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Tulip Hill Winery

Napa Valley AVA

Tulip Hill Winery blossoms after six years of nurturing

While Tulip Hill Winery is relatively young (year 2000 to be exact) as wineries go, the seeds of its existence were sown nearly a half century before by its founders, Robert “Budge” Brown and his wife Arlene.

Soon after marrying in 1957, the newlyweds began taking trips to Napa Valley to visit their favorite wineries. As their love affair deepened with each other and the allure of grapes, they promised each other that they would one day build a winery if it were at all possible.

That dream came true in 1995, when the Browns purchased some 1,200 acres in the foothills around Tracy, and named it the Mt. Oso Vineyard. The soils were deep and gravelly and Budge Brown felt were perfectly suited to growing the high quality grapes he has always envisioned. After all, he knew that the location was but 60 miles from San Francisco Bay and easily within the throes of its nightly maritime influence. Vines were immediately planted as the winery project began to take shape. The Browns satisfied another long time passion by naming the new winery Tulip Hill. Long time admirers of the marvelous flowers, Brown delved deeply into the history of the prized flora. Historically, tulips were so rare that in the 1600’s, they were only affordable by the rich. Tulips became a must have for both aristocrats and wealthy merchants. One fine tulip bulb could command as much as $2,300 in today’s dollars and notarized bills of sale authenticated the bulb’s origin and owner. It seemed quite natural for the new winery to be named Tulip Hill.

When Tulip Hill Winery acquired an additional parcel of 25 acres in Nice (pronounced the same as the French City) in Northern California’s Pope Valley, Budge Brown decided to plant some 30,000-tulip bulbs representing hundreds of varieties of the storied flower. When in bloom in early spring, the area is literally a sight to behold.

Using a rented facility in Kelseyville, the initial releases of Tulip Hill wines were presented in 2001. Tulip Hill began modestly and released a bit over 2,000 cases to the public. “We started small and have carefully controlled our growth,” remarked 38-year-old daughter Kristi Brown. Kristi handles the national sales and marketing. “We have always strived for quality and will always remain a boutique-ish, hand-crafted winery,” she added. “Our ultimate goal is in the area of 10,000 cases, but that level is still a ways off.” Tulip Hill also employs another Brown sibling, Jeff, 40, who is charged with maintaining the vineyard operations. His specialty is producing intense flavors from Tulip Hill’s diverse vineyards. Much of the family’s grapes production is sold to other wineries, but certain selected lots are designated for use in Tulip Hill’s highly acclaimed and frequently medaled award winning wines. A new state-of-the-art winery was completed in May of 2004 that also includes custom crushing capability and is the pride of Tulip Hill Winery and the entire Brown Family. Sadly, Budge’s beloved wife Arlene passed away last November, but she was able to see her dreams of a completed winery prior to her death.

Tulip Hill’s approach to sales and marketing is somewhat unique in that Tulip Hill operates dual tasting rooms at the winery in upstate Nice and also at a lovely location at The River in Rancho Mirage, some 500 plus miles to the south in the middle of the desert.

“We felt the Rancho Mirage location was an excellent opportunity to expose our wines to people in a different part of the state,” explained Kristi Brown. “Everything was perfectly legal and we wondered why other wineries didn’t take avail themselves of the chance for increased exposure for their products in areas away from their wineries. And so far, it has worked out wonderfully. Since I live and work out of Palm Springs, it is quite easy for me to keep an eye on things.”

Tulip Hill is also the site of an annual tulip festival that is held in early April. Last year’s event was actually over attended, causing the Browns to limit attendance at this year’s festivities.

Tulip Hill’s wines have been on a tear of late and have captured numerous high quality medals and awards in tough competition. It all seems to have come together for the emerging Pope Valley winery and the entire Brown Family.

We hope you enjoy this month’s Gold Medal Selection as much as we have enjoyed discovering it for you.

Map of the area

Robert ‘Budge” Brown — Owner, Entrepreneur

Picture of Robert ‘Budge” Brown — Owner, Entrepreneur

When you first meet Robert ‘Budge” Brown, you get the feeling that you have known him a lifetime. Anyone who has been quoted as ‘Attending the School of Hard Knocks, with a degree in Trial and Error and an emphasis on Blood, Sweat and Tears,” can’t be all that hard to take, right’

Right, and please be sure to spell right with a capital ‘R’.

It seems that throughout his entire business life, Budge (He has no idea where the nickname Budge originated, only that he has had it since he was two) Brown has outperformed his expectations. He did complete his university studies, at none other than fabled University of California-Davis. His degree was in agriculture, and not oenology-related as were the degrees of so many veterans and icons of the wine industry as documented throughout the years.

Brown’s first calling was to row farming, where the initial crops were oats and wheat. Early on, Budge Brown began leasing small plots of land in the lower San Joaquin Valley and finally, in the late 1960’s bought several hundred acres near the sprawling City of Manteca in the Central Valley.

Once there, Budge realized the land he purchased possessed a natural sand and gravel base, so he promptly began to quarry sand and gravel from the site. Since the land was next to the San Joaquin River, the quarrying created a natural reservoir that many local people began to flock to for picnics and outings.

Sensing another plausible business opportunity in his own backyard, in 1974, Brown created the first commercial waterslide out of concrete and also put the finishing touches on a complete campground for the site. Next, he upgraded the waterslide with plastic and became the first person to perfect a practical waterslide for mass usage. The phenomena became known as the Manteca Slides and soon became the largest waterslide resort on the entire west coast.

All the time, Budge Brown had not lost sight of his own personal goals, and his long standing love affair with grapes and the wine industry. Whenever practical plots of land became available, he bought these parcels around Manteca and then further south around the city of Tracy. But his long-term goal had always been to find some land in or around Napa Valley.

‘It was a long time before we could afford land in Napa,” Brown recently remarked. ‘We wanted to create wines that we wanted to drink, and have a lot of fun doing it.”