Volkhardt Family Vineyards and Winery
Napa Valley AVA
The Volkhardts have been growing grapes in the Green Valley since the 1950s.
Ben Volkhardt Jr. wanted to escape the city and suburban growth of the San Francisco Bay area. Even in the early 1950s, it seemed that things were getting a bit too crowded. He had always wanted to live in the country and the Green Valley up north, just a few miles east of Napa was just the place.
In 1952 Ben Jr. purchased an 80-acre piece of property that was loaded with peach and pear trees. Also on the property was a small, run-down, 4-acre vineyard of Alicante Bouschet grapes. Primarily drawn to the property for its fruit trees, Ben set out to make a go at becoming an orchard farmer. A sheet metal contractor by trade, he continued to commute each day back to the Bay area to run his own business which he had started shortly after World War II.
It didn’t take long for Ben to realize that making money as an orchard farmer was extremely difficult. The margins were very low and he simply did not have enough fruit on the property to make it work. His attention then turned to the tiny vineyard planted right next to the orchard.
His research suggested that with his acreage size, the grape growing business might be worth a try. You have to realize that in the mid-1950s there were not many winegrape growers in northern California let alone wineries to buy the grapes. The California wine industry was in its infancy, so there were not many so-called experts around either. What experts there were, told him to plant varietals such as, French Colombard, Gamay, Ruby Cabernet and Chenin Blanc.
Three to five acres at a time over the next 20 years, Ben Jr. gradually ripped out his fruit trees and planted grapevines. Each successive year brought in bigger yields and each crop was easily sold off to the growing population of area wineries. In 1962, Ben finally sold his business in the Bay area, quit commuting, and devoted full time to growing grapes.
In 1974, Ben asked his son, Ben III to come aboard and help run the business. Ben III was a successful real estate broker at the time but his dad still managed to coax him. “Back then the wine industry was really beginning to take off,” recalls Ben III. “And besides, there was something very appealing about the location and also being a part of a family business.”
Over the next 8 years the Volkhardts watched as the California wine industry continued to flourish. In 1982, they stopped watching and decided to get in on the action. Without further delay, they built a beautiful winery and start making their own wine under the label Château de Leu, named after Ben III’s uncle, Roy Leu.
Father and son continued to sell their grape crop each year, but kept their best quality grapes for their own label. By 1989 Château de Leu production had grown to 5,000 cases consisting of six different wines. “Things were really starting to gel nicely,” Ben III recalls. About that time, out of the blue, they were approached by King Brewing Co. of Japan who made them an offer too good to pass up. They sold the winery, but wisely relinquished just one-half of the property, keeping 40-acres for themselves.
The new owners retained the Château de Leu name but made startling changes in the vineyard. They replanted most of the vineyard to Syrah, Merlot, and Sangiovese, and smaller amounts to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Dolcetto. “Seeing how well these varieties did for them, we took their lead and replanted our own vineyard to Merlot and Syrah too,” Ben adds.
A short time later, yet another turn of events took the Volkhardts by surprise. Apparently strapped for cash, King Brewing Co. wanted to sell the property back to them. Again, the deal was too good to pass up and the pair re-acquired the 40-acres they had sold just 8 years prior.
This time around, they dropped the Château de Leu name and renamed their operation, Volkhardt Family Vineyards and Winery. The plan is to bring the production up to 10,000 cases over the next decade. “We’ll keep growing as long as it makes sense,” states Ben III. The 1997 Syrah is the first wine under their new family label and will be closely followed by a 1998 Syrah and 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon. Eventually they will add Merlot and Dolcetto to the line up. Meanwhile, two other family members have taken their rightful spot in the business, Ben III’s daughter Colleen, and son . . . you guessed it . . . Ben IV!
Dear Platinum Wine Club Members:
Our 1997 Syrah comes from Green Valley, a small viticultural area. Green Valley is located just off the Napa Valley. The valley is only 5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide. This 1997 Green Valley Syrah was the first wine made under the Volkhardt Family Vineyard label.
Putting our name on the label means to us that we will do the best possible job in making quality wines. That consists of picking the grapes at the right brix, pH, and acid levels. Also using new French and American 60 gallon oak barrels and having a winemaking team that works together in producing top premium wines. As you taste the wine, everything has come together to produce a fine Syrah. The wine will only improve with more bottle aging.
Volkhardt Vineyards only will use the best vineyard blocks on the ranch to produce our own estate grown wines. Look for our 1998 Syrah and 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon that will be released in the late summer. We are almost sold out of our 1997 Syrah and is only available through the Platinum Wine Club or by contacting the winery.
Ben Volkhardt III