Napa Valley AVA
LynnDon Cellars works with vineyards all over California to source the best fruit
LynnDon (pronounced lin-don) Cellars is the result of a promise made more than 40 years ago to his wife Lynn by Don Baker. Baker, a Philadelphia native, was involved in a career in forestry, which involved smoke jumping and fighting forest fires. He had met his wife at the University of Montana in the mid-1960’s where she was studying to become a nurse.
“Lynn’s folks were from Sacramento,” he recalled during a recent interview. “We would visit them for major holidays and the like and we started going to nearby Napa Valley for short trips. We both enjoyed the experience and I felt a growing attraction for wine and the wine industry.” Baker decided to do something about his fascination and called the dean of viticulture and enology at the University of California Davis for advice. The dean felt that Baker’s former forestry courses (and in particular, the sciences involved) gave the former Marine an advantage and encouraged him to enter school. A short two years later and Don Baker graduated and successfully made the jump into the wine industry.
“That was over 40 years ago,” he added. “At the time, I made a promise to my wife that one day we would have a winery of our own and make the type of wines I wanted to make.” But, Baker conceded, money and prevailing circumstances somehow prevented that from happening. Don Baker’s career continued and reached the rarified air of winemaker for a number of top wineries. Then, over a year ago, he became involved with Napa Valley’s Stonehedge Winery’s family of wines and its unique portfolio. He also found an insightful owner in Stonehedge’s innovative Shahin Shahabi.
“After I was there for a while, the idea of a new winery came up and I talked at length to Mr. Shahabi. He embraced the idea of LynnDon Cellars and we started planning for the first release.” The initial wine release of this new entity was around thirteen hundred cases and it’s offered exclusively through the tasting room and Gold Medal Wine Club. Baker estimates that additional projects and more releases will soon be forthcoming.
“We plan to let the market dictate our next move. Since my name is on the label, I want to be able to do what is best for its continued growth. Right now, there is an excellent supply of premium grapes available throughout California and possibly in Oregon. I want to be able to pick and choose the very best for our new winery. After all, my wife and I have waited over four decades to see our dream come true.” The classic approach chosen for the new entity includes a classic old Chateau-style label that is accented in black and gold and represents Don Baker’s attitude toward his wine.
“I’ve had a long time to think about this,” he provided. “There is a part of me going out in these wines. I intend for them to be as good as I can possibly make them. I have been fortunate to make some really fine wines up to this point, but none with my own name on them.”
The Art of Fine Wine
Painted by artist David Walker. He has traveled the world learning from master artists in Vietnam, Europe, Mexico and South America.
Today he resides in the Russian River Valley and enjoys painting nearby vineyards and capturing the beautiful landscape.
(See PDF for the full painting)
About the Vineyard
Wineries such as Lynndon Cellars have access to fruit from all parts of California. This gives them a unique advantage over other wineries that produce their own grapes and must make do with whatever nature provides them in any given year.
Lynndon Cellars found some superior Chardonnay in Mendocino County, for instance, and was able to make a superior wine out of the fruit. The source for the other wine in this month’s feature is the Paso Robles growing region of the Central Coast that is credited with being an excellent growing environment for a number of premium grape varietals.
This unique advantage and the flexibility it affords wineries such as Lynndon Cellars balances the equation of any winery having to rely on growing its own grapes to be successful in the sales arena. With land costs becoming more extensive and quality growing land in established regions disappearing, it seems likely that more wineries will take the path chosen by Lynndon Cellars in attempting to source quality fruit for their production.
Dan Baker - Owner & Winemaker
Don Baker is a classic winemaker, having learned from some of the leading winemakers in the Napa Valley during his forty-year career. He is also a throwback to earlier European winemakers who believed in the old adage that Mother Nature provides a silver platter for winemakers. Baker is a firm adherent of leaving the wines alone as much as possible to allow them to achieve their own greatness.
He says, ‘If you just baby it along, it will do wonderfully. Period.” It is hard to find fault with such a philosophy and the marvelous record of awards and praises Don Baker’s wines have garnered in the past. His approach is proven and his attitude is clear. ‘I want to achieve a good value relationship first and foremost,” he proclaimed. ‘My wines will be clean and well-balanced. With the ability to carefully select the fruit we use, we should be able to achieve the same quality on a regular basis.”
More about Don Baker
Into his early 70’s, Don Baker exudes the energy of a person much younger than him. His new passion surrounding the founding of LynnDon Cellars has energized the renowned winemaker and consultant to a degree he never thought possible.
‘I had always been an active, assertive type of person. I have also been an outdoors type of person with what I wanted to do.” Baker attended the University of Montana and received his degree in forestry during the mid 1960’s. He received a commission in the United States Marines and wound up in Vietnam early in his career. When his stint was up, Baker returned to the northwest and took a job with lumber giant Weyerhaeuser in Klamath Falls, Oregon.
‘It was a good job and I enjoyed it, but my interest in wine pulled at me and I finally gave in.”
Baker had married his college sweetheart Lynn and she encouraged him to follow his passion. UC Davis beckoned and Baker followed his instincts into the wine industry.
‘I have had a long and fortunate run in wine,” he continued. ‘I have also had the great fortune to work for and with some of the greats in the business.” Baker lists the iconic Walter Shug, founding winemaker of Joseph Phelps Vineyard and later proprietor of his own renowned Shug Carneros Estate Winery as one of his great teachers. The colorful Bill Hill of William Hill Estate Winery and numerous other winery projects is also one of Baker’s closest industry friends.
‘These two taught me a great deal about the winemaking profession,” Baker professed. ‘Both had different styles and I was able to garner a great sense of expertise from each of them.” Baker also had the good luck of being involved with Kendall-Jackson’s innovative Calina project in Chile. He spent the better part of two years developing the winery and establishing it as one of Chile’s top producers. He returned to California in 2009 and began a consulting business until he finally was coaxed into joining the Smith-Anderson Wine Group, or Stonehedge Winery, as it is commonly called.
‘It was a great opportunity for me,” Baker confided. ‘The owners are far-sighted and completely in step with what I want to accomplish. We analyze the current market demands and make our decisions accordingly. The path we have chosen for our brands is the most flexible that could be imagined. I liken it to a painter’s palate, where the artist has an incredible number of colors to work with. If he is creative, then he is able to produce paintings that are all encompassing. I think the same is possible in making wines — if you utilize the God-given fruit and don’t attempt to do too much with it, the results will be most rewarding, and excellent wines will be forthcoming.” While he has been a winemaker for more than thirty years and has won numerous awards and accolades for his wines in a number of different venues, Don Baker is also excited about the prospects of future competitions for his new LynnDon Cellars wines.
‘It will be nice to see how they do,” he admitted. ‘And, if they do well, I will certainly take pride in their results. It isn’t often that you can make do on a forty-year-old promise to your wife.” If enthusiasm and great pride in what you are producing mean anything, then LynnDon Cellars is already a winner.