Napa Valley AVA
Top 100 Wines of 2008 - SF Chronicle & 91 Points - Connoisseurs' Guide
For the brother-sister tandem of Miles and Ryan MacDonnell, the entry of Round Pound Estate into the ranks of upper-echelon Napa Valley wine producers is simply the prolongation of their generation into the world of wine growing and wine making.
Starting as early as 1978, the siblings’ father Robert, began acquiring property in and around the central town of Rutherford in the very heart of the Napa Valley. By bits and pieces, MacDonnell obtained ownership of more than 360 plantable acres, a fact that made him one of the more important growers in the entire valley. For two decades, MacDonnell and his family sold their fruit to nearby wineries including Robert Mondavi, Beaulieu Vineyard and Sterling Vineyards to name a few.
”Sometime around 1992,” recounted Miles MacDonnell, 35, “we began making a little wine for us, but it was just a barrel or two. Our vineyard manager made the wine and we drank it among ourselves. At the time we were selling all of our grapes to outside wineries.”
The number of homemade cases grew steadily until it reached around 200, but MacDonnell recalled that the wine was mostly “made for fun.”
That all changed in 2001, when Miles returned to the family estate and saw an opportunity for developing quality standards for individual blocks of vineyards that his family owned. “We were basically custom growing for our clients and each wanted some individual characteristics for their vines that we were happy to provide. I saw that each one would take the grapes and make them into their own wines, and each one was different. We started making our own wines from each block we owned and we were able to compare them to the others from the same block. It was an incredible opportunity for us to learn from our customers and also provided the impetus for the development of Round Pond Estate into a commercial winery.”
For the record, Round Pond is named after a pond close to Lake Frederick in West Point, New York. Robert MacDonnell’s father taught at West Point and Robert recalled his favorite childhood watering spot as the perfect name for the family’s new winery venture.
The first release of around 950 cases of Round Pond Estate came in 2002, and was immediately received with great validation from both the wine industry press and consumers alike. The production has grown slowly and will be around 4,500 cases this year.
“I do not see us ever going over the 10-12,000-case level,” MacDonnell added. “We really enjoy the fact that we have total control of our wines at this point. If we get too big, we lose part of the ability to truly control our quality. Making top notch wines is our aim, and to us, smaller is better. Since we are still a long way off of the 10,000 level, it will be a long time in the future before we grow that much.”
Some 2 1/2 years ago, Round Pound added a tasting facility and winery complex to their incredible gardens scenario that made Round Pound one of Napa Valley’s premier destinations. The fact that it is located across the road from the iconic Caymus Vineyards on the Rutherford Crossroad makes the winery development easy to locate. The additional attraction of olive groves that produce high quality olive oils is added dressing to the already fabulous setting.
Miles MacDonnell admits that he does all the “fun stuff” for the winery that includes all vineyard management (and also for the rest of the winery’s customers) and control of the production side of the Round Pond Estate business. His sister Ryan, a former investment banker in New York who is also a lawyer, is left with the job of selling and marketing the wines.
“We are still a small, family business,” MacDonnell concluded. “Our Mother Jannine rules over the tasting facility and the other aesthetic aspects of the business with an iron hand and our Dad Robert is still in on any of the major decisions that are made affecting the winery. He enjoys showing up whenever I manage to get myself in trouble.”
Such a buoyant attitude displayed by the entire MacDonnell Family is a main reason for Round Pond Estate’s ongoing success. It is the result of carefully planned and executed strategies that have reached fruition in a relatively short span of years. It makes this month’s Platinum Series selection a pleasure to present to you.