A Controversial Route To Fame
Dick and Ann Grace purchased an old Victorian home on Highway 29 north of St. Helena in 1976 and planted a 1-acre Cabernet vineyard. At the time it looked more like a weekend hobby garden for the San Francisco stockbroker and his wife than a bona fide business venture.
In 1978, Dick Grace called on Charlie Wagner at Caymus Vineyards for advice about making wine. Grace, now 61, was a fan of Caymus Cabernet and had handled some of Wagner's investments. Wagner liked the grapes enough to vinify them and call the wine Caymus Vineyards Grace Family Vineyard. Thus a cult wine within a cult-wine winery was born.
But the relationship soon began to unravel. Caymus made the Grace Family Cabernet through the 1985 vintage (the Caymus Vineyards Grace Family Vineyard name was used only through 1982), but the wine didn't have much of a following until Grace began to offer special lots at the Napa Valley Wine Auction. That angered the Wagners, who claim that Grace made an agreement with them to never sell the wine commercially -- a claim that Grace disputes.
Grace and Charlie Wagner later clashed over some investments. A lawsuit was filed by Wagner, and the two men severed relations. In 1983, the Graces decided to start their own winery, building a small but beautiful facility next to their home. As of the '83 vintage, they began selling their wine under their own label, with no reference to Caymus.
Grace went on to offer his 1981 Cabernet to the 1985 Napa Valley Wine Auction, where it won the highest bid. The five-bottle collection -- specially packaged and ranging in size from a 375ml bottle to an imperial -- sold for $10,000. Then, for several years running, Grace Family Vineyard was among the top wine auction lots sold, until Grace resigned from the Napa Valley Vintners Association after clashing with his peers over his role at the auction.
Over the years, Grace's winemakers have included some of the best and brightest, such as Randy Dunn, Gary Galleron and, currently, Heidi Peterson Barrett. Grace has also hired David Abreu to manage the vineyard.
Grace Cabernet has routinely been an exceptional wine, consistently ripe, complex and deftly balanced, scoring in the mid- to high 90s. Each year, the Graces raise tens of thousands of dollars for different causes by donating their wines to charities such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Grace Family Vineyards
St. Helena, Napa Valley
Owners: Richard and Ann Grace
Winemaker: Heidi Peterson Barrett
92 Grace Family Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1997
Release Price: $395/1L
Current Auction Average: $NA
Production: 48 cases
Dark and ripe, rich and elegant, with a core of cedary currant, earth and berry, finishing with supple, polished tannins and good length. Best from 2002 through 2012.