Liparita Cellars

Napa Valley AVA

94 Points - Wine & Spirits magazine, 91 Points - Connoisseurs’ Guide

Since its inception nearly two decades ago, Napa Valley’s Liparita Cellars has been able to stand beside much more established wineries regarding its vineyard location and the excellent quality levels it has been able to achieve in its wines.

Liparita’s original vineyards were located on storied Howell Mountain, the originating locale for many of Napa Valley’s most revered reds. The winery even derived its name from the vineyards’ original vines that were planted in 1888 by Italian immigrants. Struck by the striking resemblance between the volcanic soils of Howell Mountain and those of their native Lipari Islands off the coast of Sicily, the immigrant planters called the vineyards Liparita, or Little Lipari.

The modern version of Liparita Cellars took form in the early 1980’s celebrated by the first release of Chardonnay in 1987. At the time, owner Bob Burrows was a Bay area contractor and former home winemaker who initially sold his grapes to the likes of Grgich Hills, Randy Dunn and La Jota, prime winery entities in Napa Valley.

Fueled by the quality of his Howell Mountain fruit, Burrows decided to release wine under his own cellar name and Liparita cellars was born. For a number of years Liparita prospered but as the oncoming millennium approached Burrows realized his life’s project needed a shot in the arm.

This essential impetus was achieved in 1998, when Cary Tamura, now 38, was brought on board. Tamura was basically a Napa Valley native, having lived there with his parents from the age of three.

“I basically grew up around wineries,” Tamura recently recalled. “I always remember being in and out of wineries. At twelve, he played with Randy Dunn’s son Mike and other Napa Valley winery youngsters.

Tamura spent time at Angwin’s Pacific Union College and later graduated from nearby Sonoma State with a degree in Accounting/Anthropology. During summers he worked as a cellar rat for Napa Cellars Winery where he feels the wine bug bit him for good. After graduating, Cary took a job with Napa’s famed Auberge du Soleil and eventually joined Lorca Vineyards of Rutherford where he served as president of the company.

A consultant referred the financially wise Tamura to Liparita in 1998 and he invested enough to become the winery’s principal owner. As such, he is arguably the first male of Japanese heritage to enjoy primary ownership in a Napa Valley winery.

“It is as if I have been able to return to my roots,” he explained further. “Being in the winery business always seemed like the natural thing to do. Now it is up to me to help Bob and our staff to make this wonderful company as profitable as it should be.”

While Burrows, now 71, still handles a great deal of the winery’s public relations and initial wholesale network, Tamura augments his mentor with financial expertise including cost control and also helps grow additional wholesale accounts.

From Liparita’s initial production of a few hundred cases over seventeen years ago, the winery has grown to its present 5,000-case level.

And for the future?

“I don’t expect us to grow even a little,” Tamura confided. “We might even get a bit smaller if the occasion calls for it. I simply don’t want to overextend our ability to control the quality of fruit we now enjoy. I want to be able to buy the highest quality fruit that is available as that factor helps assure our absolute control of quality.”

Cary Tamura and the entire Liparita family seem entirely focused on the quality issue, a fact wine industry insiders have always termed analogous with Liparita Cellars. Long-term contracts with growers such as prestigious Beckstoffer Vineyards assure Liparita of serious fruit for the foreseeable future.

But as Cary Tamura explains his no nonsense approach to the winery business, one is given to feel that he is also possibly thinking of a return to Liparita’s original winery location on Howell Mountain. Now in the hands of a major winery producer, the property stands basically unused—a remarkable reality to a man like Cary Tamura.

If this month’s Platinum Series Wine Club selection is any example; Liparita Cellars won’t have much of a wait for its new/old home, since it’s quality speaks for itself. Similarly, it is just as easy to argue that Liparita has already arrived. Enjoy!