Do you want to know all the joy, headaches, satisfaction, bruises, financial successes, big blunders, and the ongoing attraction of the working in one of the most beautiful viticultural areas of the United States, the Napa Valley? In my new series of blog posts I’ll take you step by step through our crazy tale of starting our wine business from scratch so you can learn from our successes and failures. Trust me, we have made many mistakes, but as I sit here writing this blog post looking out the window at the sunlight over the mustard fields and dormant grape vines….yes, it was worth it! So, over this series of blog posts I’m going to tell you of our story from trailer trash to owners of the chateau.
First, let me introduce myself. My name is Linda McGlochlin Wolff. Along with my husband (Roger Wolff) we are the vineyard and winery owners of Chateau Noir Vineyards. Our wine brand is “Ammons Horn Wines”. Our focus is Pinot Noir, producing both still and sparkling wine. Our 6.5-acre property, for which I paid $210,000 back in 1998, is in the Los Carneros District in the Napa Valley. This American Viticultural Area (AVA) straddles both southern Sonoma and Napa Counties and is famous for growing chardonnay and pinot noir. My husband (architect) and I (geologist) started this endeavor from bare land, actually a cow pasture littered with abandoned farm junk, tires, and machinery. The land had no improvements, no water well, no electricity, no gas, no road…no nothing. Neither one of us had an agricultural background. Oh yes, I was in 4-H in 7th grade, if that counts. Roger and I enjoyed having a glass of wine and dreamed that it would be cool to have a vineyard and sell grapes as a side business to our architecture and geological professions. Advise #1, I am a firm believer that if you know all the pitfalls of what you are embarking on, you will never take any risks in life. So, if you are risk averse, read no further!
When I moved from the Los Angeles area to the Napa Valley in 1998, I was divorced with no kids and dating, but nothing too serious. One day, while at my house in southern California there was a knock on the door and two realtors wanted me to list my house for sale and to name my price. Not too long after, I had a full price offer and trying to figure out what to do with my life. When something like this happens, God is hitting you with a 2X4 and telling you it’s time to make a big change. Back then I had a good job as a geologist managing buried explosives investigations for prominent consulting firm. Most of my project work was located in resort areas (e.g. Hawaii, Morro Bay). Yep, a difficult job to leave, but I packed it up and left southern California and began my search for land in the San Francisco Bay Area, specifically Sonoma Valley or Napa Valley. My concept in 1998 was to find bare land and to build a house and eventually plant a vineyard. The location of the vineyard property would be close enough to San Francisco or Oakland where I could find employment as a geologist while building a home on the property. I eventually married the crazy architect that I hired to design my house. However, after receiving several contractor bids for the house we designed, we realized we could not afford to build that house. So, our plans changed and we began installing the vineyard first and instead building a much smaller home. After six years of living in various travel trailers and storing our belongings in various storage facilities, we planted our vineyard in 2002 moved into our small French-country style home in 2004. To this day, not everything in our home is finished (such as the kitchen hood) and my husband frequently reminds me of cost overruns on the kitchen if he gets in a grumpy mood. Advise #2, It is perfectly fine to argue with someone over various issues, (e.g. vineyard layout, clone and rootstock selection; elements of home and winery design, wine label design, etc.) but if you plan on keeping the team together through this adventure, plan on making some concessions.
In my series of upcoming blog posts, I am going to get down in the weeds on all the details on this big adventure; the viticulture, the winemaking, the costs, the regulations, the beautiful design elements (especially for those passionate Francophiles). Stay tuned!