Central Coast AVA
92 Points, Robert Parker
Almost fifteen years ago, San Francisco financial consultant and investment banker Doug Wolf decided to surprise his wife Jane with a most special gift on the occasion of her 40th birthday. The Wolfs were wine lovers and frequent visitors to Napa Valley. During the cold San Francisco summers, the Wolf family rented a home in Napa Valley where their three young children could play and they could escape the colder weather.
In 1997, the Wolfs decided to begin looking for a property with small acreage that also included a home and a pool. It was decided that one or two acres, with or without vines, would suit the family’s needs quite nicely. Doug Wolf happened upon a piece of property that was much larger than he wanted, a 30-acre parcel that was the former Inglewood Estate and Winery. The land was neatly nestled in the foothills of the beautiful eastern Mayacamas Range. Seven acres of the property were planted in vines, along with a wonderful home constructed in 1885 complete with a pool, and fully-working winery. Wolf decided to buy the place and surprise his wife. He invited 100 of their friends to the announcement of their purchase – at the winery itself. Needless to say, Jane Wolf was duly impressed with her birthday present, even though at the time, the family possessed no intention of ever going into the wine business.
A highly-respected vineyard manager named Jim Barbour was the person responsible for the vineyards during this period. He started the Wolfs thinking about the winery. At the same time, one of Barbour’s friends, talented winemaker Karen Culler, had just left Robert Mondavi’s Vichon Winery, where she had served as winemaker. Barbour knew of Karen’s winemaking abilities and put her together with the Wolfs. The two parties hit it off and the decision to enter the winery business was made. The rest, as they say, is part of Napa Valley’s storied wine history. Wolf Family Vineyards soon became a commercial entity with the release of about 120 cases of Cabernet Franc around the turn of the century. Additional acreage had been planted in Cabernet Sauvignon that would serve as the bell weather varietal for Wolf Family Vineyards for the next decade.
“When I first saw the vineyards,” explained Karen Culler,” I wasn’t too sure of what to expect. The land is actually situated on a pair of St. Helena bench lands that are both elevated, one behind the other. The soil itself is marvelous and there is great drainage, but I was pleasantly surprised when the first crop came in and the quality was really exceptional.” Culler also said that the property’s fruit tends to be well above par, particularly in vintages that generally do not rate all that high.
“I imagine is has something to do with the yield,” she added. “We have never been able to get the yield above 2 ½ tons an acre, and I think that’s the key. The grapes always possess a strong, intense varietal character. Even when we’ve tried, we’ve never been able to increase the yield. Doug and Jane Wolf decided to keep Wolf Family Vineyards tiny, even though their winery permit allowed for larger quantities of wine to be produced. This year, almost 1,000 cases of Wolf Family Vineyards will be bottled, a figure that includes a number of cases of the winery’s second label called Phaedrus.
“We were always determined to produce only an amount that fit the production of the vineyards,” Karen Culler explained further. “Doug’s aim was always smaller, not bigger, with quality above all as the end goal.” Doug and Jane Wolf consider themselves as wine lovers first, winery owners second. They often say that they enjoy drinking wine more than making it, a refreshing viewpoint in the super critical and often malevolent world that is today’s modern California wine industry. Wolf Family Vineyards has won numerous awards since their first offering and has received high scores and accolades from national and international wine press. The minuscule winery is a wonderful throwback to the small artisan wineries of the sixties and seventies, when experimentation and craftsmanship were the benchmarks of many smaller wineries.
Doug and Jane Wolf can take great pride in their splendid creation, for they have brought a portfolio of superior wines to the proverbial wine table. They are to be saluted for their introspective views and willingness to keep their winery small and superior in many ways.