Sonoma County region
Owned by renowned vineyard manager Steve Hill
It all started simply enough with a job offer from a friend and wound up a near perfect example of a successful boutique winery. Back in 1978, Steve Hill was a recent graduate of Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo on California’s Central Coast. With a major in agricultural business, the new former student looked forward to a career in a friendly agricultural business. Where and what he would do were up in the air. When an old family friend named Ed Durrell bought some property in Sonoma county, Hill was asked if he would be interested in running the operation.
Durrell intended to convert the former 500-acre cattle ranch in Southwest Sonoma County into vineyard property, but there was a slight hitch. Hill, it seemed, knew practically nothing about planting and growing grapes. Durrell was confident Hill could learn on the job and a wonderful partnership ensued. For the next 31 years, Steve Hill managed the fortunes of Durrell Vineyards during its rise to greatness.
The vineyards flourished and their production was sold to existing wineries that soon began to vineyard designate the grapes from the Durrell operation. In no time, the grapes were being considered among Sonoma’s finest, and were consistently rated among the top five in Sonoma County.
In 1994, Steve Hill began acquiring some acreage in the vicinity of Durrell Vineyards with the plan in mind that he would also become a grower for other wineries. “All I wanted was to grow luxury grapes to sell to the better wineries,” he recalled. "The thought of making our own wines wasn’t even a consideration.”
Today, the concentration of vineyards that Hill owns personally numbers about 70, with roughly half of that total under vine. Approximately eighty percent of the fruit is sold to the likes of Patz & Hall, Loring Winery, Ram’s Gate and a host of other small wineries under long term contracts. So, just how did the Parmelee-Hill brand of wines finally develop?
“My son Ned made the observation that a lot of wineries were using our name for their vineyard-designated wines with great success. We decided that we would make a small number of cases (65) from some of our fruit and the result was simply spectacular. The wines became an almost instant success and we decided to continue our production,” Hill added.
That was in 2003, and Parmelee-Hill Vineyards has continued to flourish. This year, just under 800 cases will be produced from the exceptional fruit that grows on the Sonoma county property. “Whether we continue to grow will be up to the future generations,” declared Hill.
Was he surprised at the accolades Parmelee-Hill wines have gathered? “No, we were not really surprised,” he continued. “With the property we had to work with, we sort of knew we could grow great grapes. We are extremely proud of our accomplishments, and the honors are just a part of that accomplishment.”
Hill also believes that the quality of his wines goes hand in hand with the fact that he only grows the highest quality grapes. “One feeds off the other,” he countered. “The fact that we raise superior fruit for others makes the same quality fruit available for our own wines. Without our winery customers, I doubt there would even be a Parmelee-Hill portfolio of wines.” Hill’s wife of many years, the former Gwen Parmelee, lends her business talents to the operation along with her name. Gwen serves as the company’s bookkeeper, offers moral support and helps with wine tasting events.
If there is continued growth at Parmelee-Hill, such growth will be slow and steady. Steve Hill is deeply committed to quality and knows that growth can be a hindrance to a really top notch operation.
“We are satisfied with where we are,” he concluded. “My son Ned is in the vineyard management business and we are one of his clients. There are already four grandchildren to think about and who knows what will happen in the future. I intend to be around for some time and just let nature take its course.”
Wineries like Parmelee-Hill are the backbone of Northern California’s enduring wine industry. Without these tiny operations, the industry would soon lapse into a number of large, high production facilities with little spirit and subsiding quality. Thank Heaven for the likes of Parmelee-Hill Vineyards!
Don Van Staaveren - Winemaker
To make the type of wine Parmelee-Hill wanted meant sourcing a winemaker of the highest caliber to craft it. Steve and Gwen found him in Don Van Staaveren, one of Sonoma's famed veteran winemakers. Don was born to Dutch immigrants and grew up living and working on dairy farms in California's Central Valley. Leaving the cows behind, Don earned a degree in fruit science from California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo. He went on to manage vineyards for Gallo and Buena Vista Vineyards, and hadn't planned on becoming a winemaker.
While working for Buena Vista, Don fell in love with Pinot Noir though, and took every opportunity to immerse himself in the farming and winemaking practices of the varietal.
In 1976, Don took a crush position for Chateau St. Jean and it wasn't long before he worked his way up the ranks in the cellar to become winemaker. Chateau St. Jean became the first ever winery to have five wines featured in Wine Spectator's Annual Top 100, and it was all thanks to Don's winemaking talent.
Today, Don is the winemaker for Parmelee-Hill and Three Sticks Winery. In his free time, he enjoys woodworking, spending time with his wife, Margo, and surfing off the Sonoma Coast.
Steve Hill and Gwen Parmelee-Hill purchased the first parcel of their Sonoma Valley vineyard property in 1994 and planted it with Syrah. In subsequent years, they purchased adjoining acreage and added Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, and Roussanne to complete the 70-acre vineyard as it stands today.
Steve Hill knew the Parmelee-Hill vineyard property well, as it was once part of the celebrated Durell Ranch, although it had never before been planted. Steve had helped develop the Durrell Ranch and had a major hand it turning it into the famed property it is today.
Parmelee-Hill Vineyards sit on a knoll that faces the Sonoma Valley to the East and San Pablo Bay to the South. It sees coastal influences in the form of morning fog and afternoon ocean breezes, which help to promote a long growing season that produces fruit with intense flavor. Much of Parmelee-Hill's fruit is sold to such notable wineries as Armida, Orin Swift, Patz and Hall, Ram's Gate, and Loring. Steve and his son Ned share the vineyard management responsibilities.
A Note from Steve Hill
Dear Platinum Series Members,
I proudly grew the world-renowned Durell Vineyards Chardonnay grapes for 35 years. Since 1994, our family has owned Parmelee-Hill (my wife’s maiden name is Parmelee) in the southwestern foothills of Sonoma Valley.
We have been making small amounts of luxury wine with the help of our consulting winemaker, Don VanStaavern, since 2001. It is our pleasure to introduce the 2013 Parmelee-Hill Estate Chardonnay for your enjoyment.
Grapes were hand harvested at 5:00am (the coolest time of the day) on September 18th, 2013 into small pans (so they wouldn’t be crushed before arriving at the winery). After pressing and settling, the juice was gently placed in French oak barrels (40% new) for fermentation and aging. 175 cases were bottled on January 23, 2015. Nothing is hurried along.
This handcrafted wine is a result of our total commitment to grape growing excellence. Enjoy!
Owner and Wine Grower