(navigation image)
Home American Libraries | Canadian Libraries | Universal Library | Community Texts | Project Gutenberg | Children's Library | Biodiversity Heritage Library | Additional Collections
Search: Advanced Search
Anonymous User (login or join us)
Upload
See other formats

Full text of "Caymus Vineyards : a father-son team producing distinctive wines : oral history transcript / 1994"

University of California Berkeley 




V > 



& 



/ 






. 







Regional Oral History Office 
The Bancroft Library 



University of California 
Berkeley, California 



Wine Spectator California Winemen Oral History Series 



Charles F. Wagner and Charles J. Wagner 
CAYML'S VINEYARDS: A FATHER- SON TEAM PRODUCING DISTINCTIVE WINES 



Interviews Conducted by 

Carole Hicke 

in 1993 



Copyright 1996 by The Regents of the University of California 




Charlie Wagner, circa 1990 



Since 1954 the Regional Oral History Office has been interviewing leading 
participants in or well-placed witnesses to major events in the development of 
Northern California, the West, and the Nation. Oral history is a modern research 
technique involving an interviewee and an informed interviewer in spontaneous 
conversation. The taped record is transcribed, lightly edited for continuity and 
clarity, and reviewed by the interviewee. The resulting manuscript is typed in 
final form, indexed, bound with photographs and illustrative materials, and 
placed in The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, and 
other research collections for scholarly use. Because it is primary material, 
oral history is not intended to present the final, verified, or complete 
narrative of events. It is a spoken account, offered by the interviewee in 
response to questioning, and as such it is reflective, partisan, deeply involved, 
and irreplaceable. 



* * -A- * * -A- * -A- -A- -A- -A- -A- -A- -A- -A- -A- -A- -A- -A- -A- -A- -A- -A- -A- -A- -A- -A- -A- * -A- -A- -A- -A- -A- -A- -A- 



All uses of this manuscript are covered by a legal agreement 
between The Regents of the University of California, Charles F 
Wagner dated September 20, 1993, and Charles J. Wagner dated 
September 16, 1993. The manuscript is thereby made available for 
research purposes. All literary rights in the manuscript, including 
the right to publish, are reserved to The Bancroft Library of the 
University of California, Berkeley. No part of the manuscript may 
be quoted for publication without the written permission of the 
Director of The Bancroft Library of the University of California, 
Berkeley. 

Requests for permission to quote for publication should be 
addressed to the Regional Oral History Office, 486 Library, 
University of California, Berkeley 94720, and should include 
identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated 
use of the passages, and identification of the user. The legal 
agreement with Charles F. Wagner and Charles J. Wagner requires that 
they be notified of the request and allowed thirty days in which to 
respond. 

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows: 



Charles F. Wagner and Charles J. Wagner, 
"Caymus Vineyards: A Father -Son Team 
Producing Distinctive Wines," an oral 
history conducted in 1993 by Carole Hicke, 
Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft 
Library, University of California, 
Berkeley, 1994. 



Copy no . 



Cataloging information 



WAGNER, Charles F. (b. 1912) and WAGNER, Charles J. (b. 1951) 

Winery Owners 

Cavmus Vineyards: A Father- Son Team Producing Distinctive Wines. 1994, ix, 
91 pp. 

Background, working family land in the Napa Valley; purchase of Liberty 
School property, 1943; Caymus Vineyards, from the point of view of two 
generations of management: building a winery, equipment, cooperage, 
marketing and distribution, grape varieties, rootstocks, appellations; 
reflections on family, and the future of the business. 

Interviewed in 1993 by Carole Hicke for the Wine Spectator California Wine 
Oral History Series. The Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft 

Library, University of California, Berkeley. 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 

PREFACE i 

INTERVIEW HISTORY- -by Carole Hicke vi 

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION viii 
I INTERVIEW WITH CHARLES F. "CHARLIE" WAGNER 

BACKGROUND 1 

Family 1 

Vineyard and Winery 3 

Growing Up in the Napa Valley 6 

Working in the Winery During Prohibition 7 

High School Days 8 

VINEYARD OPERATIONS 9 

The Home Property 9 

Spray and Custom Tractor Business 9 

Purchasing the Liberty School Property 10 

First Plantings: 1943 11 

CAYMUS VINEYARDS 13 

Starting the Winery 13 

More on Vineyard Operations: 1940s 13 

Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon 17 

Other Growers: Laurie Wood 19 

Yeasts 20 

Pests and Pesticides 20 

Allied Grape Growers 21 

Winery Operations: Marketing 22 

Building the Winery 24 

Making Wines: 1972 24 

Equipment 27 

Label Design 28 

Selling the Early Wines 29 

Alsatian Grapes and Wines 30 

Pinot Noir 30 

Zinfandel 31 

Appellations 31 

Cooperage 32 

The Wagner Family 33 

Changes in the Napa Valley 34 

Future of the Wine Industry 37 

Rootstocks 37 

Liberty School Wines 38 

Awards and Judgings 39 

Origin of the Name "Caymus" 40 



II INTERVIEW WITH CHARLES J. "CHUCK" WAGNER 

BACKGROUND 42 

Agriculture in the Napa Valley 42 
Old- timers in the Wine Industry: Andre Tchelistcheff and George 

Deuer 44 

Childhood and Education 46 

CAYMUS VINEYARDS 49 

Starting the Winery 49 

Riesling 52 

More on the Winery: the Building and the Equipment 53 

The Mid-Seventies: Progress 54 

Tasting and Decisions 55 

Developing One's Palate 56 

Growth in the 1970s 59 

Lorna Wagner's Contributions 60 

Managing the Business 62 

Marketing 63 

Pricing 64 

Evolution of the Distribution System 66 

Appellations 68 

Liberty School Label 70 

Cooperage 72 

Other Equipment 76 

Vineyard Changes and Experiments: Trellising 76 

Importance of Soil 77 

Special Selection Cabernet 79 

Rootstocks 79 

Chuck Wagner's Family 80 

Organic Farming 82 

A Single-Vineyard Cabernet 84 

Maternal Ancestors 86 

Ideas for the Future 87 

TAPE GUIDE 89 

INDEX 90 



PREFACE 



The California wine industry oral history series, a project of the 
Regional Oral History Office, was initiated by Ruth Teiser in 1969 
through the action and with the financing of the Wine Advisory Board, a 
state marketing order organization which ceased operation in 1975. In 
1983 it was reinstituted as The Wine Spectator California Winemen Oral 
History Series with donations from The Wine Spectator Scholarship 
Foundation. The selection of those to be interviewed has been made by a 
committee consisting of the director of The Bancroft Library, University 
of California, Berkeley; John A. De Luca, president of the Wine 
Institute, the statewide winery organization; Maynard A. Amerine, 
Emeritus Professor of Viticulture and Enology, University of California, 
Davis; the current chairman of the board of directors of the Wine 
Institute; Ruth Teiser, series project director; and Marvin R. Shanken, 
trustee of The Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation. 

Until her death in June 1994, Ruth Teiser was project originator, 
initiator, director, and conductor of the greater part of the oral 
histories. Her book, Winemaking in California, co-authored with 
Catherine Harroun and published in 1982, was the product of more than 
forty years of research, interviewing, and photographing. (Those wine 
history files are now in The Bancroft Library for researcher use.) Ruth 
Teiser 's expertise and knowledge of the wine industry contributed 
significantly to the documenting of its history in this series. 

The purpose of the series is to record and preserve information on 
California grape growing and winemaking that has existed only in the 
memories of wine men. In some cases their recollections go back to the 
early years of this century, before Prohibition. These recollections are 
of particular value because the Prohibition period saw the disruption of 
not only the industry itself but also the orderly recording and 
preservation of records of its activities. Little has been written about 
the industry from late in the last century until Repeal. There is a real 
paucity of information on the Prohibition years (1920-1933), although 
some commercial winemaking did continue under supervision of the 
Prohibition Department. The material in this series on that period, as 
well as the discussion of the remarkable development of the wine industry 
in subsequent years will be of aid to historians. Of particular value is 
the fact that frequently several individuals have discussed the same 
subjects and events or expressed opinions on the same ideas, each from 
his or her own point of view. 

Research underlying the interviews has been conducted principally in 
the University libraries at Berkeley and Davis, the California State 



ii 



Library, and in the library of the Wine Institute, which has made its 
collection of materials readily available for the purpose. 

The Regional Oral History Office was established to tape record 
autobiographical interviews with persons who have contributed 
significantly to recent California history. The office is headed by 
Villa K. Baum and is under the administrative supervision of The Bancroft 
Library. 



Carole Hicke 
Project Director 

The Vine Spectator California Winemen 
Oral History Series 

July 1994 

Regional Oral History Office 

The Bancroft Library 

University of California, Berkeley 



iii 



CALIFORNIA WINE INDUSTRY INTERVIEWS 
Interviews Completed July 1992 

Leon D. Adams, Revitalizing the California Wine Industry. 1974 

Leon D. Adams, California Vine Industry Affairs: Recollections and Opinions. 
1990 

Maynard A. Amerine, The University of California and the State's Wine 
Industry. 1971 

Maynard A. Amerine, Wine Bibliographies and Taste Perception Studies. 
1988 

Philo Biane, Wine Making in Southern California and Recollections of Fruit 
Industries . Inc . . 1972 

Charles A. Carpy, Viticulture and Enology at Freemark Abbey. 1994 
John B. Cella, The Cella Family in the California Wine Industry. 1986 

Charles Crawford, Recollections of a Career with the Gallo Winery and the 
Development of the California Wine Industry. 1942-1989. 1990 

Burke H. Critchfield, Carl F. Wente , and Andrew G. Frericks, The California 
Vine Industry During the Depression. 1972 

William V. Cruess , A Half Century of Food and Wine Technology. 1967 

Jack and Jamie Peterman Davies, Rebuilding Schramsberg: The Creation of a 
California Champagne House. 1990 

Paul Draper, History and Philosophy of Winemaking at Ridge Vineyards: 1970S- 
1990S. 1994 

William A. Dieppe, Almaden is My Life. 1985 

Making California Port Wine: Ficklin Vineyards from 1948 to 1992. interviews 
with David, Jean, Peter, and Steven Ficklin, 1992 

Alfred Fromm, Marketing California Wine and Brandy. 1984 

Louis Gomberg, Analytical Perspectives on the California Wine Industry. 1935- 
1990. 1990 

Miljenko Grgich, A Croatian-American Winemaker in the Napa Valley. 1992 
Joseph E. Heitz, Creating a Winery in the Napa Valley. 1986 

Maynard A. Joslyn, A Technologist Views the California Wine Industry. 
1974 

Amandus N. Kasimatis, A Career in California Viticulture. 1988 



iv 



Morris Katz , Paul Masson Winery Operations and Management. 1944-1988. 1990 

Legh F. Knowles , Jr. , Beaulieu Vineyards from Family to Corporate Ownership. 
1990 

Horace 0. Lanza and Harry Baccigaluppi , California Grape Products and Other 
Vine Enterprises. 1971 

Zelma R. Long, The Past is the Beginning of the Future: Simi Winery in its 
Second Century. 1992 

Richard Maher, California Winery Management and Marketing. 1992 

Louis M. Martini and Louis P. Martini, Wine Making in the Napa Valley. 
1973 

Louis P. Martini, A Family Winery and the California Wine Industry. 1984 

Eleanor McCrea, Stony Hill Vineyards: The Creation of a Naua Valley Estate 
Winery. 1990 

Otto E. Meyer, California Premium Wines and Brandy. 1973 

Norbert C. Mirassou and Edmund A. Mirassou, The Evolution of a Santa Clara 
Valley Winery. 1986 

Peter Mondavi, Advances in Technology and Production at Charles Krug Winery. 
1946-1988. 1990 

Robert Mondavi, Creativity in the Wine Industry. 1985 

Michael Moone , Management and Marketing at Beringer Vineyards and Wine World. 
Inc. . 1990 

Myron S. Nightingale, Making Wine in California. 1944-1987. 1988 
Harold P. Olmo , Plant Genetics and New Grape Varieties. 1976 

Cornelius Ough, Researches of an Enologist. University of California. Davis. 
1950-1990. 1990 

John A. Parducci, Six Decades of Making Wine in Mendocino County. California. 
1992 

Antonio Perelli-Minetti , A Life in Wine Making. 1975 

Louis A. Petri, The Petri Family in the Wine Industry. 1971 

Jefferson E. Peyser, The Law and the California Wine Industry. 1974 

Lucius Powers, The Fresno Area and the California Wine Industry. 1974 

Victor Repetto and Sydney J. Block, Perspectives on California Wines. 1976 



Edmund A. Rossi, Italian Swiss Colony and the Wine Industry. 1971 

Edmund A. Rossi, Jr., Italian Swiss Colony. 1949-1989: Recollections of a 
Third-Generation California Winemaker. 1990 

Arpaxat Setrakian, A. Setrakian. a Leader of the San Joaquin Valley Grape 
Industry. 1977 

Elie Skofis, California Wine and Brandy Maker. 1988 

Rodney S. Strong, Rodney Strong Vineyards: Creative Winemaking. and Winery 
Management in Sonoma County. 1994 

Andre Tchelistchef f , Grapes. Wine, and Ecology. 1983 

Brother Timothy, The Christian Brothers as Wine Makers. 1974 

Louis (Bob) Trinchero, California Zinfandels. a Success Story. 1992 

Charles F. Wagner and Charles J. Wagner, Cavmus Vineyards: A Father- Son Team 
Producing Distinctive Wines. 1994 

The Wente Family and the California Wine Industry, interviews with Jean, 
Carolyn, Philip, and Eric Wente, 1992 

Ernest A. Wente, Wine Making in the Livermore Valley. 1971 
Warren Winiarski , Creating Classic Wines in the Napa Valley. 1994 
Albert J. Winkler, Viticultural Research at UC Davis (1921-19711. 1973 

John H. Wright, Domaine Chandon: The First French-owned California Sparkling 
Wine Cellar, includes an interview with Edmond Maudiere, 1992 



vi 



INTERVIEW HISTORY- -by Carole Hicke 



Charles F. "Charlie" Wagner's family have been in the Napa Valley 
wine business since 1906, when his father purchased a farm that included 
vineyards. Charlie himself had been growing grapes since 1943, but until 
the early 1970s , he had never made wine , other than a few batches 
annually for home consumption. Still, his homemade wine had brought him 
a reputation for skill as a winemaker, and he eventually decided to go 
into commercial winemaking if his son would agree to help; otherwise, he 
considered selling the vineyard. The son, Charles J. "Chuck" Wagner, 
agreed to the venture, and the two of them put up the winery themselves. 

Named Caymus after a group of California Indians, this new winery 
made wines from the premium varieties Charlie had planted in mid 
1960s- -Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and some Johannesberg Riesling. 
Charlie continued using the techniques he had developed over the years of 
making wine at home, producing wines that were well received. 

As the Cabernet Sauvignon attracted more and more attention in the 
mid-1970s, the Wagners gradually increased production, although never to 
the point of adding more than one employee a year. They had decided not 
to produce greater quantities but to concentrate on making wines of high 
quality and consistency. 

Father and son developed the distinct Caymus wine style as a team 
and continue to make the tasting decisions together, though Chuck has 
gradually assumed more responsibility for the overall management. 
Evidence of his hands-on attention to every detail is his work with 
coopers in Missouri and Ohio to develop a method of toasting American oak 
to his specifications. Both men agree on the absolute importance of the 
vineyard- -its soil and climate--in forging the wine. 

And both agree that Caymus Vineyards will continue as a family 
business. "We would like to start a tradition that we see has been going 
on for years [in Europe]," notes Chuck. Such a tradition contributes 
significantly to Napa Valley winemaking. 

Charles F. and Charles J. Wagner were interviewed on November 15 and 
16, 1993, at the Caymus Vineyards winery as part of the Wine Spectator 
California Wine Industry Oral History Series. Each reviewed his 
transcript, making a few emendations. Karen Perry was helpful in 
arranging appointments and furnishing information. Merrilee Proffitt was 
responsible for book production, and Judy Smith transcribed the tapes. 



vii 



This series is part of the ongoing documenting of California history 
by the Regional Oral History Office, which is under the direction of 
Willa Baum, Division Head, and under the administrative direction of The 
Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. 



Carole Hicke 
Project Director 



July 1994 

Regional Oral History Office 

The Bancroft Library 

University of California, Berkeley 



Regional Oral History Office University of California 

Room 486 The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California 94720 

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION 
(Please write clearly. Use black ink.) 

Your full name CL V\ 1. f \g <-> ""To r> V~\ Vs/ LP T^ f _ _ 

J . 

Date of birth _ [ ~\ - *5 I _ Birthplace >f . [4?. I f n/2. - 
Father's full name >'J^ y^ flLY <; V" i^X ri K-. \A/i5i3 ng r" 



Occupation V. uV^ rO\> J?^ _ Birthplace A\ OJ-hf:> 

i 

Mother's full name t-Qv n(X - 



Occupation VJ7X-''^W i 4- - _ Birthplace 'Si' . Ur l^ 
Your spouse _ "_.', ^ y '. Q\\<- 



Occupation _ '^\,''C fAI^'tTt _ Birthplace (^>a\ c\j^ Ln'4c| ( 



Your children ^ Jt \lLT '. i^L . O OC^ ' ' >;_ > .r . J , r v'iV. jV -V3. i e r 



Where did you grow up? T^. '_"-:' '^V -''::\ _ rw_l_i.'X '\i J-.- . ^,L', . .,J 



Present community 
Education HL<i'\ 6;' \ 



\C 



\ - 

Occupation(s) \x ', r ^\\ . <Ajt. I 



Areas of expertise V ' | 



Other interests or activities 



Organizations in which you are active \\1V,\' (J,'\ 



BACKGROUND 

[Interview with Charles F. "Charlie" Wagner: 
1993' 



September 15, 



Family 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



I'd like to start this afternoon by asking you when and where 
you were born. 

I was born a quarter of a mile from this site here on the 
farm that my parents bought in 1906. I was born in 1912. 

Let's back up a little bit and find out how your parents and 
grandparents got here. 

My father emigrated from Alsace in 1885. 
Why did he come? 

The war of 1870 forced German rule on that area, and his 
parents were very upset with the rule of the German regime, 
so two of the boys left home and came to the United States. 
My uncle came first, and when he came to this country he 
worked as a section hand on the Union Pacific when they were 
putting the railway through. When they entered the Nebraska 
Territory, well, he wanted to get back in agriculture. He 
had saved a few dollars, and he got off the train, so to 
speak, and homesteaded. He set up a farming enterprise in 
Nebraska. 

What was his name? 

His name was John. My father left there in '85 --the uncle 
came two years previous. 



'This symbol (##) indicates the beginning of a tape or a segment of 
tape. For a guide to the tapes, see page following transcript. 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Your father's name? 

His name was Charles. He came directly to the area that his 
brother had settled in, and he also homesteaded in Nebraska. 
From 1885 to 1890, weather conditions were very severe; 
winter conditions were rough in Nebraska. Being a single 
man, he forgot about it- -gave up his homestead, and he took a 
train and came to San Francisco. 

Wasn't that when all the cattle were killed in storms? 

I don't know, but he said the weather conditions were such 
that he didn't feel as though he could tolerate them. 

Did he ever tell you stories about coming over on the ship? 

No. I was very remiss in not asking questions when someone 
was able to answer them, but you don't think of those things 
when you are young. The uncle stayed in Nebraska. 

Do you know what they were farming in Nebraska? 

Corn and other grains. The uncle ultimately went into 
livestock and bought hogs. My father, when he hit San 
Francisco, went to work in the brewing industry. 

Can you tell me what year he came to California? 

He came to California in 1890. 

Do you recall the name of the brewery he worked for? 

I have no recollection of the name of the brewery. He might 
have said it, but--. There were several large breweries in 
San Francisco at that time. He took a night job, shoveling 
malt. Night work paid a few pennies more per hour. 

My mother came to this country in about 1897. She had 
an uncle who was living in San Francisco at that time. He 
had come previously. 

Where was she from? 
Bremen, Germany. 
What was her name? 
Katherine Dellbrugge. 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Does that mean bridge? 

It's a Dutch name. The family originally started out in 
Emden, which is right down on the Dutch border. My 
grandfather must have had Dutch ancestry from the name. He 
was a tailor by trade, and he set up business in Bremen. 

How old was your mother when she came over here? 
She was eighteen or nineteen. 
That was a long way to go. 

Well, that's the way it was in those days. My parents met in 
1898 or 1899, and they married in 1900. She was working as a 
house maid for a family, and after they married she opened a 
small delicatessen store, and my father continued working in 
the brewery. 

She was a good cook, I bet. 

She was a good cook, yes. Most of those people were good 
cooks . 

Did she specialize in German cooking? 

German food, yes. My father wanted to get back into 
agriculture, and they looked in Sonoma County and here [Napa 
Valley]. When the [1906] earthquake hit, this was the 
deciding factor. They wanted out of San Francisco. They had 
two children then and one on the way. 



Vineyard and Winery 



C.F. Wagner: They came to the Napa Valley, and they bought the property 
where the Honig establishment is now. 

Hicke: Can you describe where that is? 

C.F. Wagner: It's just a quarter of a mile from here. 

Hicke: North? 

C.F. Wagner: No, almost due west from here. 

Hicke: How many acres was it? 



C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner 



There were sixty- seven acres on the whole property. 
What was there when they bought it? 

There was a small acreage in grapes, and pasture and hay 
land. That's what was there when they bought it. If my 
memory serves me correctly, I think they paid nine thousand 
dollars for it. 

What did your father decide he wanted to do with the 
property? 

He farmed it. He planted more grapes. Like every European 
family, they had cows and always had a hog or two, and they 
had chickens, so they had their own eggs, butter, and cheese. 
It was rather self-sufficient. 

No hops? 

No hops. Along about 1914 or '15, my father didn't feel that 
he was getting what the grapes were worth, so he started his 
own winery in 1915. 

I forgot to ask you what kind of grapes they were. 

Generic grapes. There was some Riesling, some Sauvignon 
vert, some Petite Sirah--just a generic mixture. 

Were they mixed in the vineyard? 

They might have been at first, but later he planted bloc by 
bloc as varieties. He started his own winery and made 
perhaps 20,000 to 25,000 gallons of wine. His wine was made 
in the fall and bulked out in the spring of the following 
year to blending and bottling facilities in the Bay Area. 
These were generic wines; they were the vin ordinaires of 
yesteryear. 

Red and white? 

Red and white both. He prospered. He made a few bucks at 
it. 

Did your mother help with the winery? 

Oh, she worked at it, sure. Hell, women cooked for the help 
in those days . 



Hicke: 



What were you doing? 



C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



I was just a kid; I wasn't born until 1912. I was three 
years old when he started the winery, so you figure it out. 
As soon as I was able to do some chores, keeping the wood box 
full was my job. When I was old enough to hold a milk pail 
between my legs, I milked cows. That's how I started. 

You said you had at least two siblings? 

I had four sisters. The two older sisters were born in San 
Francisco, and the other two were born on the farm. 

So you grew up here when there wasn't much else going on? 

No, nothing else going on. 

There have been enormous changes. 

Many, many changes- -many for the better, and many not for the 
better. It was a free world then, you know, and you could do 
what you thought was best. If you wanted to plant a tree or 
dig a hole in the ground, you could do it without getting a 
permit from somebody who didn't know as much about it as you 
did. It is far different today. 

Did your father build the winery himself? 

Yes, with some help; he hired some help. He converted a barn 
into a winery; he put in cooperage, insulated it, and so 
forth. 

Did you have any neighbors? 

There were neighbors. We were surrounded with neighbors. 
There were neighbors to the south and to the east, and the 
Napa River was to the west. 

Were they growing grapes or doing pretty much the same thing 
that you were doing? 

No, not necessarily. I think the people to the south had a 
small prune orchard and raised sheep. The people to the east 
had a big field of alfalfa, and alfalfa is cut two or three 
times a year. 

There was certainly a wide variety of crops and animals. 

My father planted more grapes, more prunes, some pears, kept 
some hay land, and kept some pasture land. This was the 
basis of the home property. 



I married in 1934 my wife, Lorna. 
Hicke: What was her last name? 
C.F. Wagner: Her middle name is Belle, and her last name was Glos 

Growing UP in the Naoa Valley 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



We need to back up a little bit. 
school? 



Where did you go to grade 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



A little school that was originally on part of our property 
here, called Liberty School. 

Oh, now I know where you got your Liberty School label name. 
Was that a one-room school? 

A one-room schoolhouse , yes. I recall as many as thirty-five 
students under one teacher, with eight grades. They left 
school with a better education than most of the kids in 
junior high school today. Believe me. 

What type of things did you study? 

We had a general education. We had reading, writing, and 
arithmetic; this was grade school. A little history. Let me 
think for a moment. Gradually the tenants in the school 
lessened, and when I graduated from grammar school in 1926, I 
was the lone graduate. It shows how the attendance had 
decimated. 

Why was that? 

Oh, people moved out. There wasn't the influx of families 
any more. Most of the people who had families, the children 
had left home for other walks of life. 

I spent four years in St. Helena High School, and after 
high school I went to work for my father full time. 



Working in the Winery During Prohibition 



Hicke: 



C.F. Wagner: 



What was your father doing all this time? 
along, for one thing. 



Prohibition came 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 



C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



The grapes that we grew were shipped east in small lugs. 
Sometimes he got paid for them, and sometimes he didn't. 
Sometimes he got a bill for the freight instead of a check 
for his grapes. It was rough times. He got stuck with 
25,000 to 30,000 gallons of wine when Prohibition hit, and 
the federal government made him retain bond on this and make 
monthly reports without any recourse. He had to do that for 
over a period of years until the wine developed sufficient 
acid that they allowed him to bodily dump it. So that was 
the end of the little winery at that time. 

When Prohibition was repealed, we cleaned up things and 
reactivated the winery. We had two years' crush on hand, and 
at that time there was no place for bulk wines, let alone 
bottled wine ; so the wine we had on hand my father sold for 
distilling purposes, and that ended the winery completely. 

So after that he didn't-- 

Nothing over there any more in the way of a winery, but we 
continued to grow grapes there. It was 1936, I think, when 
they started the Napa Valley Cooperative, and we were a part 
of the charter members of the cooperative, so our grapes went 
there . 

Do you recall anything about the Prohibition days and what 
was happening in the valley? 

Prohibition days were something else. I think that was the 
beginning of disrespect for any law and order whatsoever. I 
recall that there were some large bootleg syndicates started 
in the valley here, and these folks would turn out a thousand 
gallons a day of high-proof sugar alcohol. They peddled it, 
and they even got in the end to where they were highjacking 
from each other. 

I was out of high school then, and I bought sugar 
alcohol in five-gallon cans for as cheap as $1.75 a gallon. 

What did you do with it? 

[ laughs ] A couple of fellows from San Francisco would come 
up who wanted it, so I would take their car and go out and 



get three or four cans of that. I'd pay $1.75 a gallon for 
it, and I collected $6.00 a gallon from them. [laughter] So 
that was few extra pennies. That's a little bit of history. 

Hicke: That's interesting, because there aren't very many good 
stories about Prohibition. 

C.F. Wagner: That isn't a good story. It's really a bad story; there's 
nothing good about it. It really went on to teach people 
disrespect for decent law. In bootleg days, in some 
speakeasies for $1.50 a pint you could buy bathtub gin or 

whatever. It wasn't good. 



High School Days 

Hicke: Back to high school. What were you doing in your 

out-of -school time? Were you helping around the farm? 

C.F. Wagner: I had my chores to do . I couldn't go for sports; I had to 
get home and take care of the livestock and so forth. So I 
didn't play any sports in high school. I was never an honor 
student, to be truthful. 

Hicke: Were there lots of other kids in your class, or was it a 
small class? 

C.F. Wagner: The class I graduated with in high school was about 
thirty- three kids. 

Hicke: Did most of them leave the area? 

C.F. Wagner: Most of them left the area, yes. 

Hicke: What did you do when you graduated from high school? 

C.F. Wagner: I went to work for my father full time. 

Hicke: Before we go any further, have we covered most of your notes 
that you made on your background? 

C.F. Wagner: Pretty much so. 



C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 



VINEYARD OPERATIONS 



The Home Property 



After I was out of high school for four years, I married. In 
' 36 I leased the home property and operated that on a share 
basis with my folks. I did outside tractor work, and I did 
custom spraying as a sideline. 

My father passed away in 1939, and from that time on I 
leased the property from my mother. 

When you say the home property, you mean the acreage that 
your father owned? 



C.F. Wagner: That's right. 



Spray and Custom Tractor Business 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 



And you had a spray business? 

I did custom spraying and custom tractor work; I worked other 
people's farms. On one farm I worked on a cost-plus basis. 
That was a farm that we ultimately bought. I saw that his 
fruit was picked and did the necessary work. Whatever it 
cost me, he got a bill for, and I got a fee for doing 
whatever needed to be done. 

That was on a handshake basis? 
Yes. 

Do you recall the names of any of the people that you worked 
for? 



10 



C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



I covered a lot of territory in spraying and tractor work. 
It would be difficult to name names. The man whose farm I 
operated on a cost-plus basis was named Freyermuth. He was a 
doctor, and his wife owned the property. 

But they didn't live there? 

No, they lived in San Francisco. Her father was Henry 
Harris, who was a pioneer in this area. That's how she 
obtained the property that I operated. 



Purchasing the Liberty School Property 



C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 



They were unhappy with whatever they could get out of the 
property, and they decided that they wanted to sell it. They 
asked if I was interested, and I definitely was. 

We reached an agreement where we bought it on a 
contract-of - sale basis. At the close of the deal I paid 
$1,500 down, with the agreement that I pay $5,000 that crop 
season, after the crops were in. The going price of the 
property was $25,000, and that included the Victorian that is 
north of where my son lives and the rights to the property 
that the Liberty School sat on. The original owner of the 
property, Henry Harris, did deed that piece for school 
purposes back in the 1800s, with the proviso that should the 
school ever be abandoned, the property would revert back to 
his heirs or assignees. So, having purchased the property 
from his heir, we were an assignee, and I filed against the 
district and got back that acre and a half, or whatever the 
school property amounted to, as part of the original deal. 

That's how Liberty School came into the picture. 
Is Liberty School still there? 

No, we used the building to house transient labor to harvest 
crops for a few years. One spring we were over at the coast, 
and while we were away some vandals got in there and broke 
all the windows- -multi -pane , six-foot windows --and smashed 
the doors up. The building was in need of a new roof then, 
so we decided there was no use to try and repair it; we'll 
take it down, since we want to build here anyhow. So the 
lumber from that building went into my home. 

So you still have part of the Liberty School. 



11 



C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 



That's right. 

Whom did you hire for transient labor? 

Usually Mexican people. We had connections. Sometimes 
Puerto Rican people. You'd get a man in who had a crew of 
people, and he would contract to pick your prunes or pick 
your grapes, and he took care of the people who worked under 
him. That was the basis of the operation. 

That's what everybody up and down the valley did? 

Yes. I had four sisters, and as time went on some were very 

unhappy with the progress on the property. They thought I 
was taking advantage of the home place- -milking it, in other 
words. It got to where we couldn't get along with it, so we 
tried to buy the whole property on the basis that we bought 
our own property, but nobody would hold still for it. I told 
my mother, "If you don't want me to run the property, and you 
don't want me to buy it, sell the God-damned thing." So she 
sold it to a fellow by the name of Jack Nelson. One of my 
sisters more or less engineered the deal, which I have many 
regrets about. It was like a sweetheart deal, a deal that we 
could have handled without a problem. But the property was 
gone, and that was the way it went. 

What were you growing on your property? 

Here we had about forty acres in prunes, about twenty acres 
in walnuts, and some land that was planted here and there to 
a few almond trees up in back. 

It must have been beautiful in the spring. 



First Plantings: 1943 



C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



It was, yes. We planted our first grapes, if I recall 
correctly, in '43. 

What did you plant? 

We planted ten acres of Burger and about twelve acres of Napa 
Camay . 



Hicke: 



How did you decide on those? 



12 



C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



We wanted production. We were dealing with ordinary grapes 
that went to- -at that time we had dropped out of the 
cooperative, and we belonged to Allied Grape Growers. These 
grapes went to Allied. Tonnage was tremendously high. As we 
went along, prunes sort of fell by the wayside, and we 
couldn't make young trees grow any more. It seems we had a 
bacteria gomosis problem- -that' s what the University [of 
California, Davis] called it- -with young trees. We planted 
seven acres of young trees, and in three years I didn't have 
an acre left, so we took out the prune trees and went for 
varietal grapes. 

We planted first some Pinot noir, some Cabernet 
Sauvignon, and some Riesling. 

How did you choose these? 

Not for any particular reason, except that they were paying 
pretty good money for them. 

Did you talk to other people about it? 

Yes. It wasn't like it is today, where everything is 
Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. This business wasn't as 
sophisticated then. 



13 



CAYMUS VINEYARDS 



Starting the Vinery 



C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



We went along, and we didn't feel as though we were being 
paid for our varietal grapes according to their value. 

You were selling these to Allied Grape Growers? 

Yes, we were with Allied. As a matter of fact, I sat on the 
board of directors of Allied Grape Growers from about 1968 to 
1974. I had an understanding with the president of the board 
and the other members that as long as we drew a new contract 
every year, I could gradually siphon off grapes from the 
gross delivery for our own use. 

We got to talking about a winery here, and I was rather 
undecided. I said, "Well, why do I want to do it alone?" 
Chuck, was just out of school then. He had put a couple of 
years in junior college and wasn't doing any good there. I 
said, "If we start a winery, do you want in on it? If you 
don't, we'll consider selling the property." Chuck said, 
"No, I think I'd like to go for it." 

At that time, frankly, I don't think Chuck knew a good 
glass of wine from a glass of water. 



More on Vineyard Operations: 1940s 



Hicke: Let's back up to the 1940s for a minute. You had just 

planted Burger and Napa Camay grapes. I would like a little 
more detail about what was happening in the forties and 
fifties. 

C.F. Wagner: Well, the grapes were sold. 






14 

Hicke: When did you get into Allied Grape Growers? 
C.F. Wagner: I went into Allied Grape Growers in about 1960. 
Hicke: Before that, who were you selling to? 

C.F. Wagner: The Napa Valley Cooperative. I could be off on the dates, 
but it's pretty close. 

Hicke: How many acres of grapes did you plant in '43? 

C.F. Wagner: About seventeen acres. 

Hicke: Then you had to wait for a while, obviously. 

C.F. Wagner: Yes, for it to come into production. 

Hicke: Is that a hard time to get through? 

C.F. Wagner: You have other crops, you know. We were heavy in prunes at 

the time, and the prunes kept us going. On the home property 
we had our own drying facilities, and between the two 
properties we had about eighty acres of prunes. I also dried 
prunes for other folks. 

Hicke: When are prunes harvested? 

C.F. Wagner: Oh, you can harvest prunes starting about the first week in 
August . 

Hicke: A little before the grapes, then? 

C.F. Wagner: They are always before the grapes, except this year. This 
year I have two prune trees, and we picked a lot of grapes 
before I picked those two prune trees. So I don't know the 
answer . 

Hicke: There isn't any answer that covers everything, is there? 

C.F. Wagner: No. As things went on, I was still operating the home 
property, and I did lease other properties- -some prune 
orchards and hay land, or grain land. I did raise hogs at 
one time; I believe I could have had as many as two hundred 
head of hogs. 

Hicke: What did you do with them? 

C.F. Wagner: This was under the [Franklin D. ] Roosevelt administration. 
They had surplus grain, and I bought alfalfa hay by the 



15 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



carload. I had a hammer mill, and we mixed up the mash for 
the hogs to eat. This was hog business. Then, all of a 
sudden, without any notice whatsoever, FDR raised the price 
of feed grain beyond what I thought I could pay, and he 
dropped the price of hogs, all in one stroke of the pen. So 
I couldn't get out of hogs fast enough. 

Was this in the mid-forties? 
It was in the late forties. 

After you got out of hogs, what did you spend your time on? 
You must have been spending a lot of time on the hogs. 

Oh, they didn't take that much time. I had a couple of boys 
from Oklahoma working for me. 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 
Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Did you concentrate more on grapes? 

I concentrated on the fruits that we were producing, grapes 
and prunes . 

After you first planted the Burger and Napa Camay grapes, did 
you plant more of that later? 

No, that's all of those grapes that I planted. 

What was happening in the war years? Did it affect your 
farm? 

No. We were in prunes and grapes, and also we had the hogs 
then. We raised hay and grain on leased property. We did 
whatever we could to keep things going. 

Did a lot of people leave at that time? 

I don't think so. I think the people who had left mostly 
were those who were drafted, the young men who were drafted 
into the service. 

How about the fifties? You slid through those in a hurry. 

No, I think we covered it pretty well. Incidentally, I 
didn't tell you that in the forties we had a pretty heavy 
mortgage on the property on this contract-of -sale basis, so 
we cut off five acres, with the Victorian, and we sold that 



16 



Hicke: 



C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 



C.F. Wagner: 



for $7,500. This relieved the pressure of the mortgage that 
we had the time. 

Was the rise in property value because people were getting 
interested in this area? 

No. There was a lady by the name of Florence Fargo Wheeler, 
a descendant of the Wells Fargo family. Her father was 
Wells, and I think her uncle was Fargo- -one or the other. 
She bought the property. The property, in the interim 
between then and now, has changed hands three or four times. 
Some renovation took place there, but the last sale of that 
Victorian and five acres went for $1,005,000. 

Oh, my. Well, at least you got out from under your mortgage. 

That's right. What are you going to do? 

So you just kept on with the prunes and the grapes? 

That's right. I believe it was in '63 that we bought another 
property, between here and Rutherford. It had been used for 
row crops and pasture. We cleaned it up and planted that to 
Cabernet Sauvignon and some Chenin blanc . I think we paid 
$47,500 for that property. 

In '66 I had a disgruntled employee who had left under 
bad circumstances, and came back and pumped seven 22 slugs in 
me. It laid me up in the hospital for about two months. 
Along about that time, I thought, "I don't know if I'll ever 
be able to do all the things I'd like to do again," so we 
sold that piece of property that we had developed. That was 
the end of that piece of development. 



Let me ask you a little bit about planting, 
worry about things like spacing? 



Did you have to 



Spacing is a matter of choice, I think. Everyone has his own 
ideas. I think most of us do our own experimental work in 
that respect. At first, all the vineyards here were mostly 
planted eight foot by eight foot. Then I put in a couple of 
small pieces of ten by ten. The University was recommending 
wider spacing, and we found that very discouraging, because 
you couldn't hang that many extra pounds of grapes on a 
grapevine to make up for the difference. 



Hicke: 



Why did they want you to use wider spacing? 



17 



C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



I don't know what their theory was. That's something you'll 
have to ask them about. When we put our varietal grapes in, 
we came on the idea of keeping the spacing ten foot in one 
direction, and we planted six foot the other way. That gave 
us many more vines to the acre, and that is perhaps one of my 
favorite spacings today. You can get through the ten- foot 
way for cultivation and your gondolas, and you still have the 
vines close together. 

So you still have vines planted ten by six? 

Yes, we still have some ten by six. My son is experimenting 
with different plantings; it's his choice now. 

In the forties and fifties, and maybe even in the sixties, 
people didn't think too much about the soil and the 
microclimates . 

I think there are many, many different microclimates in the 
valley here. I think we have about four different types of 
soil on this property. 

Is that right? 

Yes, there's a wide variation. These lands are either of 
volcanic origin, or they are alluvial soils laid down by 
sedimentation from heavy flooding in years past, or they are 
a mixture of both. There are areas that I wouldn't want to 
plant Cabernet Sauvignon on, and there are areas that I 
wouldn't want to plant some other varieties. 



Cavmus Cabernet Sauvignon 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Your Cabernet is your most famous wine. 

We put the first Cabernet planting--! was looking for a clone 
of Cabernet that perhaps didn't over-bear but gave reasonable 
production. I wanted a little looser bunch that ripened 
maybe a little earlier. We ran into such a clone, and we 
propagated from that. That's our mainstay today yet. 

Can you tell me what clone it is? 

I don't know what clone it was. I can't think of the name of 
the man whose property it came from. 



18 

Hicke: It came from another grower? 

C.F. Wagner: Yes. 

Hicke: It was obviously a success. 

C.F. Wagner: That and the particular soil it was put in. 

Hicke: What kind of soil is it? 

C.F. Wagner: We're on more or less well-drained soil. It's gravelly loam 
for the most part. 

Hicke: Is that the alluvial or the volcanic soil? 

C.F. Wagner: A mixture, really, when you come right down to it. We come 
right down to the creek here, and we run into deep alluvial 
soils. A little farther away we run into the volcanic soils. 
There's a tremendous mixture. 

Hicke: So you have Cabernet on both kinds of soil? 

C.F. Wagner: Yes. We find that by proper pruning and perhaps trellising, 
which my son is experimenting with, we get good quality, and 
we get production from both ends. 

Hicke: Did you do any trellising when you first started planting? 
C.F. Wagner: No. We had wires, if you want to call that trellising. 
Hicke: What kind of wires? 

C.F. Wagner: We had a basic wire. It was cordon pruning that we used. We 
ran the vines on cordons, and then we ran two wires up above 
that we trained our canes on. This was the basic structure 
for a number of years. 

Hicke: How did you know about pruning of vines? 

C.F. Wagner: That's a hard question to answer. I think you grow into it. 
There's no teacher for that. You do your own 
experimentation, and you find that which best suits your 
needs . 

Hicke: Did your father help you along with any of this? 
C.F. Wagner: No, he wasn't living when we bought this property. 
Hicke: He probably didn't worry about pruning. 



19 



C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Oh, he pruned, yes, but it was the old-fashioned, spur 
pruning that was used on the vin ordinary grapes of 
yesteryear . 

It was not the fine art that it is today? 
Oh, no. It is an art today. 



Other Growers : Laurie Wood 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner : 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner : 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 



Who else was growing grapes around here in the fifties? 

Everyone was leaning heavily towards grapes at that time. I 
don't know when the neighbors pulled their other crops out, 
but it was a gradual changeover into grapes. 

Are there any others around now who were growing grapes here 
then? 

The only one that I could name at this time is perhaps Laurie 
Wood. He grew up in the area, and he was raising grapes at 
that time. Properties have changed hands, so everything 
changes . 

I'm interested in learning as much as I can about the early 
growers . 

Beaulieu Vineyard (BV) pioneered the varietals in this area. 
When they sold out to Heublein, that was the end of BV, but 
there are still grapes there. 

Did you exchange information with other people on grape 
growing, weather, and things like that? 

Not really, no. I think everyone perhaps did their own 
experimentation. 

Farming is a difficult business, I should think; it's chancy. 
It's a way of life. 

You look as though you expect to accept philosophically 
whatever comes as a farmer. 



C.F. Wagner: Yes. 



20 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



It sounds hard to me, since you don't know what is coming. 

It's not a formula that you can go by, add different things 
together, and have a net result. 

I guess that's what makes it seem so difficult- -that it is 
different every year. 

Every year is different. It's all in the laps of the gods. 
Mother Nature is the guiding light of the whole procedure. 

I forgot to ask if your father grew up on a farm in Alsace. 

Yes, they farmed there. 

Have you got anything else in your notes? 

No, I think that's it. 



Hicke: 



C.F. Wagner: 



What yeasts do you use? That's part of the winemaking 
process, and maybe we don't want to go into that now. 

My son can talk to you about winemaking. In the early days 
of. winemaking we just used natural yeast; things just 
fermented without benefit of any cultured yeast. Today it's 
almost a science. We control fermentation temperatures, we 
add a cultured yeast. First we add sulfite to subdue the 
wild yeasts, and then we add the cultured yeast that gives us 
a more predictable and controllable fermentation. 



Pests and Pesticides 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



What about pests and pesticides in the early days? 

Mildew was the biggest thing we had to fight with in the 
early days, and we used sulfur for that. Later on we had the 
same thing that we have today: we had leafhoppers sometimes, 
and we sprayed for those. We haven't sprayed for the last 
couple of years for leafhoppers; they haven't been a problem. 
The leafhoppers are usually the thing that spreads Pierce 's 
disease. In the stream we have back here there were a lot of 



21 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



wild berries, and we found that we had a pattern of Pierce 's 
disease going right out from where those heavy wild berry 
patches were. So we made a clean sweep and obliterated the 
berries completely. We burned them all first and then 
sprayed the area, and there are no more berries. 

They were sheltering the leafhoppers? 

They carried the disease, and the vector, as we call the 
leafhopper, took it from the berry vine into the vineyard. 
The strange thing about it is that at that time the 
University recommended planting wild berries in order to help 
control Pierce's disease. It's hard to believe that. We 
proved the exact opposite of that. 

You planted the varietal grapes in the sixties. 

In ' 66 , yes . 

What made you decide to do that? 

We thought in terms of high-quality grapes, and that was 
where the trend was and where the profit was. 

Did you see the demand coming? 

Oh, the demand was picking up right along. 

Were you still with Allied Grape Growers? 

Yes. 



Allied Grape Growers 



Hicke: 



C.F. Wagner: 



When you joined Allied Grape Growers, what was happening 
there? 

Allied Grape Growers at that time was the largest grape 
growing cooperative or wine cooperative in California. They 
controlled the Petri brands, the Italian Swiss [Colony] 
brands, and they owned the big Asti plant. As time went 
on- -I don't know what year it happened, but Heublein was 
interested, and they gave us a big song and dance about being 
able to take care of all the grapes we could produce. They 
gave a long-term contract with the promise of having all the 
grapes the growers could grow, and all of this sort of thing. 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 
Hicke: 



22 



They paid the Allied Grape Growers off on their equities with 
Heublein stock. 

It wasn't long after that when Heublein started to 
renege on their contract, and it ended up in a long 
litigation procedure in a federal court. The Allied Grape 
Growers lost their facilities and the works. Heublein walked 
away with it. 

Were you involved in that? 

I was sitting on the board at that time. Everything Heublein 
touched turned to poison. They were murderous. 

There wasn't much you could do? 

No, nothing we could do. Frankly, I think they had the 
federal judge in their pocket. 

Do we want to say who the federal judge was? 
I have no idea. I couldn't even remember. 

What was your part in it? What did you have to do? Did you 
help make decisions? 

No, they made the decision in the courtroom. The board voted 
on this or on that, but any board of directors does. 

I guess you had to decide if you wanted to go on fighting or 
settle . 



C.F. Wagner: We had to take whatever was handed down to us. 



Winerv Operations: Marketing 



Hicke: 



C.F. Wagner: 



I guess now we are almost up to the point where you are 
deciding to have a winery. Why did you think about that? 

We thought it would be the ultimate, really. We thought we 
would start on a very small scale and really thought that if 
we made good wine, everybody would beat a path to our door. 
We soon found that a path didn't develop, so we started to 
sell through brokers to retail outlets, restaurants, and what 
have you. 



23 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



We dumped the brokers over a period of time and tied in 
with a man by the name of Ira Gorvitz, who ran an 
organization called Wine Marketing International, and he put 
our wines out on a national basis. The only problem with 
Gorvitz was that he would get paid, and then he would send us 
a check from his company for the wine. He got into us for a 
couple hundred thousand dollars, and finally we had to break 
it off. We had some litigation going, and we got rid of him. 

When was this? 

I can't tell you what year it was. Chuck can probably tell 
you. It was in the late seventies or early eighties. 

We took on a marketing director, John Skupny. John 
dealt with distributors in other states. He was a good boy; 
he did the job for us. We still dealt on a brokerage basis 
in California. Then John found that he could do better 
elsewhere, and he went to work for Clos du Val . It was a 
walk-away thing where he left us under good circumstances, 
and we're still friendly. 

We dealt with two or three brokers in California, and 
finally we decided we would go all the way with distributors. 
Our first distributors in California were Jalco in the north 
and Bohemian in the South, both owned by one parent company. 
We did well with them up until about two months ago, when 
they decided they weren't going to stay in business any 
longer. They closed their doors and paid us up completely; 
there was no problem there. Today we are with a big 
California distributor, Southern Wines and Spirits. Their 
California division is American Wines. 

Gradually over the years I've turned more responsibility 
over to Chuck. When we started the winery, we did 
incorporate under the Caymus label. We gave out company 
stock to the children and to the grandchildren. In order to 
keep things so that no one could interfere with the 
operation, I saw to it that Chuck had controlling interest. 
Down the road, regardless of what happens, no one can put us 
in disagreeable circumstances. 

That's important for a family operation. 

It is. I didn't want Chuck to go through the problems that I 
went through with my family, so we nailed that down. Chuck 
has developed, and for the last five years any success of the 
business has been his responsibility. 



24 



Building the Winery 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Let's go back to the early days of the winery, 
a winery here? 



Yes. 



Did you build 



Did you design it, or did you have an architect design it? 

No, no architect. No, we didn't fool with an architect. We 
just put one small building up, and it's still there. Four 
or five years later we had need for another building, and we 
put that up. Then we tore half of it down, and we retained 
half of it along with our bottling line there now. We put a 
warehouse across the way; that is where we ferment all our 
white wines now in barrels. 

Four years ago we bought three acres from the 

neighboring property, which we're on now, and decided we were 
going to put this big building up. We had need for 
warehousing; we were renting two warehouses elsewhere, and we 
wanted to bring everything in-house. That's how it stands 
today . 

It was in 1971 or '72 that you started the winery? 
We started the winery in '72. 
That's when it was bonded? 
Yes. 



Making Wines: 1972 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 



What were your first wines? 

Cabernet Sauvignon, some Riesling, Pinot Noir, and we did 
pioneer a blush wine of Pinot noir that we called Pinot Noir 
Blanc . 

Is that right? When was that? 



25 



C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 



C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



In 1972. We didn't push it. If we had pushed it, that could 
have been the blush wine today instead of White Zinfandel; 
but we didn't. It has kind of fallen by the wayside today. 
It's not our main item. We concentrate more on the wines 
that we're best known for and that we do best. 

When was your first crush? 
In '72. 

I want to find out how you go about acquiring the talent for 
tasting wine. 

That's something that you could almost call self education. 
You taste, and you taste again, and if you like what you are 
tasting- -let ' s put it this way, and I tell many people the 
same thing: you as an individual are your own wine expert. 
If it satisfies your palate, and you like what it is, then 
it's the wine you like, regardless of what anybody tells you 
or what you read. If you don't like it, certainly it's not 
your wine. If somebody tells you a wine is terrible, and you 
like, so be it. Wine is very personal. 

But how do you learn to taste wine so that you can make a 
wine that gets the high acclaims that yours does? 

The high acclaim that wine gets starts out in the vineyard 
with the grapes you crush. Then with the clean and proper 
vinification you develop a wine, and it either ages well and 
flies, or it doesn't. We were just lucky in that respect. 
We had a good combination, and it was a stroke of luck. 

Did you have goals in mind when you started with your 
Cabernet? 

Not necessarily, no. It was just that as time went on, we 
got the message from the critics, and we began concentrating 
more on the awards that we got. 

I think wine tasting must be an art. 

No, it's personal. You either like it, or you don't. It's 
as personal as your choice of friends. 

How do you develop complexity in a wine? 

That's up to the individual's palate, whether they think a 
wine has complexity or not- -I think. Wine stands on three 
things: acid, tannin, and fruit, if you want complexity, but 



26 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 



C.F. Wagner: 



that's only my opinion. These have to be together in the 
proper sequence, just like a proper marriage is at least 
three elements. If a wine is too tannic and your tannin 
stands out, it takes away the fruit. It takes acid to 
balance those, because if wine doesn't have sufficient acid, 
down the road it will be blah. It's a balanced product. 



We want to know what 



Do you taste other wines? 

We taste other people's wines, yes. 
other people are doing. 

Mostly Californians , or French? 



On occasion we taste some French wines, but it's mostly wines 
that we compete against. Oregon doesn't offer us any 
problem; they're not in our Cabernet [class], they're not in 
our Sauvignon Blanc, and so forth. Washington produces some 
pretty fine Merlot, and some people like the Washington 
Cabernet. Again, it's a matter of taste. I wouldn't condemn 
their wines, but they're not to my palate. That's the way it 
is . 

Are your wines consistent? Do you aim for consistency? 

We aim for consistency, yes. I think that's the bottom line, 
in order to keep the public happy with you. They are 
entitled to a consistent product. They buy a bottle of wine 
of a given brand now, and a year from now they see that brand 
of a different vintage. They have it, and it is totally 
different; it is not consistent, and they don't feel 
confident with you any more. You've lost their confidence, 
in my book. It's the same thing as buying a car, and you get 
a lemon. You're not going to buy that make of car again. 
It's the same with shoes or other clothes; if you get unhappy 
with a brand, you won't be going back. I think wine is in 
the same category. 

How do you deal with changes in the weather to maintain your 
consistency of the wines? 

That has never bothered us. Since we have been in business, 
we have not had a year when we have had red wine problems . 
Only one year did we have a white wine problem, and that was 
in '82. They were musty- flavored with a total lack of fruit. 
No one produced a decent white wine. Some were better than 
others, and some weren't worth a damn. There were no truly 
good white wines produced in '82. 



27 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



That was a weather problem? 

Rot. The rot started, and the wines all had an off lick [?' 



EauiDinent 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Do you remember anything about that first crush? Did it all 
go according to plan? 

[laughs] We had a little Mickey -Mouse crusher, and we had to 
fork the grapes into the little Mickey-Mouse by hand. 

Was it a hand crusher? 

No, it was a little electric crusher with a one-horse power 
motor on it. You had to get into the must pump with your 
hand or a baseball bat and shove the stuff in there so it 
would go through. It was problematic. It was almost on a 
hand-to-hand basis. 

Where did you get these little machines? 

We bought them from a little business- -that ' s still in the 
business--in St. Helena, The Compleat Winemaker. We still 
have the little crusher that we loan out to people who want 
to make a little wine for themselves. 

As we have progressed, we have changed equipment 
somewhat. I bought used equipment from a place that was once 
a winery that went defunct. It was the first heavy-duty 
equipment that we bought, and that served our purpose for a 
number of years. Then we upgraded and put in the crusher 
that we have today. We have had three different press 
systems. The last two have been similar, except the last one 
has been twice the size; so that's progress. 

You never cease spending money in this business. 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



You were telling me about the bottling. 

When we first started it was all hand bottling. We had a 
little filler thing with three little spouts on it. You 
would shove a bottle in there, it would get so full, and then 
you would pull it off. Then they had to be hand-corked, and 



28 



the foil had to be put on by hand- -spun by hand, 
hand-to-hand operation. 



It was a 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



The label had to be put on by hand. The first thing we 
used was a little deal that showed the label through, and it 
glued it. Then you took it and laid the bottle in a little 
wooden trough, and you could put it on by hand very easily. 
Then we went to a labeler that we bought used. We had it 
shipped out from some used equipment place. We had a man go 
over it, and that worked to some degree. 

Then we bought a mechanical corker that answered the 
purpose for a little while. There was a lot of handwork 
attached to it, but it would take a series of bottles at one 
time and ram the corks in. They were then passed on and 
handled by hand after that. 

Then we went for the big bottling line that we have 
today. It's rather expensive, but when it is operating will 
do about eighty to eighty-five bottles a minute- -that ' s 
labeled, palletized, and out the door on the pallet. 

Quite an improvement. 

Yes, and expensive. 

Does the bank help you finance all of this? 

Yes, we have a line of credit with B of A [Bank of America]. 
We have limitations that we stay well within. We enjoy a 
very favorable line of credit with B of A, and we want to 
keep it that way. 



Label Design 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



How did you design the label? 

The first labels we had, the wife of some fellow in The 
Compleat Winemaker did a little hand design. 

Do you still have a copy of that? 

There should be one around somewhere. If I can find one, 
I'll see that you have it. [see following page] Then we had 
Sebastian Titus design our next label, which we kept for a 
number of years. We have upgraded that a little since then. 



28a 



Examples of Camus Vineyards 
and Liberty School Lables 





(^aumitt vi 



ymiu 



'97* 



produce*) ani) tcllUJ at (lie wi 

, cN.apa Gounbj, California 
13 /> cent oy volume 




. ' 

' i * *_ t^?*" 

i.^ %1 

-'.- IxrSi 

#V-*> 



mus 





oJucfJ ant') ifilllrJ nl lite 
wforJ, cKapa Counij,, 
lcohol 12.5 pn crnl kyjolume? . 



'.-' f! 



-V ' 



. _ - 

> 7 

," ^ : Tt 

^ ' 



28b 



'984 

CAYMUS 
VINEYARDS 



Estate wlnl^^B Bottled 





NAPA VALLEY 



Cabernet Sauvignon 



PRODUCED AND BOTTLED BY 

CAYMUS VINEYARDS 
RUTHERFORD. NAPA VALLEY. CA. 

ALCOHOL 13.0% BY VOLUME 



CAYMUS 

VINEYARDS 




BARREL FERMENTED 
NAPA VALLEY 



</ 



Ak-ohol 12.0 1 ? bv Volunu- 



28c 




Special /9<S4 Selection 

AYMUS 
INEYARDS 





NAPA VALLEY 

Cabernet Sauvignon 

This wine produced entirely from Cahernel 

Sauvipnon grapes Aged 4 \ears m H\ gallon 

French Limousin and Never barrels 

GROWN, PRODUCED & BOTTLED BY 

CAYMUS VINEYARDS 

RUTHERFORD, NAPA VALLEY, CA. 

ALCOHOL l.i* BY VOL CONTAINS SUI.FITES 



A 



VINEYARDS 




NAI'AVALI.KV 
CAIU.KNKT SAtA'iti 



28d 





California 

Cabernet Sauvignon 



SaECTED AND BOTTLED BY CAYMUS VINEYARDS 
RUTHERFORD, NAPA VALLEY, CA ALCOHOL 13.0% BY VOLUME 




\ INTNEK^Kl.ECT 

CALIFORNIA 
CABERNET SAITIGNON 

MADK AND 



I IHF.KTY HUOOI 
Kl Till KIOK1> . l.AI.II-'OKNI \ 



28e 



CAYMUS 



s 




NAP A VALLEY 




29 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



How do you make up your mind to change the design, or how did 
you decide to change the design? 

I don't know. The first label that Titus developed for us 
was one of my favorites, but they've changed it a little bit 
since then. I'm out of that today, anyhow. 

How long did you stay in it? 

I started to back off about five years ago. I figured that 
if Chuck was going to run the business, he'd better get in 
and run it and not wait until I die first. 



Selling the Early Wines 



Hicke: 



C.F. Wagner 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 



What else besides labeling and bottling did you have to do to 
start the winery? 

Well, sell wine. We did buy an interest in Wine Services 
Co-op when they started the building there, and we stored 
wine there. All the bottled wine was stored there until we 
went for our own warehousing here. We still maintain an 
inventory there of about 20,000 to 30,000 cases, because all 
out-of-state shipments do go through Wine Services. It's a 
consolidation point. 

Is that in Fremont? 

No, they started in Fremont, and now it's right across from 
the high school. It's a big building. I forget what the 
storage capacity is there--! think a million and a half cases 
or something like that. There is no distributor that we ship 
to who buys one whole truckload of wine from us. They'll buy 
a truckload of wine, and maybe five hundred cases are from 
us, and two or three hundred cases are from somebody else. 
Wine Services Co-op loads us consolidated there, and they do 
all the paperwork and bill us on a monthly basis. 

How many cases did you bottle that first year, '72? 

I'm only guessing, and my son may tell you differently, that 
it was around 1,500 cases. 

And it was primarily Cabernet? 



30 



C.F. Wagner: No, it was Pinot Noir. 



Alsatian Grapes and Wines 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



How did you happen onto the Pinot Noir Blanc? 

I had run into it in Alsace, and I liked it very much. 
That's why I thought I would try it here. 

Have you been back to Alsace? 

I've been there four or five times. I'd like to go back once 
more . 

Did you find the exact farm where your father lived? 

The people lived in little villages there, and they farmed 
outside the villages. People there in those days never lived 
on the little acreage they had. No one had a given piece of 
acreage; they had what they would refer to as a few acres 
here and a few acres there. You understand what I mean; 
there was no consolidation of acreage whatsoever. 



They had to trot around to do their farming? 

That's right. I still have relatives there, 
interesting area. 



It's an 



I guess that explains your interest in Riesling also. 

Yes. We got away from Riesling. We found that Riesling here 
was not our wine. There is a poor market for it, poor 
demand, and it didn't measure up to Rieslings from Europe, so 
why push it? Anything we can do as well or better than they 
do in Europe, fine. 



Pinot Noir 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



How did you decide to make Pinot Noir? 

I like Pinot Noir. I got started on Pinot Noir back in the 
fifties. I was friendly with the foreman of Beaulieu 



31 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Vineyard, and when they were through picking there was a 
second crop. With their permission, I would go out and glean 
some from the second crop, and I made Pinot Noir for myself. 

You just liked it? 

It was my favorite wine once, but frankly my favorite wine 
today is an old Zinfandel, and next comes Cabernet Sauvignon. 



Zinfandel 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Do you make a Zinfandel? 

We have a good Zin, yes. 

When did you start doing that? 

The first year we made wine, we made a little Zinfandel. 

Did you increase your amounts of Zinfandel? 

To some degree, yes. You know, Zinfandel isn't all that 
plentiful. Very few properties produce grapes that make good 
Zinfandel wine. The vines like to struggle a little more, 
and you would rather have them on a hillside somewhere. It's 
a vine that, to make fine wine, has to struggle a little 
more. You don't want Zinfandel growing on lush land. It's 
all right to use for White Zinfandel, but for a base for a 
red wine, no. More land produces good Cabernet grapes than 
Zinfandel grapes. 

Where are your Zinfandel grapes? 

We bought some just west of Rutherford this year. We've tied 
into a piece of property there, and we're going to see how 
the wine goes. If we like how the wine turns out, we'll tie 
the people up with a contract. 



Appellations 



Hicke: 



What about appellations? That must have changed a lot. 



32 



C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 



C.F. Wagner: 



I disagree with all this sub-appellation stuff. I just can't 
see it. I think Napa Valley is good enough for an 
appellation. When you have Rutherford Bench, or Oakville 
Bench, and all this garbage, you pit one neighbor against the 
other. If he happens to be on the wrong side of the line, 
somebody says, "The grapes in this area are worth more than 
the grapes in your area." It shouldn't be. Regardless of 
where you are, and your grapes measure up, if they make top 
wine, you deserve top price- -regardless of the bench or 
particular appellation. I disagree with some appellations. 

Napa Valley is pretty well known. 

Yes. I think if you carry a Napa Valley appellation on your 
label, and you make wines people like, that's all you need. 
They'll beat a path to your marketplace. No matter what your 
appellation is, if your wine doesn't measure up, and people 
don't like it, then it's not going to fly. 



You have had such great success with your Cabernet. Can 
explain that? 



you 



We've strived for consistency. We taste one wine against the 
other consistently. The grapes from different areas that we 
put in our Napa Valley Cab- -different quantities of them we 
blend with the grapes from another farm, and we maintain 
consistency on that basis. As far as the Special Selections 
is concerned, it comes strictly from our own vineyards, and 
we choose the very best of our own. After it is in barrels, 
we go over the barrels and make up our minds how many cases 
of Special Selections we want for that particular year, and 
we set that many barrels aside. The wine has to measure up, 
or it doesn't get marked for such. 



Cooperage 



Hicke: 



C.F. Wagner: 



Speaking of barrels, tell me what you used for cooperage when 
you first started. 

We used some French oak, some American oak, and today we lean 
very heavily towards American oak. We do buy some French oak 
yet, but there is an outfit in Lebanon, Missouri, Independent 
Stave, that gives us just what we want in a barrel. There 
are many ways of forming barrels. Years ago barrels were 
formed over live steam in order to get the proper shape to 



33 



them, and then they were heavily charred for spirits, 
what the barrels were used for in yesteryear. 



That' s 



Hicke: 



C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner 



Today the barrels are formed over the heat of oak 
sawdust, and a flame is created there. The degree of 
toast- -not charring; there's a difference between charring 
and toasting. We specify that we want a light toast, a 
medium toast, or a heavy toast, and these people give us just 
what we want in forming the barrel. They do it just the way 
the French do it. The wood is air-dried for two years before 
it is used. 

I went through cooperage factories in France in Cognac, 
and it is very interesting. Forming a barrel is an 
interesting procedure. 

I've seen some of the wineries in Bordeaux that make their 
own barrels, so I have a little idea of how they are made. 
How do you know whether you want a medium toast or a light 
toast? 

We put the wines in them and make our decision. Over the 
period we've been in business, we have decided just what 
toast we do want. 

You just keep tasting? 

Yes. We have changed and blended and so forth, and we have 
come down to a rule of thumb, so to speak. 

Did you and Chuck do that together? 

We did, and now it's his responsibility. 



The Wagner Family 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Let's back up a little bit. I'd like to hear a little about 
your family. When were your children born? 

My wife and I have three children. Our oldest daughter was 
born in 1937, which makes her fifty- five. 

What is her name? 
Marlene Fisher. 



34 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



What is she doing now? 

She is director of food and beverage at Kaiser Hospital in 
Vallejo. 

And the second child? 

Connie Beitler. She went through college, too. She has 
three boys, and she devotes her time to them and taking care 
of the home. I think she took the proper route. 

Where is she living? 

In Medford, Oregon. Her husband is tied in with Medford Wood 
Products up there. They started a sideline up there of 
veneers, so he has a piece of the veneer action. He's been 
in lumber for all of his working life. He has been a lumber 
salesman, and he travels a bit selling these veneer products 
for the people he works with. 

So Chuck was the youngest? 

Yes. He was born in '51. 

Did they all grow up right here? 

Yes. 



Changes in the Napa Valley 



Hicke: 



C.F. Wagner: 



Can you tell me a little bit about the changes you have seen 
over the years in the Napa Valley? 

The changes I've seen have not been for the best. We've seen 
an influx of very wealthy people, and they have raised our 
property values way beyond reason. I don't like that for the 
simple reason that it's a tax base. You are taxed on a 
property tax basis, and the day you die the government taxes 
your family again on the value thereof. I don't like that. 
The influx of people here, and the tourists- -if it keeps on 
increasing, where are people going to be? 

My wife and I were in St. Helena yesterday, and it was 
like a jungle. It's like Market Street in San Francisco was 
twenty years ago. I'm not kidding you. It's unreal. 



35 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



What do you think about the Wine Train? 
I'm not in favor of the Wine Train. 
It doesn't help the congestion? 

No, I don't think it helps a damned thing. I think it adds 
to the congestion. If you're ever on that highway there, and 
the train happens to be going across the highway, you get a 
line of traffic held up. If there were a fire someplace, or 
an ambulance wanted to get through, they would be held up as 
well. There will be a line of cars a half a mile long, 
waiting to cross while that train crosses the highway. After 
all, it's going rather slowly, and there about ten cars on 
it; use your own imagination. 

The thing I don't like about the Wine Train most of all 
is that where their tracks crossed private property, they 
renovated that crossing and sent the people a bill for it. 
Some of these crossings cost these people as much as $15,000 
or $20,000 and made them very unhappy. On top of that, they 
were told they had to carry insurance for their protection 
for any accident that might happen on that crossing. 

So all you have is a restaurant on wheels that is 
competing with every other restaurant in the valley. They're 
sucking out of the public hog trough. All these crossings 
and so forth are put up by tax dollars that wouldn't have 
been necessary if it weren't for the Wine Train. It isn't a 
fair shake, that's all. 

What are the good things that have happened? 

Well, people have a nice atmosphere to live in. They eat and 
drink good food and wine. And we still have our family and 
friends around us. People learn to live with the influx of 
tourism. Of course, tourism helps pay the bill here, too. 

It's such a beautiful place to live. 

It is. It has its virtues. But it has become very 
expensive, you know. We bought this piece of property that 
this building is on, and for the three acres we paid $50,000 
an acre. Then we put this building up, and today we live by 
the dictates of bureaucracies. Okay, we applied for a 
building permit. First thing, they came down and looked it 
over, and they said, "Well, you're on a flood plain. You 
have to raise the level of your building site two feet." I 
asked, "Why? Every other building is down on the same 



36 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 



level." "You're on a flood plain." I said, "I talked to 
people who lived here 150 years ago, and there is no sign of 
it being under water." "Well, if you want your permit, you 
will raise the ground level." 

We talked about it, and we went to the board of 
supervisors and went through the hassle there. We would have 
delayed building for a year, and building costs were going 
up. We had need for the building; we were paying rent for 
warehousing elsewhere. So we decided we'd go the route. 
Raising the level of this ground two feet, hauling the fill 
in, and so forth, cost $25,000. Just like that, a cost that 
didn't need to be. 

After we got the building going, then we had to have 
people come in from the sanitation department to decide where 
we could put our sewage system and drain fields. We dug 
three holes with a backhoe , and two women came from Napa. 
They got down in the hole and squeezed the dirt, and they 
were doubtful whether this had sufficient drainage for what 
we wanted, but finally they okayed it. That went on for a 
couple of days- -arguments and what -have -you. 

Then the septic tank people came in and laid the drain 
field out. He's a friend of ours, and he said, "Gee, this is 
some of the best drainage that I've run into in the last two 
years." That's what he said, against these women feeling the 
dirt and being doubtful. Oh, it drives you. 

Quite a change from when your father built his winery. 

Oh, you couldn't drive a nail in the building today without a 
permit . 

We have people working in the field, and today we have 
to keep a sanitary privy out there for them. If someone 
working in the field were caught urinating in the field, we 
would be called to task for it. Well, animals go out there, 
you know. What are we going to do about it? Talk about 
stupidity. 

What do you see for the future of the valley? 

I think that down the line people might possibly get a little 
smarter, and maybe one day we will be governed by the people 
we put in office and not by the bureaucrats they appoint. 

You think that's a possibility? 



37 



C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 



C.F. Wagner: 



It's a possibility. Either that or we will have to go back 
one day to the vigilante committees. [laughs] It's wild. 
Take [the Bureau of] Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and the 
restrictions they put on you and the changes they demand of 
you. Some years ago on our label we had the name of the wine 
in a little white box on the label. You've seen it; we went 
back to it. They sent us a notice that we could no longer 
use it. We had to "cease and desist" from using the box. So 
we printed the name of the wine just there. Then down the 
road we made an application to reestablish that box, and they 
okayed it. Smart people. 



How about the state legislature? 
representatives there? 



Do you have any good 



They're all bureaucracies. People who sit in office, most of 
them are sitting on their brains, pardon the expression. 



Future of the Wine Industry 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



What do you see for the wine industry in general? 

Unless one of these environmental organizations comes along 
and finds something with wine like it did with apples and 
Alar, and the watermelon scare that we had some years ago, 
along with the cranberry scare we had once, I think the wine 
business will move along beautifully. But if we get one of 
these shoved at us, it could raise hell. Every one of those 
scares that they had was totally unfounded. Alar was not 
toxic. The media picked that up and blew it out of 
proportion. 



Rootstocks 



Hicke: 



C.F. Wagner: 



There is one thing I forgot to ask you about back at the 
beginning. How did you decide what rootstocks to go with? 

The original rootstock, after we got away from the natural 
rootstock, which are non-resistant vines, we went with 
St. George. As far as I'm concerned, it's still the one 
rootstock that is immune to the problems that we have been 
having. Now there have been several new rootstocks 






38 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner : 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



developed, and Chuck has been experimenting with them. Down 
the road, who knows, but I still favor the St. George. 

How did you choose it? 

That was the only resistant rootstock we had. Then the 
University developed A x R #1. Its heritage was partly wild 
vines blended with some domestic, however they do that. This 
gave a more predictable crop, more predictable production, 
along with heavier yield, and it was great- -until all of a 
sudden phylloxera took hold in it. Then they told us it was 
a new strain of the bug. Frankly, I disagree with that. I 
think by propagation and re-propagation and re-propagation of 
that rootstock, it lost its immunity to the phylloxera bug. 
I think they just went too damned far with it, and then 
phylloxera took hold. That's only one man's opinion. 

Are your grapes mostly on St. George still? 

We have some St. George yet. We got out of A x R y/1 totally 
the last pulling of grapevines, which was two years ago; we 
have no more A x R y/1. We have young vines coming on that 
are not yet in production. 

What are you planting on now? 

That's a question for Chuck. He's experimenting with two or 
three different rootstocks. He probably has some in mind 
that he will tell you about. 

I'd say it was a very wise decision to go with St. George. 

It was the one rootstock that we had at one time, the only 
one that was resistant, and it still is resistant. The only 
thing is that it isn't as predictable as the other rootstocks 
as far as yield and performance is concerned. But for long 
life, free of disease and bug problems, it had it. 



Liberty School Wines 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner 

Hicke: 



I'd like to ask you about your second label 

Liberty School? 

Yes. 



39 



C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



When we started back in the early seventies, we found that we 
didn't make sufficient wine, so we bought some wine. We 
already felt that we had a reputation of good wine, and we 
didn't want this purchased wine to hurt whatever reputation 
we had developed at that time. So we searched around for a 
name for a second label. It dawned on me that this was the 
property of the old Liberty School; let's call it Liberty 
School. That's the way it went? 

* 

Was that in 1976 that you started the second label? 

I forget when we stared that. Maybe Chuck can give you some 
insight into that. Anything I tell you could be off a couple 
of years. Liberty School stayed strictly with purchased 
wines for a number of years, and some of those old Cabs, 
after they were aged, were exquisite. 

Do you have a library of your wines? 

Oh, we have a few old wines, yes, but none that we could 
offer to the public. 

But do you keep some from each vintage? 

Yes, we have some. I like old wines. They mellow out, and 
they are like nectar. 

Do you still have some of your first vintage, too? 

Yes. I think we have three bottles left, to be frank with 
you. Not very much. 



Awards and Judeings 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



You have gotten so many awards. How do you feel about that? 

We're very happy with all the awards and accolades we have 
received. We certainly haven't searched for them. We are 
very happy that our wines have been received and that people 
have judged them. If anyone doesn't like them, we'd like to 
be the first to know about it. 



Hicke: 



Do you get much feedback in the tasting room? 



C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



We get feedback from the tasting room here, yes. A lot of 
hype comes out of here. People want pictures of this and 
that. I guess it's like Old Homecoming Week to some of them. 

What about auctions? Do you participate in auctions? 

No. I think we entered the Napa Valley auction at Meadowwood 
a few times, but I think Chuck has opted not to enter that 
for the last couple of years. 

How do you feel about growing or staying the same size? 

We don't look for any more expansion. We even live with the 
growers we buy grapes from. If the grapes don't measure up, 
we have a clause in the contract to drop the grower. We pay 
top money for what grapes we buy, and we want top quality 
merchandise, and folks are happy to deliver it. 

You want to stay about the same production size? 

Thereabouts, yes. We're not looking for expansion there, no. 
What for? We don't want to compete with the big boys. 



Origin of the Name "Cavmus" 



Hicke: 

C.F. Wagner: 



C.F. Wagner: 



I want to ask you where the name Caymus came from. 

According to California history, Mexico held jurisdiction for 
a short period of time in California after the passing of the 
padres, during which time they actually gave the land away in 
huge land grants all over the states. Many people thought of 
them as Spanish land grants, but they were actually Mexican 
land grants. 

f* 

A man by the name of Yount came to this area in the 1830s or 
early 1840s, and became acquainted with and worked with the 
Mexican governor -general of that era, General [Mariano] 
Vallejo. Vallejo encouraged Yount to apply for such a grant, 
which he did, and he was the recipient of the first land 
grant of this area. He headquartered in the area that bears 
his name today, Yountville. In naming his vast landholdings , 
some 11,800 acres, he did name it after a sub- tribe of 
Indians that were referred to as Kaimus. Later it was 
spelled with a "C" and was referred to as Caymus. Whether 



the Indians actually called themselves that or not, no one 
knows . 

But that's how it came about, and when we incorporated 
in 1971, we thought we would use the land-grant name that is 
our trademark name, which we did. 

Hicke: That's really interesting. You are indeed a student of 
history. 

C.F. Wagner: Not necessarily, but you learn a few things if you live long 
enough . 

Hicke: Thank you very much. 

C.F. Wagner: You're welcome, young lady. 



Transcribed by Judy Smith 




Chuck Wagner, 1993. 



Photograph by J . Patrick Forden 



42 



BACKGROUND 



Agriculture in the Napa Valley 

[Interview with Charles J. "Chuck" Wagner: September 16, 
1993 ] 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner : 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner : 



Let's start this morning by asking you when and where you 
were born. 

I was born in St. Helena at St. Helena Hospital on September 
9, 1951. 

You grew up here in the Napa Valley? 

Yes, of course. I was born and raised here, as well as were 
my parents. As a matter of fact, I was born in the same 
year, 1951, that my father built the house here, so I came to 
this ranch as my mother and father moved to this ranch. This 
is the only place I've ever lived. 

As you were growing up, what was the Napa Valley like? 

My family has seen a lot of agricultural business. I know 
you talked to my father about this previously, but I'll go 
ahead and try to reduce it to a small amount of time. When 
my dad's family came over, my grandfather came from a grape - 
growing area, and he grew grapes. It was 1906 when he first 
came into the valley, and they started the winery by 1915. 
But because of Prohibition they ended up leaving the wine 
business and going into other ag industries. 

Napa Valley at the time was growing not just grapes but 
many other ag crops, so my family was typical. Other crops 



1 This symbol, 
interruption. 



indicates beginning or end of a tape or a tape 



A3 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 



prevailed and most of the grapes were pulled. They planted 
primarily prunes. However, over the many years that they had 
this property- -this was my grandparents' property- -they 
commercially grew squash, potatoes, tomatoes, hay crops, and 
many other ag products. Stone fruits- -there were cherries and 
peaches. Just about the works. People nowadays don't even 
realize that the Napa Valley is just a good region for 
growing most anything agriculturally. It just seems that it 
is specifically perfect for wine grapes. 

If we're producing a Cabernet Sauvignon under the Caymus 
label, and it's our Napa Valley bottling, we believe that 
it's eventually going to seek its own price level. In other 
words, we might ask more than what it's worth for a while, 
and it might be sold for less than what it's worth for a 
while, but typically there's a range that people relate to. 
There's a value- -package , the type of wine it is, the quality 
of the wine- -and you're going to end up selling wine at a 
certain price point. 

I think that also goes with our agricultural industry in 
California. You find that, yes, for a period Napa was 
growing all types of other crops, but there were other parts 
of California that exceeded Napa Valley's production of all 
of those crops. However, other parts of California started 
out in grapes and found that it wasn't their forte. So over 
the years there has been this transition, namely because of 
the quality of the wines, and Napa has gone sole monoculture, 
grapes, because it was destined to happen sooner or later. 

So each area does what it does best? 

Yes. I don't think anyone in the Valley today would expect 
that Napa is going to change to another ag industry. We're 
in grapes, and this is forever. Maybe we are a step ahead of 
a lot of other wine-growing communities because of that. 
There are a lot of good wine-growing communities in the state 
of California up and down the coast, but they're new. Sonoma 
[County] certainly is not new; it's just much bigger and 
doesn't have a picturesque valley which is only three or four 
miles wide and thirty miles long. Sonoma County is very 
sprawling, with hilly areas, so you can get into one area 
that is pretty, and the next one is let go. I think part of 
Napa Valley's preference is pictorial; it's something people 
like to remember. 

This agricultural specialization is probably the same sort of 
thing that happened in Europe over the centuries, and here it 
has taken place over a few decades. 



44 



C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



That's right. Not that long ago, your folks and mine came 
from Europe. They started growing grapes, and it didn't 
matter where they were, because they knew that was what 
grew- -at least those families who were in grapes in Europe. 
So, yes, this is something that is very young here. We're 
such a young industry, it's hard to believe we've gone as far 
as we have . 

Did you have neighbors that you recall? 

Oh, sure. I feel as though we had a lot of neighbors that 
were old family friends, old-timers in the valley. They 
didn't grow primarily grapes; in many cases they were prune 
growers or what -have -you. It was just an ag community that 
people made a living by. My childhood memories are of having 
those old fellows come over, sitting down and talking to my 
dad about what the problems of the day were, and they 
certainly weren't about grapes. My images of childhood are 
not going out in the vines with my dad so much as they are 
running through the orchards . As he drove along the 
perimeter, I'd run through the orchard. My mom and dad would 
be driving along the side... those are really vivid memories. 
Or the prunes in bloom. So it was quite a bit different. 



Old-timers in the Wine Industry: 
George Deuer 



Andre Tchelistchef f and 



C.J. Wagner: 



I could tell you a few stories about the old-timers who came 
around. One of the biggest names, dean of winemakers in 
California, is Andre Tchelistchef f. Andre worked at Beaulieu 
Vineyard and made wines along with another fellow there. 
Andre's name was not nearly as big as it is now. He was kind 
of a wild cross between French and Russian- -we weren't quite 
sure what he was- -but he was quite an individual, quite a 
character. He would come out to the vineyard, just to the 
south of our property, which used to be Beaulieu Vineyard, 
and he would drive fast. Around here none of the growers 
likes to drive fast, because if you get a lot of dust on your 
grapevines it doesn't help them out, because the natural 
things just don't happen as far as photosynthesis. Also, 
dust hosts mites, so you end up with a mite problem on top of 
it all. 

People would get upset about it, but Andre would always 
go out there and drive fast to make a lot of dust. He'd 
rationalize this by saying that there was a Rutherford dust 



45 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 



C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 



component; the dust was good to a point. He was also a guy 
who was generally very friendly and fairly close to the 
family. Although they didn't visit socially, he would come 
over during the daytime, and he would never knock; he would 
just walk in the door and start yelling, "Charlie, Lorna." I 
do remember that. It was a different way of doing things. 
These were his mannerisms, and we didn't like or dislike 
them; it was Andre. 



Did he give your dad some advice on grape growing? 

He may have been asking advice. [laughter] But, yes. I 
think usually it was just because we were neighbors: "What 
are you going to do here? When? Why?" Or, "I'm going to 
have a tractor come in. Do you want to use the same 
tractor?" Typically it was whatever farming neighbors would 
be talking about. 

That's interesting. I don't think I've ever talked to anyone 
who might have given advice to Andre Tchelistcheff . 

It's like me or my dad or Andre- -certainly Andre has come so 
far in this industry that one has to realize that much of 
what he's learned is through all the bumps and bruises along 
his path. I guess these were the days of his bumps and 
bruises. We're not born to know everything, and you 
certainly can't get an education and learn in four or six 
years all about winemaking. It just goes against nature. If 
you're going to be successful at whatever you do, you're 
going to be successful. 

I can think of another fellow who is somewhat of an 
old-timer here, who has since passed away. His name is 
George Deuer. George was winemaker at Inglenook, I think 
from 1936 to 1963. He was of German or Alsatian descent, and 
because my family were of much the same descent, they were 
friends, and he would always visit. After he had retired and 
we had gone into the first years of business here in 
winemaking commercially, George would come, and we would talk 
to him. I have to say that my first year of winemaking, 
which was in '72, the first year of the winery, George helped 
me at least as much as my dad. His ideas were more on the 
commercial side: how to move wine and what pump to use, how 
not to aerate wine, how to do some chemical analysis and add 
sulfurs--the sorts of things that really helped me out, all 
areas that my dad seemed to be lacking in. 

Technology? 



C.J. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



46 

Yes, the more technical area, 
gap- 



George kind of filled that 



Would he just wander in and help you out? 

At the beginning we ran both the vineyard and the winery. 
The winery was very small; we had crushed only forty tons the 
first year. That means that I worked maybe two days in the 
winery and three weeks in the vineyard; so primarily we were 
out in the vineyard. By the way, during 1972, 1973, and 
1974, my father, myself, and one other fellow pruned all of 
our vineyard, which took four months a year for those years. 

I would have a list of questions, and George would sit 
down and say, "This is how it is." Certainly I was blind. I 
had only helped my dad as a child bottling wine. I tried to 
drink some but didn't really like it much until I was sixteen 
or eighteen. I was writing down notes, and I had no idea 
what the foundation was. I kind of learned the technical end 
before I found the foundation. I think it was good; I don't 
think that was bad. 



Childhood and Education 



C.J. Wagner: Nowadays it's kind of neat to be a winemaker (which I want to 
talk about, too). To be in the wine business is okay, to be 
in agriculture in Napa Valley is okay. But back in those 
days it wasn't. I mean by that that in my childhood years I 
was not particularly proud of what my father did. He was a 
farmer, and at the time this is the fifties farming was 
going through some rough times. The farmer had fallen in his 
importance in our social levels. I guess my point is that 
you would probably prefer your father to be a truck driver or 
anything else besides a farmer. 

Those are the days I grew up in, so I didn't learn a lot 
about the industry at the time. I've got my own kids now, 
two boys aged eleven and thirteen, and a daughter age six. 
Both boys are working here during the summer. They already 
have a foundation. They already know how you check the 
ripeness. They tended a four-acre piece for me this year to 
pull off extra clusters. They know that the sugar comes up, 
and we pick the grapes at a certain ripeness level. They're 
not really quite clear on that, but they know how to crush, 
what fermentation is, what yeast is and how it works. 
Secondary fermentation they have a blurry idea of. "And then 



47 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 



C.J. Wagner : 



we just put this stuff in barrels and wait." [laughter] 
There's a lot of stuff in between, but they have a grasp on 
the foundation, which I did not, partly due to the fact that 
they are proud of what their father does. Now it's okay; 
things have changed. It's probably just cyclical; it's 
probably going to change again. It was a very important part 
of what I used to worry about. 

Where did you go to grade school? 

All my schooling was in St. Helena- -elementary , junior high 
school, and high school. My high school class was small, 120 
students . 

What kinds of things did you like about school? 

I got involved in sports. 

Football? 

Yes. It doesn't seem like it was that long ago, but I think 
we went to school more to have fun than to study. I think a 
lot of us would probably admit that certainly that was the 
case. Particular interests? I don't think I had any other 
than being in sports. I did not like history, which is 
something my dad always liked and which he found surprising. 
Now I like history. 

I can tell he likes it, because he has told me the story 
about naming the winery and things like that. Did you have 
anybody who was particularly influential in either your 
school or your family? 

No. [laughs] I was never really driven by any single 
person. I'm going to say that there were the few people to 
really opened my eyes to different wines that I didn't know. 
I didn't know how good wines could be. Robert Stemmler 
worked for a couple of years as a consultant for us in about 
'73 or '74, just for a short period. He didn't do much; he 
was mainly a chemist. I remember he brought some sweet 
German wine, very expensive, probably some Berenauslese or 
something like that, and also some Pinot Noir, French 
Burgundy, which I don't think I had had previously. These 
wines were super. 

Also at that time Spring Mountain Vineyards was really a 
highlight winery. So I remember tasting the wines that Bob 
brought, European wines, and also the Spring Mountain wines, 
which I thought were extraordinary. I thought to myself, "If 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



we could ever make wines like this, I would be happy." We 
would never, ever achieve the reputation of Spring Mountain, 
for sure, I figured; that would never happen. But I figured 
that if we could ever make wines like that, or if we could 
make one sweet wine like Bob had brought- -if we could just 
make one in a lifetime, wouldn't it be something to make 
something so great? 

That established a goal for you? 

Yes. More than people, I think I had wines for goals. 

Getting back to school, you played football for St. Helena? 

Yes. 

Any other sports? 

No. I was just a jock. I was the captain of the team for 
both track and football for my sophomore and senior years. 
Then I started college. I started at Napa Community College, 
and I played football there, of course. 



49 



CAYMUS VINEYARDS 



Starting the Winery 



C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



I hadn't been there more than two months when my dad came to 
me with the offer that he wanted to build a winery. He 
wanted to get the family back into commercial business in a 
small way. If I was interested, then we'd do it; if I wasn't 
interested, then we wouldn't. At the time, I think he was 
considering selling the property. 

What prompted him to consider this path? 

As I said, we had prunes. I know that another part of 
California is responsible for driving Napa Valley out of the 
prune business. The prunes were pulled, Prohibition was 
gone, and the natural thing to get back into was grapes. Dad 
had pulled the prunes in the mid- sixties, and he planted 
Cabernet Sauvignon, Johannisberg Riesling, and Pinot noir. 
Those vines were just coming into production in about 1970 or 
'71. He was fetching good prices selling the grapes 
elsewhere, and I think the light came on: "If I'm getting 
these prices for these grapes, and the winery wants them 
again next year at a higher price, then maybe I should look 
into producing some wine from these grapes myself." 

It was the same thing that happened to my grandfather. 
He planted grapes from 1906 to 1907 and started the winery in 
1915, because the vineyards had come into production, and he 
probably thought he could make some good wines from it. My 
dad had planted the grapes in the mid-sixties, and by '71 
felt that he should possibly get back into the commercial 
business . 

That's an interesting parallel. 

My dad may not have said this to you, but he always made wine 
all his life. As a child, I used to drink these old wines 



50 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner 



because they were old, they were special. I didn't like them 
very much. 

What do you mean by old? 

He'd bring out wine from the forties and fifties, and by the 
time I was working here in '71, we were drinking the 1950s 
and 1960s wines, just typical food wines. I began to 
appreciate good wine. They were delicious. Mainly Pinot 
Noir is what he made, and that's why he planted Pinot noir 
out here. 

He said he liked Pinot Noir. 

He did, and he liked Riesling, too. When my grandmother's 
place was sold in 1963, his home barrels were brought into 
this room here. So right here is where we had barrels, and 
we had empty cases upstairs and the full cases over there. 
We'd be right here on the floor, bottling one-by-one, filling 
each bottle with a little hose. 

My dad had built a reputation over those many years, 
since the twenties, as one of the best, and in many eyes the 
best, home winemaker in the Napa Valley. 

He didn't tell me that. 

He has skill, and it hasn't changed. We did pick up some 
technology along the way, but all the wines --and when we 
speak of red wines especially- -are made exactly the way he 
made them. They're fermented with the same yeast, we use the 
same temperatures, we pick pretty much in the same realm of 
ripeness, they're put into barrels and aerated with the same 
techniques. Even to date we don't use a pump to pump out 
barrels. When you have a barrel full of wine, one of your 
choices is to get a pump, stick a gooseneck, or a pipe, down 
to the bottom, turn on the pump, and it sucks it out. At the 
same time, you usually get a charge of air that goes through, 
and the pump will drive air into the wine. If it's a certain 
type of pump, it can shear the wine particles in the wine 
itself, along with oxidation. 

My dad would siphon, which is to stick a hose down a 
barrel, suck on it to get the siphon going, and then go from 
one barrel to the next. We use this same technique, except 
we don't suck on it anymore. We have a racking station that 
is probably like none other, where we bring a forklift in, 
pick the barrels up, and siphon; we siphon all the barrels. 
So fermentation techniques, aeration, racking, and production 



51 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



techniques in general have all followed suit with what my 
father did years before we were commercial. 

How did he develop these techniques? 

I think it was, again, just the bumps and bruises. You just 
talked to people when you had dinner with somebody, or 
whatever. Besides that, these are not hard to learn. This 
is typical from his homeland in Europe. These techniques 
were used forever and ever, for maybe two hundred years by my 
family. 



So your dad came to you with this offer, 
about it? 



How did you feel 



I didn't have a lot of direction. I wasn't really enthused 
about the school I was going to, and I was not impressed by 
the viticulture I was taking down there, that's for sure. It 
was really a poor program- -not that that needs to be said. 

You had already started thinking about viticulture? 

Yes, I had, and I was in chemistry, and I didn't mind that. 
I took the offer with the idea that I'd try it, and I just 
dropped right out of school and went out pruning 
vineyard- -just with a snap of the fingers. That was with my 
dad. I don't know if he was happy. I guess he was happy 
about it. We poured the slab for the new building on this 
first winery that we did ourselves. We did all the power and 
plumbing in this building, and then we had a carpenter come 
in and put the building up on it. 

I remember that I had a friend come out who was the 
quarterback on the football team. He had tracked me down to 
find out where I was and what had happened to me. He walked 
up and said, "Wagner, what are you doing?" I said, "I'm 
going to try and work the ranch here and see what it's like." 
He said, "You're kidding." He just couldn't believe it. He 
got in his car, and he took off. 

I talked to him about a year ago, and he had no idea 
that we had success in the wine business. He became a high 
school teacher and a coach, and that's what he is now. I 
talk to him about wine. 

My father wanted to try this, but I'm not sure he 
thought the wine business a safe bet. I think that if he had 
built the winery and a year or two later been given an offer 
to sell it, he probably would have. I think he was tenuous 



52 



about the whole project. But our first wines got into the 
bottle. Although they weren't that great, they seemed to 
sell. Of course, they weren't selling for a lot of money, 
and the production was low, so it wasn't like we were filling 
a great, big pipeline with wine. It was just Pinot Noir and 
Johannisberg Riesling. Johannisberg Riesling was our first 
really- - 



Riesling 



Hicke: 

C . J . Wagner : 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 
Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner : 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Do you remember how many cases? 

I've got it in notes. I kept all the notes from all the 
years of winemaking. I think we had about 240 cases of 
Riesling. It was really heavyweight Riesling that was 
fermented without temperature control. It was fine for the 
first year, but it really oxidized after that. Riesling is a 
very delicate variety that you have to be very careful with. 
When my dad made Riesling in his home wine cellar, he made 
small lots, so the fermentation would never create a lot of 
heat, and it wasn't a problem. We went to 500-gallon tank 
fermenter in the first year of production, so it got pretty 
hot . 

Was there a lot of residual sugar? 

No, you'd make it bone dry and heavy. It ended up being 
somewhat like Freemark Abbey's at the time. It was a style 
of wine that there is none like produced nowadays. Who makes 
Riesling in Napa Valley? Nobody nowadays. 

It's hard to make it dry and have it come out right, isn't 
it? 

It's hard to make it dry and palatable. [laughter] 
Yes, that's what I understand. 

Rieslings are usually so delicate, fine, and usually 
sweet . 

That was obviously based on an Alsatian wine that he liked. 

Exactly. As a matter of fact, he had even imported some 
Alsatian wines in the mid-seventies, so we brought those in 
for a few years . 



53 



More on the Winery: the Building and the Equipment 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner : 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Let's back up just a little bit. You started out pruning, 
and you were building the winery. How did that go? Did it 
take you a long time to build it? 

I'm guessing that I went to work about November, and by the 
next September our building was up and ready. 

This was in '71 that you started? 

Yes. Our first production year was in September of '72. 

What were you doing after you put the building up? 

I just did whatever there was to do around here, I guess We 
bought used barrels; we started off the winery with used 
barrels . 

That's interesting. Where did you get the barrels? 

The 53-gallon American oak barrels were from Beaulieu. There 
were also quite a few puncheons from Inglenook, which were 
133 gallons to 147 gallons. Some of those were European 
woods, but it didn't really matter, because they were old 
barrels, and there was no wood left in them. They were just 
vessels to hold and age wine. 

I took care of the vineyard, and vineyard work goes year 
around, just about. I guess I just got into doing 
everything. I'd run to Berkeley to buy cheap vineyard rope. 
I'd do some phone work to find out where I should purchase 
goods at the best price. There were certain pieces of 
equipment that we needed for vineyard operations, so we would 
get into that, find out what the different ones were, and 
then plan on one or another. 

What about equipment for the winery? 

Equipment for the winery has been pretty basic. I think the 
Compleat Winemaker just started business about then, and I 
think we bought our first crusher from them. It's been a 
successful business as a winery equipment supplier out of St. 
Helena. We may have been his first sale. It seems to me he 
told me that. I think we bought the first Howard press he 
ever sold, that was for sure. 



54 



Our equipment was really basic, and we picked in boxes 
the first year. We just dumped the boxes into a little hand 
crusher, and the hand crusher was over the fermenter. We had 
three redwood open- top tanks, one old one from Inglenook and 
two new ones, and that's what we did our red fermentations 
in. I'd climb up on a plank on top of the tanks and punch 
down. 

#* 

C.J. Wagner: It was just like a home winery, a little bit bigger than a 
garage winemaker. It was nothing special. 



The Mid-Seventies: Progress 



C.J. Wagner: Things progressed, and we did sell wine. When we began to 
sell wine, the interest level went up, and as the interest 
level went up I was prouder of what I was doing. The 
mid-seventies were a transition time from vineyard to the 
wine business. As far as how I felt about farming as a 
child, I felt just as poorly about a small family wine 
business trying to compete in the real world of wineries, 
against Inglenook, Beaulieu, et cetera. This was not always 
welcomed in the valley itself. Maybe in the cities people 
thought, "Gosh, who is this little guy?" Just like a home 
brewer is now, compared to Budweiser; it's kind of an 
interesting parallel. I felt as though we were such a little 
guy, and some people thought, "What are you guys trying to 
do? You're trying to start a winery?" Although most of them 
probably wanted to try it, you know. There's a certain 
spirit involved and a certain competition that creates 
jealousy. 

The mid- seventies were real formative years in that we 
began to sell wine, and we already started to establish 
ourselves as a good wine producer. That changed my outlook. 
It certainly took my total interest. All of my interest went 
towards grapes and wine production at the time. I'd say I 
was probably flailing for the first two or three years, and 
then in the mid-seventies I hit midstream. 



55 



Tasting and Decisions 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Who made the tasting decisions and so forth on the 
winemaking? 

We always did that together, as we do today, including 
whoever happens to be working for us at the time. It's 
always been my father and myself and one or two others. 

Who else might be involved? 

It could have meant that George Deuer was involved. Bob 
Stemmler was involved to a point for two years. We had a 
fellow from Davis who worked for us for nine years. Although 
he wasn't an enologist, he had a good friend in enology. 
Randy Dunn was his name and he was part of our tasting and 
decision making. During the time Randy Dunn was here, we no 
longer had any help as far as chemistry from either George or 
Bob. We were a threesome that worked very well together. We 
kind of piloted the wines more towards the market than our 
own personal taste. 

Which was what? 

We had some changes in production. I mentioned that we use 
the same techniques as my father used, but one major 
difference that we've developed is the use of new wood 
barrels, because that's something that my dad had never dealt 
with before. We dealt enough in that area to know that we 
know what sort of wood character wine should have for the 
type of wine it is. If it's an enormous wine, it can handle 
an enormous amount of wood. There's no such thing as too 
much wood for the wine; there's just not enough wine for the 
wood . 

That threesome lasted pretty well. In about 1982 or 
'83, we took on our first sales and marketing person, and we 
got him involved in our winemaking as far as tastings go. 

Who was that? 

John Skupny. Now we no longer have three people [tasting]. 
We probably have five people, which includes sales and 
marketing, our white-wine maker, myself, and my father. I'm 
primary, in that I'll form all the red wines into a 
direction, but when the final blends come in, I would prefer 
to do my best at it and then to involve more people for more 
input. I think that's a real healthy way to run our 



56 



Hicke: 



business. The primary reason for my saying that is that a 
lot of people don't run their businesses that way, and I see 
failures. You find these winemakers who have far-fetched 
ideas and directions which aren't possibly the best for the 
market. It's their own personal taste that they are having 
involved in this. 

Our white -wine maker loves wines --red wines, too. We 
have my father, myself, Jeffrey Friedman is our marketing 
guy, and Rod Rowe takes care of the barrel room; he does all 
the racking for me and blending and that sort of thing. I 
like this. It's a consortium that really works, and it 
certainly enthuses anyone who works around the winery to know 
that they have had a part of how something tastes. That's a 
real important part. 

You're saying that the wines are improved by having several 
different opinions other than your own, and that people can 
go wrong when they just rely on one person's individual 

taste? 



C.J. Wagner: Yes. I think there has been a lot of that. Many winemakers 
who actually bottle wines under their own personal flavor, so 
to speak, don't have as much success. Also, if I make a 
blend that I think is the best wine I've ever tasted in my 
life, and my dad doesn't like it, we say that he has the 
power of veto. If he says no, it doesn't get bottled that 
way; we change something. But typically we always get along 
real well. We've had just a little things--! mean, after 
this many years of working with him, I know exactly what he's 
going to say about every wine. [laughter] I know more about 
that than I do about the wines themselves. 



Developing One's Palate 



Hicke: 



C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 



One thing I'm interested in is how one develops one's palate? 
You've obviously learned this from scratch. 

The way I've done it is just through practice. You just do 
it so much. People will say that Cabernet smells like green 
olives and has a somewhat herbaceous flavor and richness of 
chocolate and tea, and whatever else might be involved. 

Yes. 



57 



C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner 



Hicke: 



C.J. Wagner 



And Sauvignon Blanc has those vegetal edges to it. When I 
taste Cabernet, it tastes like Cabernet, and when I taste 
Zinfandel, it tastes like Zinfandel. So I have developed a 
direct link to the way wines taste, and I don't grasp onto 
any of those other flavors and so forth that people recognize 
as Cabernet. In other words, if you had a blind glass of 
wine, you might smell it and say, "Green olives," and you 
might taste it and say, "It tastes herbaceous." I want to 
say, "This is a Cabernet." To me, when. I smell it, it smells 
and tastes like Cabernet. 

So you have a memory picture of Cabernet as a whole? 

Yes, and of the other varietals that we deal with. 
Definitely. I developed that ten years ago, and since then 
I've developed further--! can taste wines from another area, 
and I know a lot of other people can do this as well. I can 
taste wines from Santa Barbara or Paso Robles. I may be 
wrong sometimes, but generally speaking I'm not. You can 
develop those sorts of tasting techniques. It's part memory 
and part trial and error and practice. We've been doing it 
so damned long. 

But it's amazing to me that you can develop that kind of 
sensory perception. 

Never would I have imagined that I could taste wine like I 
do. I'm really amazed at that. Now I'm just hoping it 
doesn't go away. [laughter] They say that your palate does 
lessen as you age. But there's no doubt about Andre 
Tchelistchef f ; we haven't heard about how he's tasting 
lately, but he can still taste. And my dad certainly knows 
absolutely what's good and what's bad, no doubt about it. 
I'm just hoping that I retain it. 

I think you would find that many other winemakers agree 
with me. Whatever way you learn to make wine- -whether you go 
to school or you don't, or whether you are tutored- -it takes 
a certain number of years beyond that point to where you 
really feel safe about what you are doing, about how wines 
taste, and about what you're really trying to develop as far 
as end product, what you want your wines to taste like. 
Instead of varying with the market demands, which over the 
years have gone from high-alcohol, late-harvest Zins that you 
can't even find nowadays to White Zinfandels, you need to 
find a point and go for it. We've done that, but it takes a 
good period of time for a winemaker to get to that point. 



58 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner : 



Hicke: 



C.J. Wagner: 



Let's just say that you are thirty-five. If you are 
thirty- five, and you know what you are doing, you are a very 
young winemaker who knows what he is doing. If you're going 
to work until you are fifty or fifty- five as a winemaker, 
it's only going to give you twenty chances, twenty years, 
twenty winemaking vintages, to do your best. 

Is fifty or fifty-five a normal--? 

I use that figure because most winemakers that age seem to 
take a back seat, and somebody new comes on board. Maybe the 
new run of winemakers will go to an older age. 

That's true in the management of the winery, but that doesn't 
mean that they lose their palate or change their palate, does 

it? 

No, I'm talking about winemaking itself. For the average 
winemaker, you have twenty chances to put [wine] onto a 
table. I'm guessing that would be an average for a 
winemaker. We as winemakers are not happy that harvest only 
comes around once a year. If you had the chance to make it 
any time you wanted, and you had lots going all year long, 
you would end up with all kinds of knowledge, and your 
techniques would obviously change. 

So it's a very long, drawn-out affair. In our whole 
production of the wine business here, we have hired people 
from other industries who come in. When you have an idea in 
another industry, you can usually apply it within a few weeks 
or months, or within a year anyway. In the wine industry, if 
you have an idea you can apply it, but if you're going to 
start from ground planting to bottle, you're talking seven or 
eight years. People find this rate of life so slow when they 
come from another industry. 

That's a very interesting insight that is unique to the wine 
industry. 

It really is. I think it's good, and it's bad. It's good 
for people, and I think it's one of the reasons people like 
the idea of the lifestyle, that you have certain things that 
happen all the way through the year; and then here's 
September and October, and you've got the harvest, and 
everything can be wonderful. There's this image that is just 
great. Then we start to talk about business: "We need to 
make a change here. The change is going to happen in about 
three years." "Oh, okay." It really slows down the beat of 
the typical businessman. 



59 



Hicke: 



You've given me a lot of good insight about palate 
development, which is kind of hard to explain. 



Growth in the 1970s 



Hicke: 

C . J . Wagner : 
Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 



C.J. Wagner: 



Let's do a little more chronology, and then maybe we can talk 
about some specific topics like pests. Were you hiring more 
people and increasing your production? 

Are we currently? 

Starting in '72, did you gradually increase your production? 

In 1972 and '73 we were fairly small in production, but we 
were looking forward in 1974 to a year when we were expecting 
to receive lower prices for the grapes. I don't remember 
precisely what had happened to make us feel this way, but 
I'll use this year as an example. Gallo has always been the 
guy who comes out with the prices, and Gallo came out with 
his prices about a month ago. I'll ask my dad to clarify 
this, but probably we heard the first of August that Gallo 
was going to be paying $600 a ton, and it was $900 a ton the 
year prior. We saw this big decrease in what we were going 
to receive. We were selling grapes to Inglenook, and all the 
wineries followed suit to Gallo's pricing for the most part. 

So we were faced with low prices in grapes. We had also 
gotten our first wines onto the market and saw that they sold 
and seemed to sell well and easily, much more profitably than 
growing grapes alone. In 1974 we opted to keep more fruit at 
home and sell less. Well, 1974, as we all know, maybe wasn't 
the best year of the century, but it was one of those real 
eye-opening years for Napa Valley. People were calling it 
the year of the decade. 

For wine? 

Yes, and especially for Cabernet. For us to have a large 
bottling in 1976, when we bottled the wine, it was great to 
have a whole lot of this 1974 spectacular vintage wine. That 
really put us at a better pace. Our wine out of '75 was even 
better than '74, and so on. So we did increase production, 
and as we increased production we put a few extra people on, 
but never did we ever get to where we were hiring more than 
one person a year. We have twenty- three employees, and that 



60 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



includes my dad and me, and we've been in business about 
twenty- two years. 

During that time we saw bigger production, and we felt 
the label wasn't right and could afford to go to a 
professional and have a new label made. We had a new label 
made for the Caymus product starting about that time. The 
first label we had used I drew up. My father did not believe 
that packaging was very important. 

That was Sebastian Titus who designed the label? 

Yes. That was $500 for the label. [laughs] Now it would be 
$20,000. Titus really liked the wines, and I think part of 
his spirit was that he wanted to help these guys out who are 
starting in the wine business. Speaking of palates, that guy 
had a wonderful palate. He was a label designer, but he 
really had a good palate, and we spent a lot of time together 
drinking and tasting. 



Lorna Wagner's Contributions 



C. J . Wagner : 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Over these last twenty- two years, the whole family has been 
involved. I don't talk about my mom much, but for the first 
twenty years she was involved in all that dirty work that 
somebody had to do. 

I'd like to hear a little bit about what she did. 

She did all the book work. She wasn't an accountant, and we 
would take the book work to the accountant. But she would do 
billing, accounts receivable, and what-have-you. She would 
hand- label, capsule, bottle. She was busy doing all that 
stuff. All industries have spotlight people, and I certainly 
don't want to be the spotlight person so much as some of the 
people who work in the cellars who are so good and have so 
much to do with the quality as well. I hate to belittle 
them. I think my mom gets belittled just because she wasn't 
a winemaker . 

She did everything. 

We had family arguments for the first many years. We'd never 
agree on anything- -what bottle we were going to go into, what 
label we wanted to develop, what capsules, what corks. 



61 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 



C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 



Did she have a say in all that? 

Yes, no doubt. There was kind of a threesome argument 
between my mom, my dad, and myself. It only took about ten 
years to get that under control. [laughter] My dad is not 
known as the easiest guy to get along with. He's a real 
character, and he's full of spit and vinegar. That's Charlie 
Wagner, and that's typical of most farmers. I don't know if 
you know that, but farmers and ranchers live life on their 
own, and they depend on themselves. When they have something 
to do with running it, that's the way it's going to get done. 

You have to have a lot of resilience and endurance to be a 
farmer, I think. 

Yes, and I think stubbornness comes along with it naturally. 
I recall many times just biting my lip and not saying more 
than I should, and I persevered through the family arguments. 
I still see today that arguments happen within families in 
the wine business, and first thing you know, they're no 
longer together. I did persevere, and if I should get any 
blue ribbon, it is for biting my lip. Looking back, it's all 
fun and games, but there were very serious feelings at the 
time that we all had. 

Those are the ways that you arrived at your goals and your 
decisions. It was necessary to go through some of that, I 
think. 



C.J. Wagner: I guess that's it. 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 

Hicke: 



My mother was instrumental in many things. Also, she 
cooked lunch for my dad and me --and this was after I got 
married. We'd go to work, we'd come in for lunch, and we'd 
go back to work. So it was my dad and I and my mother. Then 
there was another employee, and another employee, and so on. 
By 1980 or so, we had ten or twelve people who were eating 
lunch at her table every day, six days a week. 

She deserves a gold medal. 

Finally it was just too much, and we said, "Hey, everybody is 
going to start bringing lunches. It's been a good time, but 
it's time to change." So we did. I even brought a lunch for 
years because it just wouldn't look right otherwise. 

Did your mother cook German dishes? 



62 



C. J . Wagner : 



We would have German- type cold cuts and stinky cheese. That 
was always the big thing. Usually people who were coming to 
work for us would walk in the first day and think, "Oh, boy, 
we're not eating this." But by the time they had worked here 
for a year, they loved it. It's easy to acquire the taste 
for some of that stuff. It seems so off kilter at first, but 
so delicious it can be. Head cheese, pigs feet, red cabbage, 
and liederkranz. I was raised eating that all the time. 

Yes, a lot of German influence in her cooking, so it 
wasn't just cold cuts. Typically we'd have a lot of fresh 
vegetables off of our property. All summer there would 
always be sliced tomatoes and onions, and people would put 
them in sandwiches. She would also have a hot dish. She'd 
always make some kind of salad, whether it was bean, 
stringbean, a green salad, or a potato salad. She'd always 
have something like that, and she still does that. 

My mom and dad still work a lot doing fruits and 
vegetables, and canned tomatoes and peaches. My mom makes 
the best tomato juice you ever had in your life. I'm going 
to try and get my wife to learn how to make it this year. 
It's one of my goals. [laughter] It's so good. I'm 
involved with her tomato-juice tasting, whether we've got 
enough salt, pepper, hot chilies, and whatever else goes into 
it. 



Managing the Business 



C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 



We all did all the work. I did everything. I even did sales 
for a while. All the way through from that to the paper work 
to the bottling to buying whatever for farm and/or winery 
needs, all the way up to office manager, which I pulled away 
from about four years ago. My forte was not office manager. 
I was managing people who knew a lot more about how to do 
things than I did, and I thought, "This is great. We'll just 
put crews in and let them do it," but we had some real 
problems develop working that way. We ended up hiring a 
controller, and he ended up being the in-house accountant 
along with office manager, which was really good. More 
strife in my life was caused through that type of office, 
trying to get the office to run correctly, than anything 
else . 

You not only had to learn to make the wine but to manage the 
business . 



63 



C.J. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner : 



Yes, and to make everybody work without raising tempers. 
How to manage personnel. 

I know now; I know to stay away. [laughter] Over the last 
couple of years, I realized that there are people we can now 
afford to put on who know more and who will do a better job 
for us. We used to send out bills and not get money back, 
and sometimes at the end of the year you would look and just 
say, "My God, what did we do?" You sent somebody a bill 
eight or twelve months after the first one, and they'd say, 
"Listen, we don't know about this," and we wouldn't get paid. 
That was the kind of trash that was going on. It was all 
manual. So like most everyone else, we updated. 

Switched to computers and data banks? 

Sure, of course. All the goodies like that. We are running 
efficiently on that end, and I feel good about it. It has 
allowed me to work more in the cellar and learn more about 
the wines. The only thing that pulls me away from that is 
going on the road. If marketing really feels it's that 
important that I go on the road and do something, then I'll 
go do it. This year I'll be twenty- one days out, total, away 
from the winery. Next year I'd like to reduce it to twelve, 
because I know what I do best, and it's here. 



Marketing 



Hicke: 



C.J. Wagner 



Let's talk a little bit about sales and marketing and how 
that grew. You started out doing it yourself, you said, in 
the seventies. Then you hired a distributor? 

No, we hired an out-of -state broker for out of state, and we 
hired a broker for California. I think we had a good thing 
going at the time. The wines were respectable, the packaging 
was very good, the pricing was right. There was a value that 
always seemed to be associated with Caymus . It wasn't just 
quality; it was a value. 

As far as pricing, we went along with the crowd, so to 
speak, seeing what the rest of the industry was doing. 



64 



Pricing 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner : 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



I wanted to ask how you arrived at prices early on. 

That's an interesting story. When we started making Cabernet 
Sauvignon, the first Cabernet, the 1972 vintage, was $4.50. 
This was really a nice wine out of a poor vintage. It was by 
far the best '72 Cabernet Sauvignon that I had ever tasted. 
By 1973, I think we were $5.50 a bottle. My dad would have 
people come, and they would either come into this room or go 
over to the winery. They'd buy six bottles or a case of 
wine. They would ask questions, and my dad would answer 
candidly, "Well, there's no reason in the world why somebody 
shouldn't be able to make you, sell you, a fine bottle of 
Cabernet Sauvignon for $4.50." Those people would come back 
as our prices went up and haunt him, "Charlie, I was here, 
and do you remember that you told me that these other people 
were asking too much money, and that there's no reason why 
anyone should pay more than $4.50?" He really had to eat a 
lot of crow. [laughter] That was a running fear that he 
lived with, that those people would come back and haunt him. 

Prices did go up. Everything got more expensive. I 
don't think that the first wines that we produced were 
realistically priced as far as the wine business goes. 

They were too low? 

Yes. My dad is a good businessman, but we didn't have an 
in-house accountant to tell us that there are a lot of costs 
you're missing here. Certainly he wasn't plugging in all the 
costs incurred to determine a bottle price. 

You determined those prices by cost? 

What he thought were costs, yes. I think in '74 it was $7.00 
a bottle, and the wine was selling really well. At that time 
there were a few wineries beginning to start up. If I'm not 
mistaken, we were about the forty- first winery in Napa Valley 
in 1972. During the seventies we had all these people move 
into town. I don't know how many wineries we have now. Do 
we have 280 or something like that? Things really changed, 
and prices seemed to soar. We saw all around us our 
competition going way beyond what we were asking. Of course, 
it doesn't take much common sense to figure out that you 
should ask a little more, for two reasons. One is to be more 
profitable, and the other one is to create the right image. 



65 



For instance, if you make a great wine and sell it two 
bottles for $7, people are not going to recognize that. They 
won't appreciate it. We want to be on the tables along with 
the best wines of the world, whatever they are. If it's a 
Bordeaux that somebody in England is enjoying, we want the 
consideration of having some of the Caymus wine in their 
cellar. I'm not saying that price always goes along with 
image, but somewhat they follow suit. Right now we're in a 
day and age of value. Things have changed so much, and I 
think the best example of that is the Los Angeles area. Five 
or six years ago in the Los Angeles area it was the most 
expensive wine that would sell the fastest. It was people 
with money, and they wanted to outdo each other. Here we 
are, five years later, and what is selling in Los Angeles? 
They have the most successful discounting program- -discounter 
markets- - in the United States. 



C.J. Wagner: People in L.A. are no longer buying expensive wines so much 
as buying the cheapest wine and trying to almost take the 
screwdriver to somebody in order to get the wine cheaper. It 
has flip-flopped, and it is now very much a bargain market. 
It starts with the guys who buy the wine and ends with the 
consumer; they're all into this feeding frenzy of trying to 
get it cheaper. All the shop owners talk to each other and 
know what each is paying, and if somebody is getting a better 
deal, then the other guy gets all bent out of shape. Things 
have changed in Los Angeles enormously. 

Also Los Angeles always seemed to be, and continues to 
be, the spawning ground of change in the wine industry. 
Whatever has happened historically in Los Angeles has 
happened in northern California a few years later, has 
happened across the states a few years thereafter. That's 
the market. What's happening is clubs, chains, and 
discounters. There are a few businessmen who are doing 
business as usual, still taking the normal profit, and people 
are still doing business with them because they feel that 
this guy gives them an honest shake. In Los Angeles most of 
the wines are being sold in two areas, discount and 
restaurants . 

So our emphasis, of course, has shifted towards 
restaurants. We want more business in restaurants, and we're 
very fortunate that our name has come to be strong enough 
that most restaurants would like to have us on the wine list. 



66 



Hicke: 



C.J. Wagner: 



I can tell you that in Stars [restaurant] in San Francisco 
they have not only your wine on the wine list, they have a 
huge box on the menu that says, "Caymus Vineyards." Have you 
seen that? 

Yes, "Special Selection Cabernet '88." That program has 
worked so well with Stars. Gosh, we should have given them 
the wine for all the good it has done us. That's a great 
deal. Stars is wonderful. 



Evolution of the Distribution System 



Hicke: 



C.J. Wagner : 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner 



As the seventies went along, how did you increase your sales 
and distribution nationwide? 

We had a broker. We broke off from the broker, and we got 
our first taste of business in the cold sense of the word, in 
that we got sued and had a real mess with him, because he had 
supposedly developed this market. We learned the hard 
way. . .no one told us ahead of time. 

There have been several of those, I think. 

Oh, yes, it's very popular now. We put into place our first 
full-time marketing person, John Skupny . John began to sell 
directly from the winery to distributors out of state on a 
more professional level. It worked out very well. We began 
to key into certain markets. We didn't try to go into fifty 
states, just to the key markets and I don't want this to be 
taken wrong, but there are certain areas of the United States 
which are more inclined to have culture. Some cities don't 
have it, and some cities do. The northeast is full of 
culture. They've been living there for a hundred years 
longer than we've been living here, and maybe that's one 
reason. Wine has always been an important part of their 
food, for whatever reason, and as people came west across the 
states, wine kind of left the menu and beer or Coke became 
part of it. Massachusetts is our number three major market, 
the small state that it is. New York, New Jersey are also 
major markets. 



I want all the world to enjoy Caymus wine, but obviously 
it's just going to go to the areas where people have a better 
understanding of wines. 



67 



Hicke: 

C . J . Wagner : 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner : 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



You don't make a million cases. 

That's right, we don't. We have weekly meetings on 
marketing, and we talk direction and that sort of thing. 
Day-to-day marketing I'm not that involved with. 

How about international sales? 

International sales are interesting, but I'm not enthused 
with them. I think Germany and Austria are pretty happy with 
California. We sell to Angelo Gaja in Italy, and they seem 
to be enthused. France, as you can imagine, is French wine. 
French people are French people, and they're never going to 
change . 

We dropped out of selling to Japan three or four years 
ago and just recently shipped over some wines, a very small 
quantity of just our best. Our problem with Japan is that 
the people who are selling California wines into that country 
really have developed the wrong sort of image for California; 
it's not a great image. You find that the Japanese will buy 
the old standards, whether it's first growth Bordeaux, Grand 
Cru Burgundy, or the top Rieslings. Those are their 
standards, the ones most sought after. In Japan, most wine 
enthusiasts are not seeking California wines. 

They don't think of California as having fine wine? 

No, we're not in the same arena. I knew this was a problem, 
and we stopped sales. We just started selling again in very 
limited amounts, but we're just selling to these consumers 
who are up on the top. Our intention is to create image from 
the top down instead of from the bottom up. Rather than sell 
a hundred cases to Japan and have this image of being a 
sub-quality winery, we'd be better off selling ten cases and 
just getting into a few cellars of people who care about 
quality wine. That might develop into a hundred cases in 
five years or whatever, and that's all we can ask at this 
point . 

How about South America? 

We did sell some wine to Brazil just recently. I think it 
was an individual collector who just started a wine business 
there. Again, though, he seems to be running in a circle of 
people who know and enjoy wines, and that's what we really 
like. That's what excites me. If we bring someone in who 
wants to sell the wine, and he says, "I'm going to go to 
Ireland, and I'm going to sell the wine," we're not excited 



68 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner : 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



about him going to Ireland unless all of a sudden he says, 
"We've got this wine tasting group, and we get together, and 
we love this wine and that wine." All of a sudden we get 
excited, because there are some people out there that are 
knowledgeable that we want to be associated with. That's 
more on a case by case study. 

Australia and New Zealand? 

No. 

They have quite a bit of wine of their own. 

Yes. 

How about the size of production? Has that increased? Did 
you level off? 

Yes, we have leveled off. Nineteen eighty-nine was our 
level-off year. We have twenty-three employees currently, 
and that's where we want to stay. 

How many cases do you produce a year? 

Between Caymus and Liberty School together, it's about 
100,000 cases. 

Can you give me an approximate breakdown? 
About 60,000 Caymus and 40,000 Liberty School. 
Mostly Cabernet? 

Yes, mainly Cabernet. Our largest production is 30,000 cases 
of Napa Valley Cabernet. 



Appellations 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner : 
Hicke: 



That reminds me that I want to ask you about appellations. 
You just use a Napa Valley appellation, and I think your dad 
indicated that he wasn't enthusiastic about smaller ones. 

You mean sub-appellations in Napa Valley? 
Yes. 



69 



C.J. Wagner: I agree with him only to a point. He is for Napa Valley 

forever, and that's it. I do believe that we need to develop 
further, to come to sub-appellations. When you talk about 
Burgundies or whatever, you finally get down to the vineyard 
name, and they become more expensive. But you know you can 
trust that if what you want to taste is that vineyard, you 
can buy that wine. It may go to different producers, and you 
understand that one producer makes it a little differently 
than the others, but there's always the "common soil or 
whatever the character is that comes from that vineyard. 

I think those are important, but what's happening here, 
Carole, is that we have a lot of wineries that are in 
business, and they are becoming more professional as time 
goes on. What comes along with that are public relations 
people or marketing people who are using any angle they can. 
They are aware of the angle of the French single -vineyard 
appellation, and they are aware that there are collectors who 
are after that. Therefore, if they can utilize 
"sub-appellations," it gives them more marketing meat for the 
public relations department to work on, a nail to drive home 
as being better. This is where the Rutherford Bench comes 
from. Rutherford Bench is certainly just a handful of people 
who in some cases may believe that they have a special 
appellation, but for the most part believe that they will 
have more marketing clout if they were to pull this off. 

Hicke: It seems to fit in with your philosophy of aiming at people 
who are knowledgeable. If you didn't care about people who 
were knowledgeable about wine, then Napa Valley is the best 
thing to call it. 

C.J. Wagner: That's true, but let's say it's twenty years down the road 
from now. Over the twenty years we have finally pulled out 
every variety that doesn't belong on this land. We found out 
that Sauvignon blanc on the rich soils and Cabernet on the 
poor soils is our ticket, and there's a flavor that is 
associated with each of those varieties. We find that our 
neighbors are kind of finding out the same thing. I'm not 
saying it's going to happen in twenty years; it didn't happen 
in France in twenty years. It takes a long darn time. 

Eventually there becomes a character and maybe even a 
style of wine that all of us are using around this little 
community here, and we name it the East Bench Rutherford. I 
just believe that currently it's premature for a 
sub-appellation. Secondly, we're upset that it's 
market-driven. It's public relations departments that are 



70 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



the driving force behind the sub-appellations instead of 
quality of the wines. 

I'm glad you clarified that. 

It has to come from the land first for a certain number of 
years, until you can say, "You know, that's the way they 
taste around here, and yes, we could then use a 
sub-appellation. The soil is the same, the climate is the 
same, the grapes are pretty much the same varieties, and the 
wines taste similar; therefore, let's give it that." That 
makes sense. We do not have that, not yet. I'm for some 
appellations, but maybe in twenty years. Let these things 
develop . 



Liberty School Label 



Hicke: 



Tell me about the Liberty School label. 



C.J. Wagner: My dad probably told you that he went to school there. 



Hicke: 



C.J. Wagner: 



Yes, he told me how he got the name. 

He said he was the sole graduate in the eighth grade class. 
The development of the label is something that happened in 
1976. We were in business and were selling wine under the 
Caymus label, and we were confronted with some wine that we 
had found through Bob Stemmler. There was a certain 
Cabernet, bottle-ready, already barrel-aged, from Mill Creek 
Winery. It was for sale in bulk, and they wanted $3.50 a 
gallon. We tasted it, and we thought, "Man, this is really 
nice." It was much softer than ours, and it was a very 
appealing wine, a wonderful wine. 

We wanted to do something with that, and we knew that we 
shouldn't use the Caymus label, because we didn't want to 
prostitute the name, so to speak. We wanted to keep Caymus 
associated with our own vineyard, and that was it, so we 
needed to come up with another label. We thought about Conn 
Creek Winery as a name, and we ended up with Liberty School 
as being a name and a picture. We had a drawing made of a 
picture of the school, and that was it. 

We came out with our first Cabernet. When we came out 
with that wine, it was written up by some wine critics, and 
Robert Finnegan at the time gave it a high ranking. That 



71 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



wine sold like wildfire. What did that do to us? We 
couldn't just leave well enough alone. We went ahead and 
searched the market for more, found more, and bottled it. 
That was Lot 2. For Lot 3 we actually started to bring in 
wines and barrel -age them. Then we began to buy more 
different wines from all over the state. We bought a lot of 
Cabernets out of Sonoma, Napa, Lake County, Paso Robles. We 
actually bought some out of Nevada City and other places. 

We had such success with the Cabernet that we went into 
Chardonnay, because those two are partners. We began to 
purchase bulk Chardonnays and then blend them. Again, we 
worked all around the state. 

My foundation is here at Caymus and in Napa. We know 
that our classic Cabernet from this area has a certain 
character to it, and we think that it is classic for the 
state . 

And you aim at consistency, I know, at Caymus. 

Yes, we do, but at the same time, through purchasing all 
these vines from outside of Napa Valley, had learned an awful 
lot about our state. We found out that, "Gosh, those guys 
down there do all right. Those guys up in Lake County--." 
You'd never think Lake County was a good producer of anything 
except pears, but there were some pretty nice Zinfandels and 
Cabernets that we found from there. 

That reallv was the beginning of what we are doing 
today. Today we are no longer purchasing wines; we're 
purchasing grapes. We have long-term commitments on grapes 
from vineyards that we used to buy wines from. Now we've got 
a grower, and he's in Paso Robles. He's got three little 
vineyards there, and we pick the grapes, and have them made 
at a winery down in Monterey County. I oversee the vineyard 
operations to a certain point and also oversee the winemaking 
and barrel aging of those Cabernet wines under Liberty 
School . 

What we're doing for Chardonnay is similar, but we're 
down in Santa Maria Valley in Santa Barbara County. We have 
been looking around in Monterey County as well. My point is 
that both labels, Cabernet and Chardonnay, are going to come 
from the Central Coast. We think Central Coast is really 
part of the future of the wine industry. It already is 
fairly hot, but I think it's going to become more of a major 
part of the wine industry. The wines are less expensive to 
produce and therefore to sell, and the styles, especially of 



72 



Hicke: 



C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 



C.J. Wagner : 



the Cabernet, are much softer and easier to enjoy at a young 
age. Our Cabernets are not. The '91 Liberty School Cabernet 
has been on the market for six months. The '91 Caymus 
Cabernet will be bottled next spring. So there's a big 
difference there. One is light, fruity, and berry- like, and 
the other one is dense, texturous, and classic. 

Do you aim at a consistency for Liberty School, too, or do 
you just try to make the best wine? 

This is the very beginning of the new Liberty School wines. 
Although we've been buying grapes and making the wine 
ourselves for a year and a half or so, right now is still 
just the beginning of Liberty School. I think we're going to 
see quite a transition to a certain style that people can 
expect from it, year in and year out. The Cabernet is always 
going to be very fruity, berry-like, a nice, easy drinking 
wine and not something you'd want to age. I think those are 
going to be typical features on that wine, and I think the 
Chardonnay goes the same way. 

But it's the wine business, and it takes years to do 
anything, right? This is a change that is going to take 
place over the next several years. 

Are there some key personnel here at the winery who have been 
here for a long time? 

Our white-wine maker. I make reds, and we have another 
fellow who makes white wines. He's been here for nine years. 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Did you give me his name before? 

No, I didn't. His name is Jon Bolta, and he's one of the 
fellows that we taste with. Jon is very much a big part of 
the winery here in winemaking. I guess he's been here longer 
than most everyone else. 



Cooperage 



Hicke: 



C.J. Wagner : 



What about the changes in cooperage? Can you tell me a 
little bit about how you started out? 

I have done some market traveling and traveling to see what 
they do in Europe as far as winemaking and that sort of 



73 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner : 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



thing. We have been more than once and have visited 
facilities of barrel producers that we buy from. 

One was Saury, which I have never heard of. 

We've been buying from him just a dribble at a time for the 
last several years. 

He's French? 

Yes. This year we changed, because he is doing a certain 
technique that we asked for; so we tried twenty barrels from 
him. The standard barrels have been Demptos, made in Napa; 
Francois Freres and definitely Nadalie, always a standard for 
us. We have tried all the others, but those are the 
standards for us. We buy a lot of barrels. 

I'd also like to say that one of my claims to fame is 
that I've been to Missouri more than I've been to France, and 
I go back there to work with American wood producers. They 
have come to grips with how we are going to make American 
barrels better, at least for Caymus . It has worked out 
really well. We're working with two producers. Our largest 
producer is the one we've been going back and seeing the most 
of. We're working with air-dried wood versus kiln-dried: 
should we go six months air-dried or two years air-dried, or 
is there a difference? It's another long-term experiment. 
We've been working on this for five years, and it's working 
out really well. 

Who are those barrel makers? 

Independent Staves in Missouri and Canton Cooperage in 
Kentucky . 

So you are getting made- to-order barrels? 

Yes, we are. I go back there and go on the floor; it's much 
like an automotive assembly line. Our barrel producers are 
different than French barrel producers where a cooper makes 
one barrel- -makes all the different components, puts it 
together, and puts his name on it. Here it's more like a 
machine, each worker on a separate job as the barrel moves 
automatically through the facility. 

An assembly line? 

Yes, it's an assembly line, and we're trying to plug into 
their line all the features that we think are mandatory for 



74 



good oak barrels. I have been there at the factory at 5:00 
in the morning, the fires are going, and they're ready to go. 
I walk in the door, and they see this guy from California. 

I have to tell you about the first time. I got there, 
and it was snowing. I was staying at a condominium about 
fifteen miles away, and it took me quite a bit longer than I 
expected to get there. The line was ready to go, and there 
must have been sixty guys on the line. I walked in the door, 
and everybody was ready and waiting, and they had been there 
ready and waiting. 

They all knew I was from California, and if you're from 
California, there's just a little something wrong with you. 
[laughter] You're not quite all there, or you're a 
leaf -eater, or God knows what you are. I put that beside me, 
and I went to the end of the line and talked to the 
production manager. We had already talked the day previous 
about what we were going to do. We started the line out, and 
the barrels started to come around to the fires. I hung 
around the fires, the area I felt needed most attention. I 
pulled the first barrel off and did this treatment that I do 
to barrels, and the inside of the barrel caught on fire. In 
other words, I ruined the barrel. 

So we went back to the typical high- toast that they were 
doing, I took another barrel and toasted it, and it caught on 
fire. I burned three barrels in about forty- five minutes, 
and they all saw this happen. It was the best thing that 
could ever happen, because it really broke all the tension; 
they knew that I really wasn't worth the poor consideration 
they had given me, and maybe I was a good ol' boy like them. 
That was the feeling that came about, and it was really good. 



I messed up three barrels, but the whole production was 
close to the toast level that I was trying to get. On 
subsequent trips we ended up finally getting to the toast 
level that I wanted. It was just that we were getting the 
barrels too hot at that point; they were too close to flash 
point. The barrels that I'm used to working with, which are 
French, are typically not quite that hot, and I can do my 
last-fire treatment that I like to do without them catching 
on fire. The production manager there felt that he had to 
get them that hot; otherwise they weren't going to want to 
bend. We've come to grips with that. 

Back to that first day, we ended up going out to dinner 
that night with the sales people, the production manager, and 



75 



Hicke: 



C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 



the man under him. First thing you know, we had become 
friends. I even drank Wild Turkey and ginger ale, which I 
had never had before. He obliged me by drinking wine with 
dinner, so we had this drink afterwards. We were breaking 
ice. 

The next day I went out on the floor there and got to 
know a few of the guys, and now they all feel that I'm not 
just a leaf -eater from California. That really helped. I've 
been to Missouri five times, working with them. It's worked 
out really well. 

They know you are a real person, too, and not just somebody 
out there sending requirements. 

That's right. Although I make the red wines here, and it has 
worked out to a good degree on the red wines, it just so 
happens that the American barrels that we've been producing 
back there have worked out perfectly for the whites. Jon 
Bolta uses entirely those barrels now. I don't believe that 
American barrels are quite up to the French in the red wine 
department, but I think in some varieties they can work all 
right. If it's Petite Sirah or Zinfandel , it is maybe even 
better in American wood. For Cabernet it can be a blend of 
American and French. Certainly people break rules all the 
time. The oak we use primarily is American. But Pinot Noir 
and American wood just don't go together. Those are the 
sorts of things we are still finding out. 

Our Caymus barrel -fermented Sauvignon Blanc is our 
largest-production white wine at 16,000 cases. It sells 
well, people like it; it's a wonderful wine, and it's 100 
percent American wood. So I feel that we are doing something 
for our country at the same time. Fifteen years ago we 
bought American barrels, but they weren't the same. The 
coopers were just making a whiskey barrel at the time. It 
was kiln-dried, and they would not burn the inside at all; 
they would just put the barrel together. We'd get it, and we 
used to say it tasted like white shoe polish. It had a 
really strong, terrible, dill quality. Nowadays we have more 
interesting winemaking and less interest in spirits, and the 
barrel producers have seen that. They say, "The graphs show 
that you are getting bigger, and these other guys are getting 
smaller, so we're going to start listening to you." So we've 
come of age; the timing is right. 

You're not only buying American, you have really helped 
develop an industry. Other people, I'm sure, are going to 
use them, after they have learned from you. 



C.J. Wagner: That's true. 



Other Equipment 



76 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



What about corks? Is that a problem for you? 
It's nothing more than a cost problem, I think. 
Closures? 

We're going to stay with corks for now. I don't know what 
the future holds. I think still today if you pay for your 
corks, you're going to get a good cork. But they do cost so 
darned much. Our Special Selection corks are fifty-eight 
cents each. We're getting the tops- -fifty-four 
millimeter- -and they're beautiful. The last time I had a 
corky bottle of Special Selection- -I ' 11 tell you, I haven't 
had one for four years. 



Vineyard Changes and Experiments: Trellising 



Hicke: 



C.J. Wagner : 



I'd like to go back to the vineyard and ask you about some 
experimenting that I know you are doing. What about 
trellising? How did you start, and how did you develop with 
that? 

We have always used trellis. We used to use standard 
California planting as far as plant density. 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



You were talking about spacing. 

We went beyond that. My dad actually started in 1966 
planting 6 x 10, which gave us 720 vines per acre. I think 
450 vines per acre was typical, so he had come up quite a bit 
in plant density just in what he planted in the 1960s. 

We put the grapes on wires, and that was kind of a 
transition time when some wires were going in and some 
vineyards were still planting without wires. We saw that 
there was something good in wires, and the gods at Davis 
said, "For every wire you add, it is going to give you a 



77 



better crop, more sunlight, all the goodies." We went ahead 
and looked into some other trellising. 

I went to the University of Bordeaux twice on my trips 
to France. A professor by the name of Alain Carboneau is the 
mad wizardry fellow who was at the time running the 
University of Bordeaux's experimental station for the 
vineyard operations. Just to go into this vineyard was 
amazing, because some of the vines were thirty or forty years 
old, and they were any configuration or wire system that you 
could imagine . He had come to develop what is commonly 
called the Carboneau system- -open lyre. Open lyre really 
interested me, but also I saw a lot of what else he was doing 
over there. 

We also hire from time to time a consultant, a fellow by 
the name of Paul Skinner. He is a UCD graduate. He wrote me 
a letter one day and said he was out of school, and he had 
his doctorate. Did we have any specific problems that we 
couldn't come to grips with, and could he help? I said, 
"Yes, we have red leaf here, and we can't seem to get rid of 
this stuff." So he came on board with us at the time. He 
had studied a lot about trellising. I think his doctorate is 
in soils and plant science, but he had a lot to do with 
trellising. He had seen what had happened when he had been 
to Germany and that sort of thing, so he had a lot of great 
ideas on trellising as well. 

We really got involved in trellising with Paul, and we 
fast became the experimental station for Paul himself, our 
ideas going together. We did some Carboneau, but we also did 
various other systems. The jury is still out on what the 
best system is, and certainly we do know at this point that 
it is site specific; one site is good for one trellis, and 
one site is good for another. As to which trellises are 
going to give us the best quality, the jury is still out. 

We have probably six systems that we utilize and think 
have merit. There are some we found that we don't like. We 
are using systems from France, Germany, South Africa, and 
Australia. 



Importance of Soil 



C.J. Wagner: I want to also tell you, and this is very important, that 

when you have a certain soil --let's say we have Cabernet out 



78 



here, and we have this gravelly loam soil first of all, it's 
a given that it is going to make a good wine. The real 
question is when you have some soil that has made poor 
Cabernet, and it's rich soil, can you make a trellis system 
produce a great wine from that soil? We don't know that 
right now, but it doesn't look very promising. 

We are going to make more colorful wines. I'm going to 
give you an example. We have one trellis system that's up in 
Rutherford on a piece of property that we lease. We put 
Merlot on the Carboneau system, but it's also a non-tillage. 
We planted grasses, and it's just mowed. We have an 
under -vine watering system that doesn't work just as drip but 
waters the overall soil. It has worked out tremendously for 
us, but we don't really want those grapes, because that kind 
of heavy clay soil we don't think is going to be so inclined 
to make good wines. So that piece of property we're working 
as a grower, and we sell those grapes out to another winery. 
Not all wines can be special. 

The trellising systems are not what they are cooked up 
to be; they're not a cure-all. They're not going to make 
soils that are not right for Cabernet Sauvignon produce a 
great Cabernet Sauvignon. The soils that are so inclined to 
produce great Cabernets are still going to produce them. 

Let's just talk about two simple features here, rich 
soil versus poor soil. I'm saying that rich soil is high 
organic matter, rich, deep, fertile, great garden soil that 
you would love to have for your tomatoes in the backyard. 
The poor soil I'm talking about is gravelly loams that are 
very high in gravels, and have very little organic matter. 
The vines don't grow very big, and therefore you don't have a 
lot of foliage, there are smaller berries and more 
concentration in your grapes. That's going to produce a 
better wine. 

Can you take that rich soil through one of these new 
trellising systems and produce that kind of rich wine? It's 
not going to happen. But what we can do is get better sugars 
and better colors than what we used to get from that soil and 
also better yields. 

Hicke: It really affects the grapes but not the wine? 

C.J. Wagner: Yes. Trellising systems are not going to make all the 

Cabernet vineyards or Chardonnay vineyards in Napa Valley 
wonderful. It really has to do with, first, the soil. 



79 



Hicke: 



C.J. Wagner: 



But trellising does affect the amount of production, color, 
and so forth of the grape? 

Yes, and the ripening. There are a lot of good things about 
trellising. My major point is that we are not going to be 
able to start making more Special Selection Cabernet off of 
our property. That's life. 



Special Selection Cabernet 



C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 



That's one story my dad didn't tell you, and you ought to 
hear it. My dad grew walnuts. He had one piece that was in 
for ten years... he never picked a commercial production, and 
the trees never sized up. It's the soil that I'm talking 
about that is gravelly and low in organic matter. On this 
seventy- three acres that he bought here in 1941, there was 
fourteen acres or so of that poor soil. It was always kind 
of a thorn in his side; trying to grow anything on that was 
difficult . 

He pulled them out in the mid-sixties, and that's where 
he planted the Cabernet Sauvignon. Now that's where the 
Special Selection is grown. So what was for a period of his 
life a piece of ground that wasn't productive has become what 
we base our reputation on today. Things really changed for 
him and his relationship to this piece of property. This is 
a great piece of property now, and is a high-production piece 
of property but not a great quality piece of real estate. 

That's a really clear example of fitting the crop to the 
soil, isn't it? 



Rootstocks 



Hicke: 



C.J. Wagner: 



Let's talk about rootstocks. What did you start out with, 
and how did you decide on it? 

We started out with St. George, which was the standard stock. 
Everyone used St. George. In the 1960s we began to plant 
some A x R y/1, but we stayed with St. George. We don't need 
to talk about the A x R #1 much. Simply stated, it is a 
variety that UCD really thought was great, and all the 
growers thought was great, because it would make great size 



80 



Hicke: 



C.J. Wagner: 



and great crops within four or five years of planting. 
Therefore you got your money back, and everybody thought, 
"This is great. " 

Sort of the same story as the land [the more fertile land 
looks better for production]? 

Yes, very much so. Then the phylloxera issue comes up. 
First of all, it's a bad rootstock, period. Even without 
phylloxera, it's a bad rootstock. A x R #1 does not have 
longevity, and it tends to produce too much crop. It's a 
good grower and a good producer, but that's not what we're 
after. So it's a bad rootstock to start with. Phylloxera is 
just one of the keys that made it come out of the ground 
here . 



Hicke: 



C.J. Wagner: 



There has been a mad rush, and the mad rush is for what 
they use elsewhere in the world: What do the French use? 
What do the South Americans and South Africans use? We got 
books and books and books. You know, you can't wait to get 
those French books translated into English so you can read 
them and see what the hell they mean. We have had people 
come in and translate certain parts of the books were that 
were foreign. 

Now we're planting so many rootstocks that we aren't 
sure which ones are good. One of the standards is still St. 
George, and 5C has been planted widely for fifteen or twenty 
years, and it has pretty much been proven to be a good stock 
here. Now we are planting all the unknowns that have had 
great success in Europe. 

You'll have to wait several years before you can even see 
what it does to the grape, let alone the wine. 

There you go. Isn't that terrible? It's like you are 
working for your kids or your grandkids around here. 
[laughter] It takes too damned long. 



Chuck Wagner's Family 



Hicke: 



C.J. Wagner : 



That brings up a good question. Can you tell me about your 
family? 

I'm divorced, and I'm married again and looking towards 
another child. There was one on the way, but my wife 



81 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner : 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner : 



Hicke: 



C.J. Wagner: 



miscarried. We're going to start again pretty soon, I hope. 
I have three kids, two boys and one girl. 

Can you give me their names? 

Charlie (named after my father), Joe, and Jenny. They are 
all pretty much enthused about what the winery is doing. 
What a difference between the way things were, and the way I 
felt about farming then, and now. Both, boys are now in the 
same school, in sixth and eighth grade in middle school. 
Joe, the one who is in sixth grade, told me, "You know, 
everybody is wearing Caymus sweatshirts at school." It's one 
of the "in" thing for kids to wear. How things change 180 
degrees . 

That must have really made you feel good. 

Oh, yes, it sure does. We don't make many sweatshirts; we 
just do a few, and I guess they're hard to come by, so it's 
cool if you have one. 

Just like the pricing- -make them scarce. [laughter] 
Is your daughter interested in the winery? 

She hasn't shown an interest at this point. I haven't put 
her to work. As a matter of fact, the first year of work for 
Joe was this year, and he is eleven. Jenny is six. The boys 
are not only involved with working around here, but they are 
also in A-H. I work with A-H a little bit. They raise 
project animals like pigs and sell them at the fair. 

Your dad raised a lot of pigs in his day. 

He's only mad that we don't give the pigs all the leftover 
lettuce and so forth: "That's what pigs are for!" But the 
kids raise these pigs, and they have to gain about two pounds 
a day in weight until the fair. If you start giving them off 
foods, they don't gain weight; they don't digest it. That's 
kind of a pet peeve of my dad and my boys right now. 

In a sense you are working for the future. It sounds like 
you might have some up-and-coming winemakers. 

Yes, I like to think that. I like to think that our family 
is going to stay in the tradition. We feel like we've been 
in business a long time, but really we're just babes in this 
business. I mean, California is a babe compared to what 
Europe has got going. So we can start this now, providing we 



82 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner : 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



don't have prohibitionism ruin it for us like it did last 
time. Gosh, there have been some great things said about 
wine as far as health issues. I don't drink wine for health 
as much as I just drink it as a beverage for a meal. When I 
don't have wine, I don't know what to drink. Water doesn't 
hit it, iced tea I don't drink, soda I don't drink. 

Do you have nieces and nephews? 

I have two sisters, who have never been involved in the 
winery. I was the youngest child, so by the time I was out 
of school my sisters were already out of college, married, 
and gone. They seem to have other interests. It would be 
all right with me [if they did have an interest], because I 
think it would be great to get more of the family involved. 
My nephew does work here however, he grows an organic garden 
on a small piece. 

I think I saw him. Does he wear a cowboy hat? 

I'm not sure. You'd know him if you saw him, because his 
hair goes way down his back. He's all organic. I don't mind 
having him around. He's too far gone, but maybe I'm too far 
the other way. He won't eat processed foods. 

He doesn't object to wine? 
Wine is okay by him. 



Organic Farming 



Hicke: 



C.J. Wagner: 



Are you doing any organic farming? 
household garden. 



I assume his is a 



His garden is commercial, selling goods to local restaurants. 
As for the vineyard, we'll never go on the record- -at least 
now- -as an organic farm, but all the vineyards we are buying 
from are run organically. It's easy to do ; it's not a big 
issue. What I'm afraid of is if we were to go organic and 
say "organically grown" for four years on the label, all of a 
sudden one year the white fly would come up. Insects have 
been devastating ag crops forever, so we should learn from 
history that it would be a mistake. All of a sudden one year 
it doesn't have "organic" on the label, and people would say, 
"What did you do? Are you using insecticides this year?" 



83 



Hicke: 



C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner : 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



I don't know if being organic is such a plus in the wine 
business. Some people are making a lot out of it. 

You know what? Organically grown grapes is what Fetzer is 
doing, for instance. People construe that to be organic 
wine, but it's just organically grown grapes. It's real hard 
to make organic wine and make it last. You have to have 
little bits and pieces of sulfur and whatever might be 
necessary for longevity and antioxidation. I like organic, 
and one of the things I did in my tenure here was to apply 
some insecticides here and there. I think my goal is to make 
it so that my kids will never have to do that. I didn't use 
to believe all the ecologists who talked bad about Chevron or 
Dow or whoever was making a chemical. They said that there 
were other approaches that could work and that these 
companies were just feeding us with material that nay not be 
all that safe. To a point I now agree with that theory. 

I think it's so easy to handle organically that, gosh, 
why would we ever consider using insecticide again? I also 
think there are mechanical means in our industry which we 
haven't even researched yet. We already have a new influx of 
insectaries- -people who produce bugs that you can let loose 
into certain environments. 

Lady bugs? 

Lady bugs have proven to go away. You put them on one 
property, and they move to the next piece. [laughter] But 
there are other insects, like predatory wasps that will prey 
on the unwanted pests. 

We've talked about organic farming. What would organic 
winemaking involve? 

There has been a lot of work done on organic winemaking, and 
no one has really made an organic wine that has done wonders. 

What is an organic wine? No sulfites, no nothing? 

Exactly. The sulfur that we work with, we wouldn't be able 
to use. That's it. Sulfur is our best friend. It's one of 
those things that we all live with. It's mined naturally out 
of hillsides . 

What other kinds of experimentations are you involved in? 

Once you learn how to make wine and you taste a different 
variety or style, you are always inclined to, try and make 



Hicke: 



it. If you are a beer maker and are making a light lager, 
and all of a sudden this guy is starting to make some 
heavy-duty Bock beer, you know you have the ability, and you 
want to try it. The same thing goes for Cabernet. We know 
how to make Cabernet, but we're certainly looking into the 
other varietals, some of the new ones, like Viognier. We 
crushed our first Sangiovese this year. I don't know what we 
are going to do with it; I have no idea. Our experiment 
blocks include six other varieties. 

I can't think of anything other than that that we are 
really developing. We're typical. 

I'm sure there are other things that will come to mind later. 



A Single-Vineyard Cabernet 



Hicke: 



C.J. Wagner: 



Let me ask you about the Special Selection Cabernet that has 
gotten these tremendously high ratings from The Wine 
Spectator. Do you have any comment on that or how that came 
about? I think it's pretty unusual. 

Oh, I think it is, too. I think if you add up all our 
Special Selections since '75, I believe it will equal an 
average of 94.5. The lowest is 90, and then we had four 
great years; '84, '85, '86, and '87 were 98, 99, 98, and 98. 
Even the supposedly poor years, '88 and '89, we were able to 
capture a 94 and a 93. 

I'm not sure what it means. I explained that we strive 
for a style, and we are one of the few wineries that were 
able to arrive at a certain wine style- -and a distinct style, 
I might add- -and have been able to continue producing that 
every year. If you want to talk about the single -vineyard 
Burgundies- -well , we are a single-vineyard Cabernet producer, 
because everything comes from the same land, and the wines 
always have this certain character and flavor to them. And 
we produce them so that they always taste similar, aside from 
what Mother Nature gives you for one year to the next which 
can vary to a degree. 

I feel as though we have fine-tuned the Cabernet 
Sauvignon varietal for Caymus . In some eyes, we have set a 
standard for the state, and I guess I'm more proud of that 
than I am of The Vine Spectator ratings. We find that people 
try, through different ways, to emulate what we're doing. 



85 



C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 

Hicke: 



They try to come to grips with what barrels they are using, 
where their vines are planted, in what soil, and that sort of 
thing. We take that all as a big compliment. I guess my 
fears that we're going to fall from the limelight lessen as 
time goes on, and I don't know if that's a dangerous feeling 
or not . 

I* 

I'm not so concerned about not being the hottest property in 
California as I am about having a product that people who 
appreciate wine very much can rely on and use as a standard. 
I'm really proud that when people go overseas, they'll pack a 
couple of bottles of our wine along and use that as an 
example of where they came from: "This is what we produce." 

That is a compliment. 

If we can continue to do those sorts of things, that's it. 

I notice that you are going to do a vertical tasting for The 
Wine Experience in New York. Which wines are you going to be 
tasting? 

I've forgotten. We cut the list down to eight wines, but it 
is going to be showing of older versus new wines. I not only 
want to show the old style- -because we had somewhat of a 
change from the oldest wines to, say, the mid-eighty wines, 
like '84, '85, '86, and '87, which were of a different 
style- -but also I want to show one new wine that isn't 
bottled yet that is upcoming. I'm going to try to show not 
only the consistency of Caymus Special Selection Cabernet but 
also to show people what the ageability is like, how the 
style has evolved, and what the wine tastes like in an 
undeveloped stage. 

That should be very interesting. 

We'll see. I hope so. This is a really big event for us. 

I think that answers most of the questions I have on my list. 
Is there anything you can think of that we haven't covered? 



86 



Maternal Ancestors 



C.J. Wagner: 

Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner 



I could talk about my mother's family. We didn't talk about 
that at all. 

I'd like to hear about that. 

They're the ones who actually put us here earlier as far as 
my bloodline goes. My dad's family came in 1906, but my 
mother's family came I believe in the 1870s. They were the 
first settlers on Howell Mountain. They planted a vineyard, 
and they homesteaded 150 acres. 

Do you know what they planted? 

No, I don't know what variety. We went up there to check it 
out --the first time I had been up there was about a year 
ago- -and the foundation of the house is there, and the 
garbage is there, untouched. Other people have lived in that 
house, but the garbage looks untouched. My cousin and I are 
going to go up there when we get time and go through the 
garbage to see if we can find anything of family historical 
value . 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



Hicke: 

C.J. Wagner: 



If we count them as grape growers, that means that my 
family has been growing grapes continuously in Napa Valley 
longer than any other family. After twenty years they moved 
down to the Rutherford area, and by that time nine more 
families had moved up to Howell Mountain. My 
great-grandfather worked as right-hand man to Gustav Niebaum, 
and upon Gustav' s death took over as winemaker and manager of 
Inglenook until his retirement. 

What was your great-grandfather's name? 

Lafayette Stice. I see his picture in that little cabinet up 
there at Inglenook. This part of my family came here with 
the second Donner party. There was the first Donner party, 
who met with the hard weather and had to turn to all the 
drastic things, and my family came with a second group that 
started with about 100 and came here with 101; one died, but 
two were born. They were early settlers. 

Was the whole family named Stice? 

Glos and Stice. My grandfather Glos, my mom's dad, developed 
what is called the chip bud. It doesn't mean a lot to us 
sitting here, but it is a form of grafting or putting on a 



87 



Hicke: 



C . J . Wagner : 



Hicke: 



C . J . Wagner : 



scion to a rootstock. In other words, you plant your 
rootstock in the ground, and then you come through and graft 
it. Chip bud means that you just put a little bud right into 
the side of the growing rootstock, wrap it with rubber, cut 
off half the top, and cover it up. Next spring, you come 
through, cut the rubber and check the bud. If the bud is 
good, you cut the whole top off, and from that one bud comes 
the grapevine. He invented chip budding, and it's been 
around the world. This method is used in other countries 
also . 

That's wonderful. You might have inherited a little of your 
palate for tasting wines. 

Maybe, but there were no secrets. People always think there 
is some family secret. 

It's marvelous that your family has been here for so long. 
Were other members of your mother's family involved besides 
those two? 

I have a few cousins who work in wineries, but no, not 
really, not in a big way. 



Ideas for the Future 



Hicke: 



C.J. Wagner: 



Skipping quite a few years ahead, let me just ask you what 
you see for the future. 

I already answered that, I think. The family continues on, 
and we would like to start a tradition that we look over to 
Europe and see has been going on for years. We're almost 
adamant about investors or anyone wanting to purchase this 
property. There are probably cycles that we haven't seen 
yet, or maybe in history there are cycles that look back at. 
But let's just put it this way: if times really get bad, 
land values fall, and no one buys wine, we will probably 
still be here. I don't see that we will ever sell out. If 
we ever come back to just growing something other than 
grapes, I wouldn't be surprised; but we'll probably still be 
here . 

Something we don't want to do is just cash out. That's 
not what we want to do, and I think the whole family feels 
that way. My dad wanted to be sure that the family has this 
property, it's going to stay in the family; it's not going to 



88 



leave the family, we're not going to break it up into pieces, 
and so it has to go on. 

I'm sure that in the future we will have to come to 
grips, as the Europeans have, with how and who to heir the 
property to; who is going to run the company? The French 
have come up with a system to the effect that the oldest son 
takes over the business, and the other sons can't work 
there- -something kind of crazy like that. I don't think I 
have to worry about that. That's the next generation. 

Hicke: I thank you very much for taking the time to do this. 
C.J. Wagner: Thank you. 



Transcribed and final typed by Judy Smith 



89 



TAPE GUIDE 



Interview with Charles F. "Charlie" Wagner: September 15, 1993 

Tape 1, Side A 1 

Tape 1, Side B 15 

Tape 2, Side A 27 

Tape 2, Side B 40 

[Interview with Charles J. "Chuck" Wagner: September 16, 1993] 

Tape 1, Side A 42 

Tape 1, Side B 54 

Tape 2, Side A 65 

Tape 2, Side B 76 

Tape 3, Side A 85 
Tape 3, Side B not recorded 



90 



INDEX- -Charles F. Wagner and Charles J. Wagner 



Allied Grape Growers, 12, 13, 

14, 21-22 
appellations, 31-32, 68-70 

Beaulieu Vineyard, 19 
Beitler, Connie, 34 
Bolta, John, 72 

Canton Cooperage, 73 

Caymus Vineyards 

early history of, 3-4; winery 
startup, 13, 49-52; building 
and equipment, 24, 35-36, 53-54 

Compleat Winemaker, The, 27, 
28, 53 

cooperage, 32-33, 53, 55, 72- 
76 

corks and closures, 76 

Deuer, George, 45-46, 55 
distribution, 66-68 
Dunn, Randy, 55 

equipment, 27-28 

farming, organic, 82-83 
Finnegan, Robert, 70 
Fisher, Marlene, 33-34 
Friedman, Jeffrey, 56 

Glos family, 86-87 
Gorvitz, Ira, 23 

Harris, Henry, 10 
Heublein Inc. , 19, 21-22 

Independent Staves, barrel 
makers, 32, 73-75 

judgings, 39-20 

label design, 28-29 
Liberty School, 6, 39 
Liberty School property, 10- 
11 



Liberty School wines, 38-39, 
70-72 

marketing, 22-23, 29-30, 63 

Napa Valley, changes in, 34- 

37. 42-44 
Napa Valley Cooperative, 14 

palate, development of, 25, 

56-59 

pests and pesticides, 20-21 
pricing, 64-66 
Prohibition, 7-8 
pruning, 18-19 

rootstocks, 37-38 
Rowe, Rod, 56-59 

Skinner, Paul, 77 
Skupny, John, 23, 55 
Southern Wines and Spirits, 

American Wines Division, 23 
spacing, 16-17 
Spring Mountain Vineyards, 

47-48 

Stemmler, Robert, 47, 55, 70 
Stice family, 86 

Tchelistcheff , Andre, 44-45, 

57 

Titus, Sebastian, 28-29, 60 
trellising, 76-78 

University of California, 
Davis, 12, 15, 21, 38 

vineyard operations, 9-22 

Wagner, Charlie (grandson), 

81 
Wagner, Charles (grandfather), 

2, 9 
Wagner, Jenny (grandaughter) , 

81 
Wagner, Joe (grandson), 81 



91 



Wagner, John, 1 

Wagner, Katherine Dellbrugge 

(grandmother), 2-3, 9 
Wagner, Lorna Belle, 6, 60-62 
Wheeler, Florence Fargo, 16 
winemaking, 25-27 
Wine Marketing International, 

23 

Wine Services Co-op, 29 
Wine Spectator, 84 
Wine Train, 35 
Wood, Laurie, 19 

yeasts, 20 



Riesling, 24, 30 
Sauvignon Blanc, 26 
Zinfandel, 31, 75 




Cabernet Sauvignon, 17-18, 

49, 68, 70-72 

special selection, 79, 84 

85 

Chanin blanc, 15 
Chardonnay, 71 

Napa Camay, 11, 15 

Petite Sirah, 4 
Pinot noir, 49-50 

Riesling, 4, 49, 52 

Sauvignon blanc, 16 
Sauvignon vert, 4 



Wines 

Cabernet Sauvignon, 17-18, 

24, 25, 26. 31, 32, 39, 59, 75 

Merlot, 26 

Petite Sirah, 75 

Pinot Noir, 24, 30-31, 50 

Pinot Noir Blanc, 24-25, 30 



Carole E. Hicke 



B.A., University of Iowa; economics 

M.A. , San Francisco State University; U.S. history with emphasis on the 
American West; thesis: "James Rolph, Mayor of San Francisco." 

Interviewer/editor/writer, 1978-present , for business and law firm 
histories, specializing in oral history techniques. Independently 
employed. 

Interviewer-editor, Regional Oral History Office, University of California, 
Berkeley, 1985 to present, specializing in California legal, political, and 
business histories. 

Author: Heller. Ehrman. White & McAuliffe: A Century of Service to Clients 

and CoT^nuin-j t-y 1991. 



Editor (1980-1985) newsletters of two professional historical associations: 
Western Association of Women Historians and Coordinating Committee for 
Women in the Historical Profession. 

Visiting lecturer, San Francisco State University in U.S. history, history 
of California, history of Hawaii, legal oral history. 



111414 




^