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Napa Valley's Joseph Phelps Vineyards Heads to Sonoma

New winery planned near Sonoma Coast, with focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

Tim Fish
Posted: June 14, 2002

One of Napa Valley's leading wineries, Joseph Phelps Vineyards, is expanding its role in nearby Sonoma County, with plans to build a new winery and to potentially create a new brand around Sonoma Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

The proposed winery would be in the rural community of Freestone in western Sonoma County, where Phelps began planting nearly 100 acres of vineyards in 1999. Tucked in a hillside, the winery will have 40,000 square feet on two levels and be capable of producing 30,000 cases annually.

"In the tradition of classic winemaking, we wanted to have production near the vineyards," Craig Williams, director of winemaking, said. "We're very excited about the region. I think there will be some exciting, world-class wine coming out of this area."

While the region generally falls within the Sonoma Coast appellation, the vineyard site on which Phelps plans to build the winery actually sits just inside the boundaries of Russian River Valley, Williams said.

Phelps has also purchased a retail building near the winery in the hamlet of Freestone and has plans to open a small tasting room and visitor's center.

Considered one of Napa Valley's benchmark Cabernet Sauvignon producers, Phelps also makes a popular Chardonnay. The winery has never consistently produced Pinot Noir. Sonoma Coast and Russian River are considered California's premier regions for Pinot.

"Looking at Sonoma in a fairly limited way was a logical move for us," Williams said. "It has been difficult for a number of years, and probably will continue to be in the future, to reasonably develop any land in Napa."

The region is cool, foggy and windy. Williams admits the vineyards have been slow to develop and he doesn't expect to pick for commercial use until at least next year.

The proposed winery would sit in the heart of the county's most liberal and environmentally conscious territory that has been hostile new vineyards or winery developments. Thanks in part to the company's use of biodynamic farming methods in the vineyards, which is an extreme version of organic farming, there have been only pockets of resistance to the proposed winery by neighbors so far.

Williams said the company has yet to decide how to label the new wines when they come into production in 2004 and beyond. "We don't have a name yet," he said. "We're discussing whether the Phelps name should be on the label." The winery's use permit is not expected to be approved by the county until early next year.

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