Vine Cliff Winery
Napa Valley AVA
High quality, limited batch, estate grown wines
Like a flashy thoroughbred horse whose fashionable pedigree imparts breeding and class, Napa Valley’s Vine Cliff Winery stands confidently among the wine industry’s elite establishments from a number of points of view.
First of all, Vine Cliff ’s history traces back to the original estate of George C. Yount, one of Napa’s founding scions and namesake for the popular Southern Napa town. Five years after Yount’s death in 1865, George Burrage and Thomas Tucker purchased a portion of his estate and started wine production approximately a year later. The site was situated on a rocky hillside on Napa Valley’s northeast side and quickly became the largest winery in the valley.
When Burrage and Tucker died prior to 1890, wealthy San Franciscan John Fry purchased the property with its incredible winery and tunnel complex and set out to make Vine Cliff the finest winery in the state. He had made his fortune in Nevada silver and through San Francisco real estate investments. He also had important connections to the Napa Valley Wine Company, a dominant force in the late 19th century wine industry.
Phylloxera destroyed both the vineyards and winery and by 1900, wine production had come to an end.
It wasn’t until 85 years later that the proverbial phoenix arose and Vine Cliff was rescued from obscurity. The winery’s modern-day benefactors are the Sweeney family of Northern Virginia, who gained prominence in the hotel business and finally settled in Napa Valley. In 1985, Chuck and Nell Sweeney purchased the estate and set about restoring it to its former elegance and standing.
At the same time, the winery was officially proclaimed a “ghost” winery, or a winery that had fallen on hard times and had to be abandoned.
Of the original winery and tunnels, only the rudimentary first floor and most of the tunnel complex remained. For the next decade, the Sweeney family embarked on an ambitious building plan that today ranks Vine Cliff among the finest facilities in the entire state. The winery’s centerpiece is a state-of-the-art gravity-fed production plant that compliments its world-class buildings, 15,000 square-foot cave and barrel aging space, and vineyards, all grown under specific ecological farming practices.
The location of Vine Cliff ’s Oakville estate is also rather remarkable, set back from the Silverado Trail in the eastern hills of Napa Valley, surrounded by such neighbors as Oakville Ranch and Dalla Valle Vineyards. These hillsides in the eastern part of Napa Valley are highly coveted for producing superior wines and are considered an enviable location for any winery.
The Sweeneys produced their first wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon, in 1990, and quickly established themselves as a premium producer of intensely-flavored, small-lot wines. Over the years, production steadily grew as they introduced more Bordeaux-style wines to the portfolio, sourcing fruit from other vineyards in Calistoga, Howell Mountain, and Carneros.
It is interesting that Vine Cliff Winery’s annual production has now shrunk to around the 6,000-case level, down from approximately 17,000 cases around the turn of the century. This can be attributed to the winery’s decision to plant a number of new vineyards in specific appellations with the ultimate aim of being a completely estate-producing winery. There are no plans to increase production, as the goal is to focus exclusively on high quality, limited batch, estate-grown wines.
The current winemaker for Vine Cliff Winery is Rich Frederick, who joined the team just in time for the 2019 harvest. Rich was previously the winemaker at Revana Winery, where he worked with Consulting Winemaker Thomas Brown (Brown is also the Consulting Director of Winemaking for Vine Cliff Winery). He has also worked with another winemaking legend, Heidi Barrett, and brings years of winemaking experience to Vine Cliff Winery. With a winemaking team of Rich Frederick and Thomas Brown, who is considered one of America’s legendary winemakers, Vine Cliff Winery is certainly in exceptional hands to continue the vision of crafting outstanding wines from a landmark winery.
“Vine Cliff is truly a labor of love,” Proprietress Nell Sweeney has stated. “We get excited about each vintage as if it was our first at Vine Cliff, which was the 1990. We are gratified that we have such a loyal following of wine lovers that makes it all worthwhile.”
Nell Sweeney’s relentless effort to create a warm and welcoming experience at the winery, coupled with the passion of Vine Cliff ’s winemaking team, makes Vine Cliff Winery such an extraordinary story. Please enjoy this world-class bottling, specially selected for our Platinum Wine Club members.
Map of the area
Dear Platinum Wine Club Members,
Vine Cliff winery has been in existence since 1871. In 1877, the Napa Reporter described the winery as “a semi-circle of inaccessible rocky side hills, in a canyon, in which nestled the buildings; but has by the energy of man been transformed into a useful and picturesque piece of property. Hundreds of tons of rock have been patiently gathered offthe hillsides - hillsides which are now full of grapevines.
Truly does it look to one who saw it years ago (and not many at that) as though the finger of enchantment has been pointed at its frowning rocky surface; and changed into a thing of beauty and joy forever.”
Our 2019 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is 100% from our estate vineyard in Oakville, where we have various elevations and terraced slope orientations that range from the valley floor to our bench vineyards at an elevation of 680 feet.
The vintage is one of our best of the decade. With very few extreme heat events, and a relatively mild finish to the season, the fruit was allowed the hang time to give us great color, structure and ripe, soft tannins.
We hope you enjoy this wine as much as we loved making it.
Vine Cliff Winery
Dear Platinum Wine Club Members,
Vine Cliff Winery has been producing wine under this name since 1871 and was part of Historical Bond #9 up until a valley-wide Phylloxera outbreak wiped out many of the original vineyards. Not long after, a fire burned the original wood portion of the winery to the ground – the original stone structure remained and is one of the famed “Ghost Wineries” of the Napa Valley. The property sat abandoned for nearly 85 years until my family purchased it in 1985. We planted grapes right away and they took off. After nearly selling out our first vintage as bulk juice, we quickly realized we had a gem on our hands and bottled our first Vine Cliff wine in 1990; we haven’t looked back since.
We started producing Chardonnay in 1992 by hand selecting rows from some of our favorite vineyards in the Los Carneros region. In 1997, we had the opportunity to purchase a small piece of land adjacent to the vineyard where we felt the best Chardonnay was growing in the region. We planted 14 acres of Chardonnay there and saw our first vintage from this property in 2001. Bright, balanced, and simply delicious – this 2012 Los Carneros Chardonnay has flints of lemon curd, apricot, and vanilla. This is a staff and family favorite!
As a family, we focus on limited production, high quality Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon with some fun little side projects here and there. We recently opened a second tasting room in Saint Helena and rolled out a cheese and charcuterie program that we would love to share with any of you that plan to stop by and see us! If a visit to our Estate to tour the caves and the original “Ghost Winery” is more up your alley, please contact us for a reservation.
Vine Cliff Winery