A lot of us think about how one day it would be great to move to the country, plant some grapes, and make some wine. Luckily, most of us have enough sense not to try it! But time and circumstance converged for us in 1989, and that wild hare of an idea became a reality.
Dale and I spent years trying to find what we were looking for. Before we met, Dale and I had each lived in Italy – working, studying, drinking wine, and enjoying “la dolce vita.” And when we met in an Italian class, well, I guess the rest is history. But in Italy we both had discovered that hillside vineyards produced unique, exceptional fruit, and our spirits longed not for the flat, fertile valley floor, but for the eagle’s perch: the extreme, the spectacular. It helped that we did not have the knowledge or experience to realize that what we dreamed about was an incredibly crazy idea. And so our innocence propelled us to create what we originally sought: the unique and exceptional.
After 3 years of searching, we found a small ad in the San Francisco Chronicle with a “For Sale by Owner” heading. We knew it the moment we saw it: this hidden canyon was both the perfect place to raise our children and the perfect place to raise our grapes. With blood, sweat, and a few tears, we worked on tractors and in dirt, through rain and 100 degree heat. In the field, in the classroom, in the coffee shop, Dale and I learned how to grow grapes on our land. Every undulation, every nook and cranny was different and needed its own special attention. And slowly we learned how to meet those needs.
Our kids reaped the benefits and bore the burden of being farm kids. During the summer, they were required to work 3 hours a day. Aside from learning responsibility and respect for hard work, they quickly realized that education would give them a way out of the field! To that end, Oriana, our eldest, is completing her PhD in Early Modern History at Yale, Vanessa, our middle child, attends the John Burns Medical School at University of Hawaii, and Nick, our youngest, graduated from University of California, Davis with a degree in viticulture, oenology, and economics, and now works here at Jericho.
Though some of our family may not be living or working here at this point in time, each and every one of us love the beauty of this spot – the Palisades and Mt. St. Helena cradle us, Jericho Creek lends the rhythm and music with its frogs and toads, the seasons give us perspective. Mother Nature makes sure we stay flexible as each year brings with it new challenges, both in the vineyard and in the winery.
And wine, well wine is an unusual thing. Alive from its birth in the wood of last year’s crop, alive until the moment we swallow it many years later, wine grows, changes, and evolves just as we do. It is a beautiful thing – in the field, in tank, in barrel, in our mouths – it brings joy, and camaraderie, and just plain fun to our lives. So open a bottle. We hope you, too, will experience the pleasure we find in the unique and exceptional wines we grow here at Jericho Canyon Vineyard.
Growing up at Tanguy Homesteads near West Chester, PA, making summer dandelion wine with my father, I never dreamed that I would be a winegrower in the Napa Valley.
With winemaking far from my mind, I left Pennsylvania at age 16 in order to see the world. I traveled, worked, and lived in many places: from tending bar and pulling espresso in Sicily, to hitchhiking across North Africa, to recuperating in Afghanistan after fighting a life-threatening illness in India, to studying Spanish and Mexican history in Guadalajara. My longest stint in one place was the 3 years I spent in Italy where I found a love and respect for the world of winemaking.
But when I returned to the states, it wasn’t winemaking I turned to. I was lured to Oregon by the whopping $6/hr wages offered by the logging industry. After 2 years alternating between choker setter and tree planter, I decided college might be a better route. I completed my degree in Romance Languages at University of Oregon where I met and married my classmate, Marla.
Once we started our family, I began a career in the Bay Area’s financial world, but after a number of years in that profession, it was time for a change. One look at this Calistoga cattle ranch was all it took. Marla and I moved our kids out of the city, and we began to develop our vineyard. Twenty three years later, we are still doing what we set out to do – striving to make the best wine possible with what each year brings us.
At the age of one, Nicholas Bleecher was an integral part of the Bleecher’s acquiring Jericho Canyon. According to Marla, the previous owner of Jericho Canyon, while initially hesitant to sell, agreed in part because one year old Nick reminded her of raising her own children in the beautiful 135 acre canyon.
Nick grew up spending summers working in the fields daily while living in the 100 year old farm house on property. During the school year, he attended Hawaii Preparatory Academy on the Big Island of Hawaii, where Marla taught English.
Upon graduation, Nicholas matriculated to UC Davis where he earned a BS in Viticulture and Enology as well as a degree in Managerial Economics. As a result of years toiling in the vineyards, he proved quite the pruning prodigy and often had time on his hands after field work classes to pursue other alcohol related interests such as brewing and distillation. As most young winemakers do, Nicholas worked abroad after graduation to learn different winemaking techniques and styles.
After decades of waking at dawn to prune vines, run vineyard irrigation, pick grapes, clean barrels, and serve as an all around ‘cellar rat’, Nicholas returned to Jericho in 2011 where he assists in all aspects of operations. His main role is working alongside noted winemaker, Aaron Pott, and legendary blending consultant, Michel Rolland, to produce elegant wines true to their hillside origins.
Aaron Pott’s curiosity in wine began at the young age when he ordered a glass of milk in a venerable Parisian bistro. When the waiter responded—in halting perfect English—that “milk is for babies” and promptly produced a glass of watered down red, Pott realized that wine was a beverage of choice for adults and immersed himself in the world of wine trivia. Studying oenology at the University of California, Davis, Pott delved into all aspects of the theory of winemaking, including practical application by working part-time in the research laboratory at Robert Mondavi Winery. He completed his education with a master’s degree in Viticulture from the Université de Bourgogne in Dijon, France.
Pott immediately took the position of assistant winemaker at Newton Vineyard, under winemaker John Kongsgaard. It was at Newton—under the wing of his first great mentor—that Pott would be introduced to Michel Rolland. At many tastings with Kongsgaard and Rolland (set up by legendary wine collector Dade Thieriot), Pott tried to convince Rolland to find him a job in France—pulling hoses around a dark cellar and working on his language skills. Rolland soon sent word that he had found the ideal position—winemaker at Château Troplong Mondot, Premier Grand Cru Classé St. Emilion. Pott would thereafter become winemaker and general manager of Château La Tour Figeac Grand Cru Classé St. Emilion.
Pott worked for nearly six years making wine in France before returning to the States to take a position with Beringer Wine Estates. As a winemaker for the company’s international brands in France, Italy and South America, he had the pleasure to work with French winemakers Jean-Louis Mandrau, formerly of Château Latour and André Porcheret, whose resume included the Hospice de Beaune and Domaine Leroy. Pott’s duties expanded in 2001 as winemaker at St. Clement in St. Helena. In 2004, he accepted the position as winemaker and general manager at Quintessa. In 2007, Pott formed Pott Wine and Huis Clos Consulting dedicated to producing wines from different distinct terroir in the Napa Valley as well as consulting for a limited quantity of noble producers.
Pott lives at his self proclaimed “Châteauneuf du Pott” on the dizzying heights of Mt. Veeder with his wife Claire and daughters Tosca and Isolde.
Tara transferred from Mount Holyoke College to University of California at Davis where she studied Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior as well as Managerial Economics.
Appreciative of food and wine as well as integrating science with both, she, as an undergraduate, designed and taught an upper division course titled “Biochemicals, Corticosteriods, Psychtropics, and You” to address topics such as alcohol metabolism and resveratrol. She concurrently conducted an independent research project on olfaction utilizing Jericho Canyon as her study site.
With a burgeoning interest in wine, Tara accepted an internship at Jericho in the summer of 2007. In the field, she cultivated an enduring appreciation for the labor that goes into each and every berry. In subsequent years, Tara assisted with harvest, bottling, and designing marketing materials to launch Jericho’s hospitality and sales programs. Summer of 2012, she joined Jericho full time as Director of Sales and Marketing.
In addition to wearing many hats at Jericho Canyon, Tara has guest lectured for UC Davis in both the Viticulture and Enology and Agricultural Economics departments with topics including Jericho Canyon’s sustainability efforts and wineries producing luxury wines.
Aside from sharing knowledge, Tara enjoys travel and has spent time in Nicaragua, Panama, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, France, Canada, Mexico, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands. While she reports that each had their delicacies, there is no place like the Napa Valley.
What I thought was a fun college job—harvest and cellar assistant at Six Mile Creek in the Finger Lake region of New York—turned out to be my life-long passion. In 2002 I graduated college and returned home to the Philadelphia area. Here I had the opportunity to experience the challenges of making wine in a non-traditional wine region.
In 2005, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to live in the heart of Cote Rotie in France’s northern Rhone Valley to work for Pierre Gaillard. I had the time of my life, enjoying fine wines and broadening my perspective on winemaking philosophy.
Upon returning to the States, I worked at Cakebread Cellars before working under the tutelage of world renowned winemaker Paul Hobbs. After Hobbs I had the wonderful opportunity to make wine from some word-class vineyards at Adobe Road Winery.
This path has lead to Jericho Canyon Vineyard. I could not pass up the opportunity to work in the caves with the Jericho Canyon Estate fruit. It is an honor to come to work each day and work with such a passionate group of people.
…I met Dale when we were both training as astronauts for deep space missions to Mars.
We both washed-out. Me because I’m blind as a bat, and Dale because he does not like to travel faster than 50 MPH.
So when they acquired this property in 1989, I came here to help Dale and Marla with the installation and maintenance of the vineyard equipment and machinery. I have experience in shipyards, machine and fabrication shops, and vocational instructing, as well as a passion for working on vintage sports cars. I am always challenged by what this rocky-hilly terrain does to the machinery we use here. You don’t see it…but my effort is in the wine too.
I ran away from here two times but I’ve been here for the last thirteen years. The beauty of the canyon, the great wine, but most of all, the people that I get to work with keep me here. And, of course, my Bay Area Tango dancing…