder to control. Betsy Lawer is good for the California wine industry and good for wine itself.
With her winery project now in its thirteenth year, Betsy hopes that future business upturns will lead to extensive expansion. She would like to be a 10,000 case winery in the not too distant future, but is careful in planning any future expansion.
Lawer has also repeatedly stated that such growth will never occur at the expense of quality, a consideration that she has insisted on since entering the wine business.
Would that more vintners share her enthusiasm and genuine respect for the wine industry. It would make the entire wine experience all that much more fun for everyone involved.