Napa Valley AVA
92 Pts, Best of Class, Gold Medal Winner
It’s a not so unusual story of a pair of college friends who attended the University of California Davis, long heralded as the premier learning place for so many gifted winemakers and the backbone for today’s modern California wine industry. But, as luck would have it, there’s more to this particular story, in fact much, much more.
The friends, Ted Henry, and Lisa Michaud, were both members of the Cal Ag Marching Band, the college’s notorious marching group. They met, soon fell in love and married. Ted, who had started in pre-med, switched to enology after taking a wine appreciation course. It should be noted that Ted soon fell in love with wine and winemaking. Both were from Northern California, Ted from San Ramon and Lisa from Napa. With deep appreciation for the wine business, both chose to make the wine industry their careers.
Switch forward to 2005, and Ted has already compiled an outstanding resume, with the likes of Trinchero Family Vineyards and Jarvis Winery, while Lisa can list the likes of iconic Diamond Creek Vineyards and ZD Wines on her sheet. The pair then decided to go it on their own, and Prime Cellars becomes a reality.
“To me, it was something like finally being able to have total creative control of my product,” informed Ted Henry. “I had worked at a number of wineries and each was different in its approach. Some of the differences were subtle, but they amounted to giving the wines a particular style. I had my own style of wine in mind, one that featured crisp acidity and was bright and colorful. Most importantly, I wanted my wines to be extremely food friendly, so that’s the course I set.” By the way, the name of the venture, Prime Cellars, is a story unto itself.
“The word prime kept coming up whenever we started searching for a name,” Henry continued. “A lot of names were already taken but prime was used often to describe the prime vineyards, prime grapes, and the like. The more we used the word, the more we liked it. Prime seemed related to many things within the wine industry so we felt it was a natural.” The Henrys went to local Napa graphic artist Sarah Lucas for their label. They both feel that Lucas was able to portray with her design, “a powerful, but rustic feeling with a certain vibe to it.” Prime Cellars’ initial release of a miniscule 100 cases came in 2007. Production in 2010 will be around 600 cases, just less than the 1,000 case-level that Ted Henry has forecast for the near future. Henry says that the turning point for their winery came with a 93 rating by the well-respected Wine Enthusiast for their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. As soon as the magazine appeared, Prime Cellars was inundated with calls for purchase and sold out in days.
“What amazed me was the fact that many people actually sought us out and found out where we were,” Henry added, “It was a very exciting time for all of us.” Since 2008, Prime Cellars has occupied space at another Napa facility, Fontanella Family Winery, owned by one more of the Henry’s UC Davis classmates, Jeff Fontanella. Ted Henry calls it a “great place with wonderful facilities with which to make wine and a truly harmonious atmosphere in which to work.”’
Prime Cellars wines mirror the terroir of their grapes’ locale, in this case the Coombsville growing area just outside Napa city. Coombsville has long been home to superior vineyards and grapes and features an extended growing season for its vines. Such extended growing time is beneficial to Cabernet Sauvignon, Ted Henry’s favorite varietal. Henry is also pleased with the fact that Coombsville is currently awaiting its own appellation status, a significant marketing plus for the grapes. With relatively little wine to sell at present, the Henrys have relied on a winery mailing list and distribution in two states, California and Georgia. Most of Prime Cellars’ wines are sold on-premise (through restaurants) and Ted Henry thinks that will not change in the future.
“Our customer base has become incredibly loyal,” he stated. “And we continue to sell out each succeeding vintage. We believe it is a good thing to reward customer loyalty in that manner.” The Henrys have two young children and Lisa Henry handles all the winery’s business needs by herself.
“We like it that way, and intend to keep Prime Cellars small,” Henry concluded