Napa Valley AVA
"We always try and make the finest wine possible with the grapes nature blessed us with"
When Jim and Barbara Richards first bought their Napa Valley Spring Mountain property back in 1983, the Merlot boom was in full swing. It seemed quite natural that they plant the majority of their 15-acre vineyard in the varietal that was sweeping the nation.
“The advice we were given at the time,” recalled Barbara Richards, “was to plant the classic Bordeaux blending ratio, which was a majority of Merlot and a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon. We followed that advice. We were determined to make the finest Merlot in California.” The couple named their venture Paloma Vineyard after a pair of Spanish love songs that Barbara Richards admired. The word paloma means dove in Spanish, and the Richards’ believed it was a perfect fit for their new business. The first release of just under 800 cases occurred in 1994, and was met with wonderful reviews and extremely high marks. There is no way of determining what the production of Paloma Vineyard will be for a given year.
“Since we have no control of the weather, it is impossible to predict our production each year,” explained Barbara Richards. “We are at a high altitude (3,100 feet at the top, to around 1,800 feet) and are blessed with a number of different soils. These soils each affect the vines differently. Some vines give us pea sized grapes, some are table sized. We have to make do with what nature provides us.” It seems that nature has blessed Paloma Vineyard since its inception. Paloma’s wines have maintained a superior level of quality for the past decade and a half. Awards have been plentiful and an argument can be made that their Merlot is the finest in California.
“When we first appeared on the scene, we couldn’t believe the reception,” said Richards. “The phone rang a great deal in the beginning. But the 15 minutes of fame fades rapidly and it was up to us to continue making the best wines we could possibly produce.” Although Jim Richards passed away a few years ago, Barbara and son Shelton, 58, have carried on the Paloma Vineyard tradition. Shelton is the winemaker for the entity and Barbara is concerned with the final blends, a task she formerly shared with her late husband.
“We pick our fruit by taste and I make the blending decisions the same way,” she continued. “It seems to work for us. I’m a firm believer in the old axiom that if it isn’t broken, then don’t try and fix it.” Paloma Vineyard doesn’t have a tasting facility, but does accept appointments for tasting wines. Visitors can taste Paloma’s wines on the winery’s beautiful deck that Barbara Richards feels, “has one of the absolutely finest views in the entire Napa Valley.”
Barbara Richards gives most of the credit for the winery’s success to the vines that she has cared for personally since the vineyard was first planted. “These vines produce happy grapes,” she exclaimed. “They really get a lot of attention and necessarily so. The Merlot vine is basically weak and wimpy and demands more than normal attention. If it gets that attention, then it is capable of producing some really extraordinary fruit.”
Paloma Vineyard has always sought to control its pricing so as to offer a reasonable price/value relationship. Richards fees that customers will always return if they feel they have paid an appropriate price for her wines.
The Richards have received help from the likes of Dan Duckhorn (the individual most agree is credited with putting Merlot on the California wine map) and Bob Foley who taught Jim and Barbara the essentials of growing grapes and producing top caliber wines.
But, it is the indefatigable spirit and energy of Barbara Richards that makes Paloma Vineyard what it is today. Into her eighties, Richards continues many of the daily chores that she has performed for more than two decades. Even though she was born in California, she can also call Oregon, Texas or Canada her home. She also sees a renewed rise in the popularity of her favorite Merlot varietal, after a period of dullness when one too many wineries made one too many unspectacular Merlots.
“We always try and make the finest wine possible with the grapes nature blessed us with,” she ended. “It is very satisfying when those efforts are rewarded by the people whose money pays for the wines – the consumer. It’s the one result that tells you if you’ve done a really good job.”
A Note from Barbara J. Richards
Dear Platinum Series Members,
My husband and I bought our property in 1983 and planted the first two-thirds in 1985. We cleared the rest and planted that in 1988. We have a total of 15 acres planted. Most of the vineyard is Merlot, with enough Cabernet Sauvignon to put around 15 percent into the Merlot each year. Jim and I took care of the vineyard by ourselves for around 12 years, then hired one full time helper. I now have 2 full time helpers.
Our grapes were sold to big wineries for the first few years. In 1989, Pride, our neighbor, bought their property so we started selling grapes to them. Bob Foley made Pride’s wine with our Merlot and Pride’s Cabernet Sauvignon. In 1994, Bob made Pride’s wine but he also made our wine. He made our wine from 1994 through 1999. We then built a winery, so now we do everything here ourselves. We learned all we know about winemaking from Bob Foley.
Barbara J. Richards