JOE SHIRLEY - WINEMAKER, NAPA CELLARS
Two historic events led to the Napa Valley we know today.
In 1968, Napa Valley winery owners and grape growers joined forces to have Napa Valley declared the country’s first agricultural preserve. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. City sprawl and freeways soon transformed nearby agricultural regions into bedroom communities for San Francisco. Napa was protected.
Then in 1976, a blind tasting held in Paris pitted a Napa Valley wine against the best wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy. The Napa Valley wine won, and the world’s perception of Napa Valley changed forever.
The same year that Napa was granted the status of agricultural preserve, self-made man Charlie R. Woods founded our winery on five and a half acres of prime Oakville soil. In the 1970s, he built a geodesic dome there to store barreled wine, and he concentrated on making reds, in particular Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The winery changed hands a number of times before being purchased in 1996 by Koerner Rombauer and Rich Frank. That’s when we earned our reputation for rich, buttery Chardonnay—a style that was becoming popular in the United States at the time.
A decade later, the Trinchero family was looking for a winery property that would capture the essence of Napa. Napa Cellars, with its ideal Oakville location and fame for luscious Chardonnay and authentic Napa reds, was the obvious choice. Winemaker Joe Shirley came on board a year later, in 2007. He has since introduced French oak to our Chardonnay for a more balanced and contemporary style of wine.
Though Napa Valley is small—30 miles long and only a few miles across as its widest point—its varied microclimates and soils make it possible to successfully grow a variety of wine grapes. That gives us the luxury to choose the best fruit for each wine we make without ever having to look beyond the Napa Valley.
Joe is that rare bird known as a California native. He was born in Long Beach, raised in Napa Valley and after high school headed back down south to earn his Bachelor of Arts degree in Exercise Physiology from Occidental College in Los Angeles.
“I was pre-med and interested in sports medicine,” Joe says. “Then at a barbecue at Maynard Amerine’s house I met a few people from the wine world, drank some wine and thought, ‘Hmmm, this is fun’.”
Just a short time later, Joe enrolled at the University of California, Davis where he received a Master of Science in Enology. After college, Joe launched his winemaking career at Sonoma-Cutrer in 1997. He joined Trinchero Family Estates in 1999 as enologist and worked his way up to winemaker for Trinchero Family Selection and Trinchero Napa Wines in 2002. In 2007, Joe accepted the position as head winemaker for Napa Cellars.
“I don’t try to put a big winemaker signature on my wines,” Joe says. “When you’re fortunate enough to work with Napa Valley fruit, the vineyards add the character and sensibilities to the wine that I like to see.”
Beyond the artistic side of winemaking, Joe is also a leader in the technical aspects of his craft. His work on grape seed tannins was published in the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture. Joe also researched and a co-authored a letter published in the Lancet (the British equivalent of the Journal of the American Medical Association) on the phenolic content of chocolate.
Joe makes his home in Napa with wife Monette and daughter Savannah. In his spare time Joe follows baseball, enjoys beer and power tools, and does the NY Times’ Sunday crossword puzzle in pen. Joe once bowled a 252.
MARY ROCCA – PROPRIETOR, ROCCA FAMILY VINEYARDS
In 1999, that dream came to fruition. A three-year search for the perfect vineyard finally yielded results: a 21-acre vineyard nestled deep in the heart of the Napa Valley, where the pair had made their home for over a decade. After renaming the new parcel The Grigsby Vineyard, Mary devoted her full attention to the new project, while Eric continued to cultivate a career as one of the nation’s most respected pain management physicians. Mary’s first years in the wine business were hectic, to say the least: With four children under the age of 13, a family grocery store on the West Marin Coast to manage, and the steep learning curve of running the world-class Grigsby Vineyard, just keeping it all together was an achievement in itself.
Mary called upon renowned winemaker Celia Welch Masyczek to produce the label’s first vintages. The debut bottling was the 2000 Syrah, a varietal which to this day garners praise and awards for the Rocca family. But Rocca really got on the map in 2002, when its Grigsby Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon came in #1 in a blind tasting of 12 Rising Star Cabernets at the Vintners Club tasting in the U.S. Later, the wine was taken with a group of 12 other Cabernets to show in France's 12 Best Cabernets from California. It came in #1 over there as well. Finally, those same 12 Cabs had another blind tasting competition in SF to see how they would rank by American consumers. We came in #1 again! Rocca’s star was rising fast.
The following year, Mary purchased the 11-acre Colinetta Vineyard, planted on a small hill in the Coombsville Appellation, several miles east of downtown Napa. These two vineyards produce some of the Valley’s finest winegrapes, and in turn, some of the Valley’s finest wines. In 2008, Celia passed the winemaking baton to Paul Colantuoni, who has continued to produce world-class wines under the Rocca label. His non-interventionist approach to winemaking allows the unique characteristics of each vineyard, and each growing season, to shine.“These sites have all of the pieces in place to make world-class wine, so my job is mainly to stand out of the fruit’s way,” he says.
Years of accolades in the press and popular opinion have established Rocca as one of the industry’s finest wine producers, a reputation the team is happy to uphold.