Chateau St. Jean, one of California's leading producers of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, is losing its winemaker to a Sonoma County competitor, Simi Winery. Steve Reeder has been the winemaker at the St. Jean since April 1997, and in that time, the winery's Bordeaux-style blend, Cinq Cépages, has twice been named among the "Top 10 Wines of the Year" by Wine Spectator.
"When I was going to school at UC, Davis in the '70s, one of the wineries I dreamed of working for was St. Jean and the other was Simi," said Reeder, 47. "For me, it's really about a new adventure. It was the hardest decision I've ever made and quite an emotional decision."
Reeder, who is leaving the Kenwood-based winery just weeks before harvest, will become vice president of winemaking at Simi, in Healdsburg, replacing Nick Goldschmidt who left in May to oversee winemaking at Allied Domecq's California properties.
"Steve is a guy who basically has shown the world how great Sonoma County wine can be," said Agustin Huneeus Jr., president and CEO of Franciscan Estates, the fine-wine division of Constellation Brands, which has owned Simi since 1999.
St. Jean's 1996 Cinq Cépages, which was made by former winemaker Don Van Staaveren and was in the barrel when Reeder joined the winery, was selected Wine of the Year in 1999 by Wine Spectator. The 1999 Cinq Cépages was the No. 2 wine in 2002. The winery also has long produced one of California's top Chardonnays, from the Robert Young Vineyard in Alexander Valley.
Reeder started his winemaking career in 1978 at Alexander Valley Vineyards, and before joining St. Jean, worked for Kendall-Jackson and other wineries around the country.
"It brings me back to Alexander Valley, which is where I live and where the fruit I love is," Reeder said. "I'm hoping I can come in and take Simi to the next level, but I will miss some of the varieties I was working with at St. Jean -- Pinot Noir, for example."
Owned by Australia's Beringer Blass Wine Estates since 1997, St. Jean has sales of about 300,000 cases annually, according to Reeder, considerably larger than Simi's annual production of 200,000 cases.
A replacement at St. Jean has not been named. Associate winemaker Margo Van Staaveren will oversee production in the meantime, Reeder said.
Nov. 15, 1999
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