Napa Valley AVA
94 Points by Wine Enthusiast
As a philosophy major during his years at UCLA, Andrew Phipps was taught the importance of thinking things through to a conclusion. Years later, as the owner of Phipps Family Cellars, he has continued his formulative process in the fledgling winery’s development into a really top rate winery. The Southern California (he considers Palos Verdes home) native’s wine renaissance began when he spent a school quarter overseas in France during his junior year. He found himself in Bordeaux, and more exactly the quaint village of St. Emilion. The European charm and French attitude toward wine and winemaking had a profound effect on the young student.
“When I came home from abroad, I had two presents for my parents and the rest of what I could stuff into my bags was wine,” recalled Phipps. Upon graduation, Phipps went to work for giant Coca Cola, but the wine bug was firmly settled in the back of his mind. He traveled north to Napa Valley and began working as a cellar rat for venerable Beaulieu Vineyard. He stayed at BV for a number of years and in a number of varied positions until he eventually reached the national sales level.
In 1999, he met his wife Jennifer, who was associated with Houston’s chain of restaurants. These included the well-respected Rutherford Grill in Rutherford; literally a stone’s throw from BV. By 2002, the couple’s mutual interest in wine prompted their initial forays into the wine business.
2004 saw the initial release of a Zinfandel from Phipps Family Cellars, a whopping 310 cases for anyone keeping records. The winery has grown slowly and in 2007 reached its highest annual production of 1700 cases. This year, Phipps Family Cellars will produce around 1200 cases, about average if you consider production for the past four years.
“With us, it’s not a matter of growth,” explained Phipps. “Here, we are dedicated to quality above all. We consider wine the sixth food group and an equally important part of each meal. Wine is also the most fun part of the meal and that really helps. I personally feel that wine is one of man’s greatest achievements and the result of really hard work. For that reason, the appreciation of wine should be extremely high for everyone involved.” Andrew and Jennifer Phipps are currently about to start a major renovation to a new tasting facility to be located in the city of Napa. The building is at the corner of 2nd and Jefferson in a building owned by minority partners of the winery. Expected to be finished around Christmas of this year, the location will allow Phipps Family Cellars exposure to Napa Valley’s legions of wine lovers.
“It’s a big step for us,” confided Phipps. “It’s part of our plan that utilizes certain revenues and cash reserves to help us continue to persevere. This business is so tough that a lot of people who don’t pay attention to small details don’t make it through the harder times they experience.” Even though Phipps Family Cellars is really small, the industry’s appreciation of its wines has been nothing short of magnificent. Excellent reviews and high scores have vaulted the tiny winery into the ultra boutique category that is a true achievement to the Phipps Family’s extensive work.
Jennifer Phipps handles all the operations for the winery as well as the business aspects. Andrew is responsible for the growing and acquisition facet for the enterprise and works closely with consulting winemaker Jeff Fontanella on the business’s most important style aspect, so crucial to its success.
“Jeff has a resume a mile long (Opus One, Venge, etc.) and is a really down to earth winemaker. We both believe in starting with really good grapes. Jeff also feels that there should be neither additives nor enzymes in making our wines, and I’m also a firm believer in that philosophy. We’re not interested in making wines with tricks,” added Phipps. Andrew Phipps is also a keen practitioner in the family side of his endeavor and expects to take Phipps Family Cellars to the next level of development that would involve additional vineyard land and even a new winery in the future. Until that time, Andrew Phipps will work carefully and will control his winery’s growth in accordance with its financial strength.
“We will be one winery who makes it in the long run,” he finalized. “We work too hard not to survive.”