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 essential to the Bleecher’s acquiring Jericho Canyon. According to Marla, Thelma Riedelfinger, a canyon cattle rancher, was initially hesitant to sell but agreed in part because one-year-old Nick reminded her of raising her own children in the gorgeous 135-acre canyon.
Nicholas grew up spending his summers working in the fields while sharing a room with his two sisters in the property’s 100-year-old farm house. 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 fieldwork 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. He came home to Jericho for the 2011 harvest, one that proved important in learning to adapt and remain flexible.
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 released his first wine as winemaker, the 2013 Jericho Canyon Sauvignon Blanc.
Often cited as the most influential winemaker alive today, Michel Rolland is a Bordeaux based winemaker with an exceptional aptitude for blending. Consulting for over 100 properties in 13 countries, Rolland’s wines have garnered praise for decades. His Napa Valley clients include Araujo, Bond, Harlan Estate, Dalla Valle, and Staglin. Jericho Canyon brought Rolland on to the winemaking team during the 2010 vintage blending and continues to learn from his unparalleled experience in both viticulture and enology.
Aaron Pott studied oenology at the University of California Davis. Upon completing his master’s degree in Viticulture from the Université de Bourgogne, he accepted a position as assistant winemaker at Newton Vineyard, under winemaker John Kongsgaard., where he met Jericho Canyon consulting enologist and winemaker, Michel Rolland. Rolland secured Pott a position as winemaker at Château Troplong Mondot, St. Emilion Grand Cru. Following that, Pott was at Château La Tour Figeac St. Emilion Grand Cru. Pott returned to the states to become winemaker for Beringer Wine Estates’ international brands. There, he worked with winemakers Jean-Louis Mandrau and André Porcheret. Pott’s Napa Valley positions have included Quintessa, Blackbird, Seven Stones, and Quixote. Pott initially joined Jericho Canyon to assist with blending the 2010 vintage. In 2012, Pott was named Food and Wine Winemaker of the Year.
After visiting Napa Valley in the fall of her freshman year, Tara transferred from Mount Holyoke College to UC Davis where she studied Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior as well as Managerial Economics. At Davis, she designed and taught an upper division biosciences course titled “Biochemicals, Corticosteroids, Psychotropics, and You” which covered the biochemistry of wine metabolism.
With a burgeoning interest in wine and agriculture, Tara joined Jericho Canyon as an intern in the summer of 2007. In the field, she cultivated an enduring appreciation for the labor involved in farming. Tara continued to return in subsequent years, assisting in various aspects of operations. In 2012, she accepted a position with Jericho Canyon as director of sales and marketing.
In addition to her role at Jericho Canyon, Tara has served as a guest speaker at UC Davis in both the Viticulture and Enology and Agricultural and Resource Economics departments with topics including sustainable viticulture and luxury wine brands.
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.
When Dale and Marla acquired this property in 1989, I came here to help 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.