Napa Valley AVA

91 Points - Connoisseurs' Guide

The story of Titus Vineyards of Napa Valley is not unlike many other modern-era small wineries that have prospered in the rich soils of California’s most fertile grape growing valley. The story involves migration, love, family and, even a spot of luck.

Lee Titus left his Minnesota roots and headed west in the mid 1950’s. When he arrived, he met and later married Ruth Traverso, the daughter of an Italian immigrant family of bakers who lived in the famous San Francisco North Beach neighborhood. Lee eventually became a doctor (radiologist) and made his practice in San Francisco. Due to her Northern Italian heritage, Ruth’s family considered wines and the making of wines, an integral part of their family life and celebrated with homemade wine on many weekends and holidays.

Eventually, Lee and Ruth Titus began making treks into Napa Valley and finally moved to nearby Sonoma in the late 1950’s to raise their family. In 1969, the Titus’s began purchasing three separate parcels of vineyard land in Napa Valley, just north of the town of St. Helena, that eventually added up to around 50 acres. These tracts were planted and thus began the 20-plus year era of Titus Vineyards as a quality supplier of varietals to such wineries as Beaulieu Vineyard, Quail Ridge and Pine Ridge.

Some time around 1987, the first talk of making Titus Vineyards into a winery was openly discussed around the Titus family dinner table. After a great deal of discussion, the evolution of Titus Vineyards as a winery was left to sons Eric and Phillip.

With Eric serving as the general manager and vineyard keeper and Phillip handling the winemaking chores, the first release of 600 cases of Titus Vineyard occurred in 1990. It was a fitting start for the tiny winery that quickly gained a loyal following and a number of prestigious awards for its wines.

The winery has grown slowly over the past fifteen-plus years and today produces between 10,000 and 11,000 cases, depending on the yield of the vineyards at each harvest. According to Eric Titus, Titus Vineyards production has now reached its upward spike.

“We still consider ourselves to be a smallish winery,” he began, “we are more along the artisan type of production facility. When we started, there really weren’t that many small wineries to compete against. We were always going up against the larger wineries who often bought their grapes and that was quite difficult.”

Eric also explained that it became necessary to replant all of the winery’s vineyards during the phylloxera epidemic of the late 1990’s and that fact actually changed the winery’s attitude toward what they wanted to produce.

“After the great problem the phylloxera caused for everyone, we decided to replant with the idea of producing really higher quality fruit. It was our intention to be able to make all our wines estate grown and not have to rely on any other suppliers for our needs. It took a while to complete, but now we have reached our goal of being self-sufficient at a truly elevated growing level.”

Even though Eric Titus holds a doctorate in biology, he is also well suited to run the winery on a day-to-day basis. His brother Phillip has a degree from UC Davis in plant science that is also bolstered by extensive enology courses at the prestigious university. Phillip also worked in various positions at other notable Napa wineries including Stratford, Cartlidge and Brown, and Chappellet where he served as winemaker in 1990.

Asked about the greatest accomplishment of Titus Vineyards, Eric Titus replied modestly, “While the scores are nice and everyone likes getting a 94 or 95 from a top rater, our goal of having our entire estate’s production go into Titus Vineyards’ bottling is more important to us. It’s all about our coming who we have become and the tremendous work it took by all of us to get where we are today.”

Such a sage viewpoint is indicative of the type of winery Titus Vineyards is and of the truly superior quality of their wines. The charming property that rests on the banks of the Napa River provides the second generation of the Titus Family with near perfect fruit, the basic ingredient for high caliber wines.

The wines of Titus Vineyards are a fitting tribute to Lee and Ruth Titus who dreamed of one day having their own vineyards in their beloved Napa Valley.

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