Photo: Dan Zepponi (left) and Tony Stewart
One of Sonoma’s most historic producers, Valley of
the Moon Winery, has been purchased by the partnership that includes the owners
of Quails’ Gate Estate Winery in the Okanagan.
Valley of the Moon, whose history dates
from 1863, is a 45,000-case producer that been operated since 1997 by Heck
Estates, the owner of sparkling wine producer F. Korbel and Bros. Heck has
recently been trying to sell some winery assets to concentrate on its sparkling
wine and brandy business.
The new owner of Valley of the Moon is West
Coast Wine Partners LLC, a company set up two years by the Tony Stewart,
president of Quails’ Gate, and by Dan Zepponi, a Californian who formerly was
president of Mission Hill Family Estate Winery.
The partnership is a vehicle to produce California wines. Last
year, it launched a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon under the label, Plume
With Quails’ Gate an established winery
producing about 50,000 cases, Stewart began looking for a winery investment
outside Canada several years ago, even as far away as Australia. Zepponi
persuaded him to invest in California,
which is closer and which has a better domestic wine market.
In a 2010 interview with The Globe &
Mail newspaper, Stewart explained the rationale for this investment. “It is
strategic because Quails’ Gate has got to a certain size,” he said. “Having a U.S.
operation of a similar size means there can be synergies in viticulture; and
oenology team members can move back and forth. It provides the opportunity to
gain access to the U.S.
market. And we’re a partner in a wine distribution agency for Western Canada”
which would get California
wines for its portfolio.
Stewart and Zepponi know each other because
Zepponi spent two years (2007 to 2009) as president of Mission Hill and its
holding company, Artisan Wine Company.
Zepponi’s family arrived from Italy to grow grapes in California
about the same time that Stewart’s grandfather emigrated from Scotland to the Okanagan. Zepponi’s
father partnered with the deLeuze family to operate ZD Winery. Ultimately, the
Zepponi family sold its interest in the winery but Dan and his siblings have
continued in wine careers. Prior to coming to Mission Hill, Dan had been the
senior vice-president for production at Beringer Estates.
The first vintage of Plume, a 2009
Cabernet, was made under a custom crush arrangement. Last year, Zepponi and
Stewart said they were looking for a Napa
winery or a property for a standalone winery.
It appears that the decision of Korbel
owner Gary Heck to shed some assets provided Zepponi and Stewart with the
opportunity to pick up a venerable producer. Heck has updated the winery
substantially while retaining its historic ambiance. Heck also owns nearby
Kenwood Winery; a deal to sell that to Banfi Vintners recently fell through.
in the Sonoma Valley on land first planted to grapes
in 1863, Valley of the Moon Winery is housed in a beautifully restored stone
and redwood winery built in 1887. Blessed with rich volcanic soils and a
distinctive "banana belt" microclimate, the estate vineyard has been
a revered source of grapes for well over a century. A block of "old
vine" Zinfandel planted in the 1940s is complemented by more recent
plantings of Barbera, Sangiovese and Petite Sirah, all farmed sustainably with
natural soil amendments and natural pest controls.
Valley of the Moon Winery is a thoroughly modern - even cutting-edge -
producer. The state-of-the-art production facility features a full complement
of temperature-controlled stainless steel fermenters, and small French and
American oak barrels; ideal for Valley of the Moon's artisan winemaking. In
addition to making superb Sonoma County Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon,
Zinfandel and Pinot Noir, Valley of the Moon Winery is a leader among
California wineries in the production of several exciting up-and-coming wines:
Syrah, Sangiovese, Pinot Blanc, Rosato di Sangiovese and Cuvée de la Luna, a
proprietary Bordeaux-inspired blend. Sometimes hard to find, Valley of the Moon
wines are definitely worth the search.”
land on which the Valley of the Moon Winery and Vineyards is located has an
illustrious past. Once, it was part of the vast 48,000-acre Agua Caliente
Land Grant owned by
General Mariano Vallejo. Subsequently it changed owners several times until
1863 when the "Stone Tract" portion of the property was conveyed to
Mr. George Whitman.
According to the best records, Mr. Whitman
was the first owner to grow wine grapes on the land. He built a winery and by
1876 his enterprise was a successful one, annually producing 50,000 gallons of
wine and 2,000 gallons of brandy. In 1881, Whitman granted a portion of his
property to the Sonoma & Santa Rosa Railroad Company. A passenger train
station was built and tracks from Sonoma
to Glen Ellen were laid down.
Two years later, Whitman sold the property
to Mr. Eli T. Sheppard, former consul to China,
and later an advisor in international law to the emperor of Japan. Sheppard
named the property "Madrone Vineyards" and in 1887 began constructing
the first of two stone wine cellars on it. Due to poor health, Sheppard retired
to San Francisco the following year, and sold the vineyards and winery to
Senator George Hearst, father of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.
Senator Hearst lived on the property, further developing Madrone Vineyards into
a serious winemaking operation. He proudly served his wine to guests in Washington, D.C.
In 1891 Hearst died, leaving the property to his widow.
In 1905, the property passed to the Union Trust Company of San Francisco. Between 1911 and 1922, it was
owned by two large wine companies - Great Western Vineyards, and the California Wine
In 1922, during Prohibition, the property was
acquired by Mr. Louis Engelberg. As the story goes, he did not make wine, but
he did take good care of the vineyards and sold his grapes to other wineries.
Financial difficulties evidently forced Engelberg to take out a loan from the
California Pacific Title and Trust Company; the loan was transferred to the
Lincoln National Life Insurance Company, which, sadly, foreclosed on the
property in 1938.
Until 1941, Madrone Vineyards sat neglected.
In January of that year, two San Franciscans, Enrico Parducci and Peter
Domenici bought the property, which by this time, extended over approximately
380 acres. From 1941 to 1956, Parducci and Domenici ran the winery and
vineyards, renaming it "Valley of the Moon Winery." They sold their
wines in the San Francisco
area and their grapes to various local wineries including Sebastiani, Round
Hill, and the Christian Brothers. The Parducci family continued to run Valley
of the Moon Winery from the mid- 1950s until March 1997 when the owners of
neighboring Kenwood Vineyards purchased the business and property.