Joseph Phelps Vineyards, St. Helena
Photograph: Richards Lyon
Joseph Phelps was a building contractor when he came to California from Colorado to build two wineries for Souverain. Joe had already developed an interest in wine in college, so he enjoyed the winery construction and began to look for winery property of his own. In 1973,he found what hew as looking for in Spring Valley off the Silverado Trail:a 600acre cattle ranch known for polled Herefords.
Joe built a winery and planted 160 acres to more white grapes than red in order to make several German style white wines. While his vineyards matured, Joe bought fruit from independent growers, such as Riesling from the Stantons and Cabernet from Nathan Fay. Wine from Nathan’s grapes was in the first release of Joe’s innovative “Insignia,” the very first proprietary blend of red Bordeaux varietals from a California winery, vinted in 1974 and released in 1978. Joe also made a Syrah from a Christian Brothers vineyard, which reawakened a following for this Rhône varietal.
Reds replaced whites in the Phelps winegrowing and winemaking programs as it moved towards all estate grown wines. In 1979, Phelps bought the Stanton Vineyard and in 1983, vineyard acreage from Nathan Fay in the Stags Leap District. In 1996, after twenty years of leasing,it bought the Back us Vineyard in Oakville from Marian Backus. Phelps continues to lease the Barboza Vineyard in the Stags Leap District, as well as owning two other vineyards. Its white wine portfolio has been pared to Sauvignon Blanc and a late harvest “Eisrébe;” Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Sauvignon Backus Vineyard and“Insignia” are its reds.
Dick recalls taking this photograph indoors at the winery Joe built. Although the two had not met before, Dick feels the image is true to Joe himself.