Napa Valley AVA
This emerging entity seems headed for new heights
To adequately follow the circuitous road that Oakford Vineyards has traveled to become this month’s Platinum Wine Club selection, it is necessary to start at the winery’s very beginning. To be sure, the Oakford Vineyards story is somewhat divergent to that of other successful Napa Valley wineries.
In the early 1980’s, Chuck and Cathy Ball purchased some 40 acres of prime Napa Valley property along the Oakville Grade Road and proceeded to plant about six acres. The property faced eastward and was composed of the pebbly, almost shaley ground on the eastern side of the heralded Mayacamas Ridge. The vines, mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, are the grapes that have made Oakville and Napa Valley famous for many decades.
The Balls took their time in developing the small winery and contracted with noted winemaker Bob Levy to make their initial releases. In 1986, some 200 cases of the first Oakford Vineyards wines were offered for sale and were generally accorded quiet critical acclaim.
For the next decade, Oakford Vineyards could have easily been considered among Napa Valley’s best kept secrets. A metallic black gate that was so unobtrusive that even members of the local wine local wine industry were unaware of its existence protected its front entrance. Oakford’s wines were never advertised and every bottle produced from each succeeding vintage was quickly sold.
Oakford soon became a distinct cult winery, with small production and a loyal following that insured its continuing success. By the mid 1990’s, another noted winemaker, Heidi Barrett was making Oakford’s classically oriented wines.
Even though next-door neighbor Bill Harlan and his storied Harlan Estate hit the big time and several of the other neighboring cult wineries grew larger, Oakford remained its curious, smallish self.
Eventually the Balls decided to sell the property. Floyd Wilson, a native of Wichita, Kansas, purchased Oakford Vineyards in mid-1997. Wilson maintained the quality level of the previous owners until a divorce five years later forced the sale of Oakford Vineyards in 2002.
The new owners were social acquaintances of Wilson and were also avid wine collectors. Both Tom and Kyle Futo brought a new energy to Oakford and soon managed to increase the entity’s total acreage to more than 140 acres.
“We will have a little more than thirteen acres under vine after this year,” remarked Oakford General Manager Joshua Lowell, 31. “The existing mix of vines is mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, but there are also a number of other Bordelaise varietals. It is the Futos’ intent to continue making wines that are classic in nature, but with great attention paid to detail.”
Tom Futo brings a resume from the investment business with him, but considers his ownership of Oakford Vineyards “as much a passion of mine as a pure investment.” Futo and his wife are low-key, family-oriented people who prefer a quiet existence to Napa Valley’s sometimes flashy lifestyle. The Futos divide their time between Wichita and Napa, but with their daughter enrolled in school in Napa, the couple expects to see more and more of California as plans for a new winery facility takes shape.
“We are presently working with architects and builders to construct a brand new state-of-the-art winery facility,” Lowell explained. “We have a 15,000 gallon permit and the square footage will probably end up around the 8,000 square foot mark. Tom Futo wants everything to be the best so it is really an enjoyable project with which to be involved.” It is possible that the project will begin construction as early as next month.
Production at Oakford Vineyards reached it zenith during the 2001 vintage, when around 1200 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon were produced. Current plans call for somewhat less production from the winery until the entire thirteen acres come into full production. At that time, Oakford will produce only estate wines from its’ own vineyards.
“When you have grapes available from what is arguably some of Napa Valley’s finest acreage,” Joshua Lowell added, “it seems silly to use anything else. Just take a look at the neighborhood and you can see what I mean.”
It all seems to have finally fallen into place for the understated wines of Oakford Vineyards. Once the ownership aspect of the business finally stabilized, additional factors have now begun to reach fruition. The emerging entity seems headed for new heights, extremely good news for its incredible legion of faithful followers.
It is with great pleasure that we offer you this month’s Platinum Wine Club selection from Oakford Vineyards. Enjoy!