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University of California Berkeley 

Regional Oral History Office University of California 

The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California 

The Wine Spectator California Winemen Oral History Series 

Joseph Phelps 

Interviews Conducted by 

Carole Hicke 

in 1995 

Copyright 1996 by The Regents of the University of California 

Joseph Phelps 

Photo courtesy of Colorado State University Alumni 

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 method of 
collecting historical information through tape-recorded interviews between a 
narrator with firsthand knowledge of historically significant events and a well- 
informed interviewer, with the goal of preserving substantive additions to the 
historical record. The tape recording is transcribed, lightly edited for 
continuity and clarity, and reviewed by the interviewee. The corrected 
manuscript is indexed, bound with photographs and illustrative materials, and 
placed in The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, and in 
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. 


All uses of this manuscript are covered by a legal agreement 
between The Regents of the University of California and Joseph 
Phelps dated December 11, 1995. 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 Joseph Phelps requires that he be notified of the 
request and allowed thirty days in which to respond. 

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

Joseph Phelps, "Joseph Phelps Vineyards: 
Classic Wines and Rhone Varietals," an 
oral history conducted in 1995 by Carole 
Hicke, Regional Oral History Office, The 
Bancroft Library, University of 
California, Berkeley, 1996. 

Copy no. 

Cataloging Information 

PHELPS, Joseph (b. 1927) Winery owner 

Joseph Phelps Vineyards: Classic Wines and Rhone Varietals. 1996, viii, 
68 pp. 

Hensel Phelps Construction Co.; building Souverain Winery; Joseph Phelps 
Vineyards: start-up, planting Rhone varietals, vineyard management, label, 
Vin du Mistral and the Rhone Rangers, Scheurebe wine, Innisfree; Oakville 

Interviewed in 1995 by Carole Hicke for the Wine Spectator California Wine 
Oral History Series, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, 
University of California, Berkeley. 

TABLE OF CONTENTS- -Joseph Phelps 





Grandparents and Parents 1 

Schools 4 

Family Life, Influences, and Activities 6 

Part-time Jobs 8 

Higher Education 13 

Service in the U.S. Navy 16 


Formation 18 

Early Responsibilities 19 

Beginning Interest in Wine 20 
Building the Souverain Winery (now the 

Rutherford Hill Winery) 21 


Locating the Property 23 

Viognier 29 

More on Syrah 29 

Equipment 34 

Vineyard Management 36 

Properties 36 

Pierce 's Disease Task Force 38 

Spacing 40 

Bulmaro Montez 40 

Trellising 42 

Grower Contracts 43 

Designing the Label 44 

Vin du Mistral and the Rhone Rangers 44 

Insignia 45 

Innisfree 47 

Ovation 47 

Winemaking Philosophy and Techniques 48 

Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewiirztraminer, 

and Semillon 49 

Scheurebe 50 

The Innisfree Building 52 

Private Labels 53 

Marketing and Distribution 53 


Oakville Grocery 57 

Personal Wine Collection 59 



APPENDIX A Wine Label Samples 65 



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; Carole Hicke, 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 


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 
Willa K. Baum and is under the administrative supervision of The Bancroft 

Carole Hicke 
Project Director 

The Wine Spectator California Winemen 
Oral History Series 

August 1996 

Regional Oral History Office 

The Bancroft Library 

University of California, Berkeley 


Interviews Completed as of September 1996 

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

Leon D. Adams, California Wine Industry Affairs; Recollections and Opinions, 

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

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

Richard L. Arrowood, Sonoma County Winemaking: Chateau St. Jean and Arrowood 
Vineyards & Winery, 1996 

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

Charles A. Carpy, Viticulture and Enology at Freemark Abbey. 199A 
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 
Wine 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 

William A. Dieppe, Almaden is My Life. 1985 

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

Daniel J. and Margaret S. Duckhorn, Mostly Merlot; The History of Duckhorn 
Vineyards. 1996 

Ficklin, David, Jean, Peter, and Steve, Making California Port Wine; Ficklin 
Vineyards from 1948 to 1992, 1992 

Brooks Firestone, Firestone Vineyard; A Santa Ynez Valley Pioneer. 1996 
Louis J. Foppiano, A Century of Winegrowing in Sonoma County. 1896-1996. 1996 
Alfred Froram, 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 
Agustin Huneeus, A World View of the Wine Industry. 1996 

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

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

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

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

Horace 0. Lanza and Harry Baccigaluppi, California Grape Products and Other 
Wine 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. 

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

Eleanor McCrea, Stony Hill Vineyards; The Creation of a Napa 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. 

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 

Joseph Phelps, Joseph Phelps Vineyards: Classic Wines and Rhone Varietals, 

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 

David S. Stare, Fume Blanc and Meritage Wines in Sonoma County; Dry Creek 
Vineyard's Pioneer Winemaking. 1996 

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, Caymus Vineyards; A Father-Son Team 
Producing Distinctive Wines. 1994 

Wente, Jean, Carolyn, Philip, and Eric, The Wente Family and the California 
Wine Industry. 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 (1921-1971), 1973 

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



Joseph Phelps, founder and owner of Joseph Phelps Vineyards, was 
interviewed as part of the Wine Spectator's California Wine Oral History 
Series to document his career and contributions to the history of California 

Phelps has had a varied and innovative career- -venturing seems to be 
part of his nature. Born on a farm in Missouri and raised in rural Colorado, 
he started early with a fly tying business developed in his high school days. 
In 1950 he graduated from Colorado State University in Fort Collins (then 
Colorado A&M) with a major in construction management. After a stint in the 
navy, Phelps went into business with his father, and in 1957 they formed 
the Hensel Phelps Construction Company. With an office in California, the 
firm was able to win a contract to build Chateau Souverain at Geyserville, and 
Phelps began spending time in wine country. 

A growing interest in wine- -he had been making some at home in the 
basement with purchased grapes led Phelps to purchase 600 acres on Napa 
Valley's Silverado Trail in 1973. He started out with Zinfandel, Cabernet 
Sauvignon, and French Syrah. "The Syrah grape was obviously something waiting 
to happen in California," Phelps said, "it had been important in California in 
the nineteenth century, although to our best knowledge, it was never 
commercially bottled and sold as a varietal. As far as we can tell, our 1974 
Syrah was the first commercially bottled and labeled Syrah wine; although some 
Syrah wines were being made, they were being blended." 

The winery went on to make Viognier, and brought out its Le Mistral 
line, a family of Rhone-style wines, in 1989, making Joseph Phelps well known 
as one of the first "Rhone Rangers." Insignia became their label for Bordeaux 

Phelps "s other innovations abound: late-harvest Riesling and Meritage 
wines; Eisrebe, made in German-eiswein-style from Scheurebe grapes; his 
formation of the Wine Services Co-op, a warehouse for a group of wineries; the 
Oakville Grocery, providing fine foods to go with fine wines. For Phelps, 
variety is his life. "The thing that, I feel, has been very satisfying to me 
is the good fortune that I've had in experiencing several careers. I look 
forward to growing in other directions the rest of my life." 

Joseph Phelps was interviewed in his winery offices in December 1995. 
It was a stormy day, but the vineyards along Napa Valley's Silverado Trail 
offered a picturesque scene from the office windows. The winery's Jeff 
Hunsaker offered me a tour before the interview, and Joe Phelps proved to be a 
welcoming and hospitable interviewee. 


Phelps reviewed the transcript carefully and thoroughly, adding 
information and substituting whole paragraphs where he felt his remarks were 

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 

August 28, 1996 

Regional Oral History Office 

The Bancroft Library 

University of California, Berkeley 


Regional Oral History Office 
Room 486 The Bancroft Library 

University of California 
Berkeley, California 94720 



(Please write clearly. Use black ink.) 

Your full name 

Date of birth U 


Father's full name 

.,L-. 'P-M 


Mother's full name 
Occupation ^-ci 
Your spouse 

C.u vi Q t P= <= 





Your children Lg.5 t_l B- />><oQ 

* ^Birthplace Mt <, 

Where did you grow up? 

Present community *S ~T. 

Education u>- e > 


Areas of expertise 

Other interests or activities 

f ? I ^ y= t_i 

Organizations in which you are active 


\J AlUgV vj 1 


[Interview 1: December 11, 1995 Iff 1 

Grandparents and Parent s 

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

Phelps: I was born on November 12, 1927, in my mother's bed on a farm 
in De Kalb County, Missouri, not very far from St. Joseph. 

Hicke: And did you grow up there? 

Phelps: I lived there until my parents moved to Colorado in 1935, and I 
was in the third grade, as I recall. 

Hicke: Okay, let's leave that for just a minute, and let me go back 
and ask about your parents and grandparents, where they came 
from and what they did. 

Phelps: Midwesterners. My grandfather was a county doctor; I can 
remember very, very early in my life accompanying him with 
horse and buggy as he went on his rounds in the countryside. 

Hicke: Through snow and sleet? 

Phelps: Not as I recall [laughter]. But it was not what you would 
consider a highly paid profession; I think he took a lot of 
payment in kind. That's how I remember my grandfather most 

Hicke: What was his name? 

'This symbol (If) indicates that a tape or a segment of a tape has 
begun or ended. A guide to the tapes follows the transcript. 

Phelps : 







John Quincy. He was one of a series of John Quincys: his 
father was also a medical doctor, and he had as a matter of 
fact been born on a caravan in Wyoming. Both he and my 
grandmother argued about whether it was Fort Laramie or Fort 
Bridger. But his father was the medical officer that 
accompanied the wagon train. And my grandfather had gone to 
Northwestern [University], and then my uncle, who delivered me- 
-who just happened to be passing through town the day I was 
duehad completed his internship at Cook County Hospital in 
Northwestern, in Chicago. He was traveling across country to 
open his practice in Cheyenne, Wyoming, when I was born. 

What was his name? 

Did the John Quincys have anything to do with the Massachusetts 
Quincys, or 

No, I don't think that the name went that far back. My guess 
is that that ' s where the combination of John Quincy and Phelps 
came from. This probably involves too much verbiage to be 
included in the oral tape, but it's interesting that my 
grandfather was one of thirteen children. Of the thirteen, he 
was the only one who grew to adulthood and had a male 
offspring. Only one of his sonshe had three sonshad 
children, and that was my father. My father had two daughters 
and two sons, and my older brother who was killed when he was 
twenty or so in an automobile accident was John Quincy also. 
Of the family, I'm the only one who had a son named Phelps, and 
I had three daughters and one son. My son has now had two 
children, one of whom is a grandson. So I have seven 
granddaughters and only one grandson. So the Phelps name is 
really hanging on by a small thread. 

Just one person in each generation had the Phelps name, 
good for you and your son. 


Well, back to my parents. My father was a farmer; his name was 
Abel Hensel. He dropped his first name fairly early in his 
career and became the Hensel Phelps that remains in the name of 
the construction company doing business across the United 
States. He had a back injury early on in farming and was 
limited and restricted in the hard labor that he could do. It 
finally caught up with him and required that he find another 
way to make a living, and at first he tried selling insurance. 
That was during the Depression and tough going. He had 
children to put through college, and that was pretty difficult 
for him. 

In 1937, on our farm in Colorado, he built a small one- 
bedroom house for my grandmother and grandfather who, quite 
some time previous, retired and wanted to move to Colorado 
also. And in the process of building this small house, he 
became acquainted with the local lumber dealer and a couple of 
subcontractors. He lived west of Greeley, which is a farm 
community about fifty miles north of Denver. A small 
university farm town. Originally it was the state normal 
school, and at that time it was called Colorado State College 
of Education. It is the University of Northern Colorado now, 
although it still has a very heavy emphasis on education. 

In that community he found a calling, and that was to do 
remodeling work, primarily, and build homesnever more than 
one at a time, but he became a carpenter and a contractor and 
worked with his tools. 

Hicke: He could do that with a bad back? 

Phelps: He could do that, but he couldn't do heavy work. And at that 
time, the farm was rented out. He became a full-time builder- 
contractor. My mother had sort of raised two families. Her 
mother died when she was nineteen, and there were seven in 
their family, and she kind of focused on getting them through 
school. She married my father when she was twenty-nine or 

Hicke: What was her name? 

Phelps: Juanitaexcept she shortened it to Nita--Cundif f . And 

although she was born in Kansas, and her family moved around a 
bit, the Cundiff name does appear in the historical records of 
my home county in Missouri. My youngest daughter took time 
this summer to go back to Maysville, Missouri, to look up all 
the information she could find on Hensel, Phelps and Cundiff. 
We ' re going to have a family reunion in Southern California 
between Christmas and New Year's, and she'll be presenting a 
lot of this information. 

Hicke: What fun. If you have something like a family tree or 
something, we could include that. 

Phelps: We haven't finished putting it together yet. 

Hicke: And your maternal grandparents, then, were from the Midwest 

Phelps: Yes. The Hensels migrated to Missouri from Illinois and Ohio. 
My maternal grandfather was a station master in Skiatook, 
Oklahoma with the Atcheson, Topeka, and Santa Fe. The family 

moved around some, because that role involved transfers from 
time to time. 

Hicke: Did you know him? 

Phelps: Yes. I knew him after he retired, but not during his working 

Hicke: Okay, so both of your grandparents on both sides were from 
around that area. 

Phelps: Yes, Midwesterners. 


Hicke: You spent the first eight or ten years or so of your life in 

Phelps: Right. I was in the middle of the third grade when my family 
moved. I attended the Hedge School in De Kalb County, which 
was a one-room, eight-grade school. And I transferred then in 
1935; we moved, as '35 was changing into '36, at Christmastime. 
Then I attended a two-room school in Coloradothree grades in 
each room, for a total of sixand then on to junior high. My 
background from an academic standpoint was definitely 

Hicke: But you got good schooling in those one-room schools? 

Phelps: I've never regretted it; I can affirm to that. And this 
getting to and from school on a horse was fun, too. 

Hicke: Oh, you went to school on a horse? You parked your horse in 
the schoolyard or whatever? 

Phelps: Yes. 

Hicke: Even in the winter would you ride? 

Phelps: Yes. Unless, you know, the roads were impassable. Actually, 
the school was on the diagonal section corner from my home, so 
I rode through ours and the neighbor's farm to get to school. 


How about brothers and sisters? 









I had a brother, and I have two sisters. The younger of my two 
sisters was, a matter of fact, just a year ago released after 
two and a half years with the Peace Corps in Guatemala. 

Is that right? You have a family of entrepreneurs and 
adventurers. Could you give me their names, your brother and 

My brother's name was John, and my oldest sister is Mary; she 
was born in 1919. My brother was born in 1920. The younger of 
my two sisters, Margaret, was born in 1921. 

Okay. And when you rode the horse to school, was that in 

No, Missouri. 

I lived right across the road from the school in 

So was this in Greeley or was it a small town outside of it? 

At that time, it was about a mile west of Greeley. Greeley has 
since grown up around it, but at that time it was out in the 
country, and then I had to bike ride from there to--at that 
time there was only one junior high school. It was grade seven 
through nine. 

And high school in Greeley? 


What kinds of things did you like in school in particular? 

I liked physics and chemistry a lot. I would say those were my 
favorite things. 

Did you have any teachers that were particularly influential or 

I think I had three at least, maybe four: my chemistry 
teacher, my physics teacher, my Spanish teacher, and my English 
teacher were all very important in my growing up and influenced 
my feeling about school, for sure. 

And your feeling about physics and chemistry, obviously. And 
also obviously, your family had many doctors, and so there was 
some interest in science perhaps from them? 

Maybe, but I don't recall that having been a particularly 
strong influence in my family, but since the professional 
influence was not at home so much- -it did influence my sister, 

Hicke : 

however, I think; she became a registered nurse after she 
graduated from high school. This was the beginning of World 
War II, and she was in the navy through World War II and based, 
as a matter of fact, at Mare Island. Then, of course, after 
her husband died five years ago, one of the first things that 
she decided to do after getting the idea of enlisting in the 
Peace Corps was to go back to school and become recertificated 
as a nurse. Then the opportunity to go further depended on her 
taking a course in Spanish, because apparently the main 
opportunity then was in Central America. So it became 
necessary for her to take a six-month crash course in Spanish, 
and she did that. 

And this was Margaret, you said. 

Family Life, Influences, and Activities 

Hicke: How about the influences of your parents and family traditions? 
What kinds of values did they set? 

Phelps: Well, my dad, I think, was very conservative, and probably was 
in some ways a greater influence on what I've done in my own 
business life through that emphasis on being conservative in 
his judgment. 

Hicke: Financially conservative? Is that what you mean? 
Phelps: He had had very serious financial problems-- 
Hicke: Sure, from the Depression. 

Phelps: He lost the farm twice. He had cattle and lost a farm in the 

early 1920s to begin with and then got a new start and lost out 
when there was a drought there in Missouri in the mid- '30s. 
And eventually he had to leave all that behind and start over 
again in Colorado. He was able to sell everything, but had to 
eventually start over again in Colorado. 

Hicke: So he was conservative financially. 

Phelps: Yes, having been through some very difficult times. 

I think my mother's influence was at least equal, but was 
more in terms of ethics; I'll never forget an inscription she 
put in a Bible for me. I can't quote it, but it had to do with 
the importance of being honest and adhering to the truth. "I 
have to be true..." Do you remember that little quotation? 




Hicke : 



It sounds familiar. 

I'm going to have to get it out and refresh my memory. "Dare 
to be true; nothing can need a lie. The fault which needs it 
most, grows two thereby." 

What kinds of recreational activities did you like? 
Well, with my dad I did both fishing and hunting. 
Colorado's a great place for that. 

Right. I lost my interest in hunting after growing up; at 
first I quit hunting deer out of the shock of killing deer the 
first time. Then within a matter of four or five years, 
although duck and goose hunting had been very important to me, 
I found that I didn't like that anymore either. So I haven't 
killed anything since my late twenties [chuckles] . 

Interesting how that changes, isn't it? 

It truly is. It's such an exciting thing, you know, when you 
first take that up and kid yourself that it's a sport. I can 
remember going out and hunting ducks in late afternoons in 
Colorado after carrying my paper route. Then a friend and I 
would get our shotguns and go out in the slough and shoot 
ducks. It was such an attraction to me at that time, and then 
one day the curtain dropped, and I didn't want to do that 

How about fishing? Did you keep that up? 

I kept on fishing while I was in Colorado. I've not done much 
fishing out here; I've fished out here in the lake a little bit 
once in a while. But that was a big, big thing to me. As a 
matter of fact, one of a number of entrepreneurial things that 
I did in junior high and high school was to tie flies and 
develop fishing lures, and we'll get into that later, I 

Yes, I was going to ask you about your work activities, but go 
ahead with your fishing. 

Well, that's about it. It was a big and interesting part of my 
life for a long, long time. And I just didn't stay with it. 

Did they have ice fishing in Colorado? 

Oh, I'm sure that they do in places, but fishing for me was 
pretty much a mountain trout, stream- type thing. Eventually, 


one progresses from fishing with bait to fishing with wet flies 
and then eventually to tying and fishing with dry flies. 

Hicke: Tying flies is quite an art form, I think, isn't it? 

Phelps: It probably is in that it can be creative, but for the most 
part it's copying a pattern and doing it well. Because when 
people go to buy a dozen flies, they want a Grey Hackle or a 
Royal Coachman or a substantially acceptable imitation of 

Hicke: Something familiar? 
Phelps: Yes. 

Hicke: They have a book that says you could use this fly for these 

Phelps: Right. And then when the sun goes behind the cloud, you should 
shift to this, and so on. 

Hicke: Like the wax on your skis and everything else; you develop 
these little requirements. 

Phelps: The right wine to serve at the table. 
Hicke: Oh, now that is important! [chuckles]. 

Well, speaking of wine, did your family drink wine? 

Phelps: No. In fact, my family really didn't they were not 

teetotalers, but they didn't keep alcohol in the house. If 
someone was coming over whom I guess they wanted to entertain 
with alcohol, my dad would go out to the store and buy a half 
bottle of this or a bottle of that, but it wasn't kept in the 

Hicke: I think that's pretty standard for the Midwest. I grew up in 
the Midwest too, and I don't know if we ever had any Mogen 
David, but I never had heard of anything else. 

Phelps: My mother got some Mogen David occasionally. 

Part-time Jobs 

Hicke: I was going to ask you about outside activities like work, and 
you said you had a paper route. When did that start? 




Well, actually, the Greeley Daily Tribune was a big part of my 
life when I was growing up in that I started as a substitute 
carrier when I was probably twelve or thirteen years old. 
Then, over a period of years, I had three different paper 
routes, and at the same time, got extra pay by doing things 
like wrapping the papers that were being pushed off the press, 
and then wrapped with a mailer. 

I became a counter; there were always two counters on a 
press like the one there. You take an armful of papers off the 
press and the carriers stand in line with a little slip of 
paper that gives the route number and the number of papers 
they're to get. This is handed to them by the subscription 
manager. So you count papers, like two at a time, until you 
get the right amount. And then, of course, if it's someone who 
has been helpful to you, you might slip in a couple of extra, 
and they can sell them on the corner, you know? You learned 
about politics that way [laughter]. 

And then for the last couple of years that I was working 
in the press room I alsothe expression was "carried kicks." 
Complaints would be phoned in that the paper was in the mud or 
the paper didn't get there, or the paper was thrown up on the 
roof, or those kinds of things that happen. So I would sit at 
the desk from like six o'clock in the evening. I would sit and 
take the calls that came in. I don't know how people knew 
this, but generally they had to call between five and seven, 
and there would be a list of kicks that the receptionist could 
handle. So I got there, and then I would take the calls from 
six to seven, and then go down with my list and get papers that 
had been stacked up at the press room, put them in my paper bag 
and ride all over town to replace the missing papers. It 
wasn't a very big town, you know? Well, it wasn't as bad as it 
sounds. I think there were probably at that time maybe sixteen 
thousand people living in the town. It's been long since then 
over fifty [thousand]. But it did usually take an hour and a 
half or so, depending on the weather; it could make you take a 
lot longer, because the weather always doubled the number of 

And made it harder for you to get around besides, 
get a chance to eat and sleep? 

Did you ever 

You know, I don't remember how that worked, but I did. I 
certainly did. I don't remember now when I used to have 
dinner, but I probably ate when I got home and before I did my 


Oh, you had homework to do besides! [laughter]. 


Phelps: Well, I'll have to admit that homework was never as demanding 
in my years as it was when my kids grew up and went to school. 
And I think probably even more so now. 

Hicke: You got it done during study period maybe? 

Phelps: I don't think we were that sophisticated in Greeley; I don't 
think there was a study period as such. 

Hicke: [laughter] How about people? Did you have some special 
friends that were particularly memorable? 

Phelps: Yes. I always had at least two or three boy friends. Didn't 
have any girlfriends to speak of; I didn't date until I got to 
college, and very little. But I was involved with one other 
friend, Harold Hinckley, in one of my entrepreneurial efforts, 
which was a print shop in his basement. And then I was 
involved with another friend who became my principal assistant 
in the fly tying business, and we had a number of other people 
working for us part-time, but 


Hicke: He was the number one guy that helped you with your fly tying 
business . 

Phelps: Yes. He kept the supplies going in two directions. But one of 
the interesting facets of running the Rocky Mountain Tackle 
Shop was 

Hicke: That was the name of your business? 

Phelps: Yes. And the cellophane bags that the lures went into, the 
cards that were cut out, on which the flies were mounted and 
sold half a dozen in a card, were all printed in the print shop 
which another friend and I owned. So we had graphics and the 
whole thing. 

Hicke: You were vertically integrated [laughter]. 

Phelps: One of the interesting things was that there was not an 
immediately available source of ingredients, which were 
somewhat rare and exotic materialsthe pelts and the feathers, 
peacock tails, and all kinds of paraphernalia that you needed 
to tie flies. There was a company in Wisconsin that sold all 
of this sort of thing through a great catalog, and I happened 
to have the only catalog in the county. So we would buy the 
materials and sell them to the people who wanted to tie flies 
for us, and then we would buy back the flies, giving credit for 
the supplies. 


Hicke: You had a cottage industry going. 

Phelps: Yes. Also, we foresaw the shortage coming on high-quality 

steel hooks after World War II broke out, and I bought enough 
hooks to get me through three years. Since hooks became 
impossible to find, that became a pretty good trading commodity 
as well. 

Hicke: I see the beginnings of your innovative wine career here. 
That's why I questioned, when you said your father was 
conservative, what kind of conservative, because I don't think 
all the innovations, the entrepreneurship that you've shown is 
really conservative. 

Phelps: Well, it is and is isn't. You shouldn't be an entrepreneur if 
you aren't disciplined in terms of trying not to spend more 
than you make, and that's how most entrepreneurial people end 
up in trouble; they don't start with a big enough nest egg or 
they overextend themselves in terms of budgeting their costs 
against their income. Making a profit is what it's all about. 

Hicke: So you combined the financial conservatism with a certain 
amount of risk-taking. 

Phelps: Well, that's true, but risk-taking has a bad name in terms of-- 
the rewards are ultimately available only to those who are 
willing to take some risk. 

Hicke: Well, buying up the iron hooks is a certain amount of risk. 

Phelps: Oh, no, not really, when you know there aren't going to be any 

Hicke: Well, yes, that's true. But then the war could have ended in a 
very short time, so there's a certain amount of risk involved. 
How did you happen to get the only catalog? 

Phelps: I was the only one that knew about it, and then I just didn't-- 
Hicke: Well, of course you wouldn't pass it around. 

Phelps: I read about the Herter catalog--Herter Manufacturing Company-- 
in some obscure magazine, sent away for it, and realized it was 
a real resource. 

Hicke: Was this at the same time you were working for the paper, that 
you were involved in these other- - 

Phelps: Yes. Well, there was a transitional period of time, and they 
all kind of overlapped between the ninth grade and eleventh 


grade, I guess. By the time I became a senior in high school 
the only continuing tie that I had with the newspaper was 
working in the print shop after school and on Saturdays as a 
printer's devil. That was really good background and good 
training in that I learned so much about graphics that helps me 
to this day to understand the balance of a printed page and 
things that you need to remember about matching and contrasting 
typefaces and so on, and the ability to do text alignment on 
the page was good background. But by that time I had pretty 
well wrapped up the other hobbies and extracurricular 
activities, since that took all my time. I also got my first 
car when I was a senior in high school and that changed my 
life, and I worked in a filling station, because that was a way 
of being able to get coupons so you could get war-rationed gas. 

Hicke: What kind of car was it? 

Phelps: A '36 Ford convertible. Black. 

Hicke: Did it have a rumble seat? 

Phelps: Yes. 

Hicke: And this was what year? Do you recall? 

Phelps: Yes, I bought it at the beginning of my senior year, which 

would have been 1944. It was a burden to some extent, because 
I was really saving as much as I could to go to college. 
Between my junior and senior year and again between my senior 
year and my freshman year of college, I had the opportunity to 
go to work for the U.S. Land Office as assistant cadastral 
engineer. All the men were off fighting the war, and even 
college kids were hard to come by for this field work of the 
Land Office. So they turned, literally, to high school kids to 
assist the one engineer and a crew of maybe six kids. 

We did surveys in case mines and surveys to reestablish 
metes and bounds in the Colorado Rockies . And then the last 
month of the second year, we were transferred up to finish the 
year out on the Powder River in Wyoming, and actually, on that 
experience three of us drove a truck from Pagosa Springs, 
Colorado, which is the southwestern part of Colorado, to 
Kaycee, Wyoming, which is north of Casper. But we were in 
Douglas, Wyoming, the night that VJ Day was celebrated. And 
then we spent the next day in Casper, which was just a ghost 
town, because of everybody celebrating. But that was the 
timing of the end of World War II and my wrapping up my career 
as a surveyor. 


Tell me how the car changed your life. 


Phelps: Oh, I became social. I became interested in doing things that 
I had just not had time for before. 





Higher Education 

Did you have any idea what you wanted to do with your life at 
this stage? 

Not really. There was a period of timewell, I guess I knew I 
wanted to study engineering but I didn't know what I was going 
to do with my degree if and when I got it. There was a period 
of time when I had some mixed feelings about continuing as an 
engineer and I was very much attracted to studying 
architecture. I did as a matter of fact go down and enroll at 
the University of Oklahoma and went through orientation week, 
and after one week, there was still time to get back to CSU 
[Colorado State University] and enroll for my junior year 
there, and I did. I just packed up in the middle of the night 
and checked out and moved back to Colorado. One of the things 
that influenced that decision was that they had started a 
construction management course that interested me. So I 
decided to go back to what was then Colorado A&M. You had me 
listed on the outline that you sent as University of Colorado, 
but I didn't go to Boulder, I went to Fort Collins, which was 
also a land grant school, then known as AggiesColorado A&M, 
which has since become Colorado State University, and which 
beat Colorado University at basketball last Friday night. 

[laughter] Well, I have two children who went to Colorado 
University and they're both living in Boulder. So we raised 
these Calif ornians that moved to Colorado. 

Oh, no, that's good. Best of all worldsto be able to live on 
your own property in both Colorado and California. I have a 
daughter and three granddaughters and a son-in-law living in 

Great town. 

Well, I guess I can wrap that theme up by saying that I've 
always had a real appreciation and interest in architecture. I 
think I probably could have done very well if I had become an 
architect. It's been a great source of satisfaction to be able 
to work with some wonderful architects through construction and 
development that I've been involved with in my life. Some of 
my very best friends are people who put their life into 










So you went to the University of Oklahoma for your freshman 
year, is that right? 

No, no, I would have had to transfer, because that was the 
beginning of my junior year that I went down there and then I 
didn't stay but one week. And before they closed registration 
back at A&M, I got in my car and drove all night and got back 
in time to re-enroll. 

Was there any other university that you were interested in 
going to when you were a freshman? 


You always knew you were going to go to Colorado State? 

It was really, you know, about the only thing available, 
because I think we all just considered that it took a lot of 
money to go to Boulder or a lot more than I had saved up. My 
dad, I don't know that he participated a lot in that decision; 
I think I just made up my mind to do that. And on the morning 
that I left, he drove me outside town, right past the city 
limits on the north, and dropped me off, and I had a suitcase 
and a little laundry box, a hard cardboard box with straps 
around it. And I hitchhiked to Fort Collins and found a place 
to sleep and got enrolled. And, you know, I didn't think 
anything about it at all; I didn't need or want anybody to be 
responsible for getting me to school. I compare that now with 
the way I see mothers going to take their daughters to college 
and staying with them and coming back for "Parents' Weekend" 
and all that. Things have changed. 

Things change, but also individuals differ, too. 
freshman, how did you like school? 

As a 

I liked school very well, and I began to grow up a lot. Well, 
I won't say grow up, because I didn't grow up until I went into 
the navy. But I began to become a little more socially 
oriented once I got to college. Another guy that I had only 
vaguely known from a neighboring town in high school and I 
applied together for a job that we eloquently called a 
"hasher." Houseboys at a sorority house. I got room and board 
there. We slept downstairs in the sorority house. So I spent 
my freshman year doing that, and it was great. It didn't 
interfere with the classes, and I think that maybe having that 
kind of a job may have made the difference between me really 
being able to have a normal life in college or to be penurious 
and not be able to have any fun doing anything. Because room 
and board is a pretty big item. 




That's a big chunk of your expenses. And you knew you were 

going to be an engineer before you went, 

or did that develop 

Hicke : 


Well, actually, I never really thought of myself, and still 
don't, as an engineer. For one thing, I don't have a degree in 
civil engineering, which is what I started out in. But when 
they opened the construction management school, I went to that 
one immediately, because not only was my dad in the 
construction business in a way, but I had spent a year between 
my sophomore and junior year in Denver working as an estimator 
for one of the major construction companies. I learned the 
estimating trade there, and I think that, plus going back and 
having the opportunity to take electivesthere were zero 
electives in those days in civil engineering; it took 120 hours 
and everything there, the closest you got to anything that 
wasn't straight engineering was a course in technical writing. 
And that was not an elective. When I switched to construction 
management, on the other hand, I had a number of electives that 
became available. I got a lot of good out of that. 

What did you take for your electives? 

Great Books, designthat was a home economics course; so you 
can imagine what the design was. A broad range of things: 
economics, business management, just a lot of things that I 
never would have been able to do from an engineering base. 

Your dad had never drafted you to work for him? 

No, actually, I think he wanted me to. He probably almost gave 
up on me then, when I went in the navy after I got out of 
school. When I first went before the draft board in January 
'46, they had essentially quit drafting people, but you still 
had to go have a physical. 

And then the Korean War started; it was really just 
moving into high gear about the time that I finally did 
graduate. In changing majors I also had to take an extra 
quarter, because I didn't get all my credits transferred. So I 
graduated in December 1950, and I had become married, and they 
were taking childless married men at a high priority. I was 
called up and reclassified, and I was going to be sent for a 
physical, and I decided that I really didn't want to--if there 
was some other alternativego into the army. There was a 
program available of DCS [Officer Candidate School] training 
with the navy in Newport, Rhode Island; I decided to take the 
physical, and if I passed it, then I knew I would pass the army 
physical and I had better do something about it, and I did. 
Two weeks later I took the scholastic test and passed that; 


within a matter of three months I was on my way to Newport. 
That meant a longer period of [service] time than to be drafted 
into the army and be out in two years. After OCS, it was three 
and a half years. But I decided I wanted to do it anyway, and 
I'm glad I did, because I matured a lot in those years. 

Service in the U.S. Navy 

Hicke: Let me go back. You said you went into the navy in '46? 

Phelps: No, no. I was called up for physical in January of '46, and 

this was after World War II was over, but they were still half 
heartedly drafting people, but I was classified 4-F. 

Hicke: When did you graduate? 

Phelps: December of '50. And then I was called up for the Korean War, 
I think it was February of '51. Then I enlisted in the navy 
and was called to Newport in July '51. 

Hicke: And that was OCS? 

Phelps: Yes. I graduated from that around the first of December, 

something like that, of that year. Then I was assigned to the 
USS Helena, which was a heavy cruiser in Long Beach and sent to 
a communications school. And while I was at that school in San 
Diego--! '11 never know how this happened, but I got transferred 
to an admiral's staff, who was the cruiser division commander, 
and his flag was on the same ship. So I didn't even change 
bunks, but I got a new boss. And then unfortunately, the 
cruiser division commander, once he got to the Korean War zone, 
which was in the Sea of Japan, and once you got there and the 
USS Helena was rotated back, the staff just went to another 
ship. So I went to the Bremerton and then finally to the 
Quincy; I was on three different cruisers for that admiral. 

Then, with a year to go, the navy did me the biggest 
favor of all time: they transferred me to the staff of the 
Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet [CINCPAC] at Pearl 
Harbor. By that time, I had a daughter who was nine months 
old. So I went to Pearl Harbor; that was a wonderful year, a 
wonderful year. 

Hicke: Let's back up a little. When did you get married? 
Phelps: September of 1950. 


Hicke: Could you give me your wife's name? 
Phelps: Her name was Barbara Babcock. 

Hicke: So you were in Pearl Harbor for a year or something like that? 
Phelps: Just a little over a year. My son came along- - 
Hicke: What's his name? 

Phelps: William Hensel. After we settled in there, been there a couple 
of months, then he was born in late August, and the navy would 
not transport a family back and forth until a baby was born and 
six weeks old. So I was assigned to another month of 
additional duty waiting for Billy to get old enough to fly back 
[laughter]. We got back in late October of "54. 




Phelps: I made up my mind at that time then to go into partnership with 
my dad, and of course he was chomping at the bit to get out. 
He had been expecting me to make up my mind one way or the 
other years before, but then the navy came along. He hung on 
to the operations and kept it going long enough for me to get 
back, and then as soon as we started up the partnership, almost 
immediately he went to southern California and bought a place 
and started to spend most of his time there and come back in 
the summers. He bought a place in the desert and didn't like 
to spend the summers there. He came back to Colorado for 
summers . 

By the beginning of 1957, we had decided to change the 
format so that he could eventually withdraw entirely. And so 
we incorporated the Hensel Phelps Construction Company, and he 
loaned me $40,000 to buy a half -interest, and he gave me an 
option on buying his half for that same price. So within a 
matter of a year and a half or so, I had been able to buy my 
dad out, and he was able to fully retire. 

Hicke: He patiently waited for you all that time. 

Phelps: Right, and made the process much simpler and facilitated the 
more rapid development of the company by having given me--in 
addition to a lot of good values, he had established an 
impeccable reputation and credit, so it just never was a 
problem to become established. 


Early Responsibilities 

Hicke: What were your challenges and responsibilities in taking over 
this business? That was quite a change from your previous 



Phelps: I don't know that I looked at it as a specific challenge, but I 
know that what would be the area of most significant growth was 
learning the principles of identifying the people that I 
wanted, needed to have to build a team with. Identifying the 
qualities and learning how to motivate and to help people 
develop their own skills and abilities. 

Hicke: Personnel management is a part of it. 

Phelps: Right. It's an ongoing process. Certainly some people have a 
greater gift than others for the ability to identify, 
communicate expectations, and set goals with other people, that 
sort of thing. For me it was kind of a trial-and-error 
process; I think I was fortunate in the quality and 
availability of people to associate with, and I think pretty 
much in two or three years I had developed the team that was 
important to me. That part of my lifethe years between 
getting back to civilian life and the time I turned fortywas 
undoubtedly the most productive time of my life. So much 
happened in that relatively short period of time. I was 
twenty-eight years old when I got back on the track, and by the 
time I turned I turned forty I pretty much had laid the 
groundwork for the rest. 

Hicke: That was a crucial decade. 

Phelps: I realize that it's only because I'm in the wine industry that 
I have the opportunity to be included in this history, but the 
circumstances of my earlier career not only influenced my 
decision making in the wine industry, but literally made it 
possible in an economic sense. Without question, I am indebted 
to dozens of people who contributed in one way or another to my 
successful years in construction, but I'd like to single out 
just three. I've already mentioned my father, Hensel Phelps, 
who left all of us in the company that bears his name the 
legacy of a solid reputation for integrity, fair dealing, and 
prompt discharge of all obligations. 

Above all the others, a man who has contributed most 
significantly to what I've done and have in my life todayboth 
as a business associate and as a paradigm of achievement- -is my 


successor in the construction business, Bob Tointon. Bob 
joined us in 1963 as a field engineer and earned his way 
quickly through the ranks to become, in 1965 or 1966, vice 
president for operations and then, in 1975, president of the 
company. He had, however, been virtually in charge of day- to 
day field operations from 1970 on. His attributes as a 
business leader were recognized by many other than myself in 
that he has served or still serves on such important regional 
boards as Bank One of Colorado, Mountain Bell, and Public 
Service Company of Colorado. He has been chairman of the 
Trustees of the University of Northern Colorado and very active 
in a number of worthwhile organizations, including the Boy 
Scouts of America. He is now chairman of Phelps- Tointon, Inc., 
which was formed in the reorganization of Phelps, Inc. in 1989 
to include all of the non-general contracting assets of the 
former holding company. 

The other contributor I wouldn't want to leave out of 
this history is Bob Ruyle, who was vice president and general 
counsel of Phelps, Inc. and its successor companies from 1969 
to 1993. I was seldom able to beat Bob in singles, but one of 
the few times I did was the afternoon that I suggested to him 
that he should consider closing his own law office, of which we 
were often a client, and join me in trying to bring order to 
the increasingly complicated challenge of dealing with 
government agencies, unions, and an ever more litigious 
society, as we developed into a nationwide contracting company. 
He has been a most valuable friend and associate and I owe a 
lot to Bob for the big part of his life that he put into the 
success of Hensel Phelps Construction Company. 

I'm going to let you take the lead and transition from 
here to the sort of thing you want to go into. 

Beginning Interest in Wine 

Hicke: You've already told me that one of the things you learned or 
had to learn was personnel management. Before we get to 
Souverain [winery] , is there anything else in this decade that 
impacted your wine career particularly? 

Phelps: Well, we haven't really touched on how my affection for wine 

began. That was actually back in the college days. One of the 
years I was in college I roomed with a fellow that had been in 
the Fifth Army Infantry in World War II; they landed at Anzio, 
and he was with that group that fought their way up the Italian 
peninsula and then over to Marseilles. They fought their way 










up the Rhone and crossed the Vosges Mountains into Alsace and 
obviously liberated a lot of fine wine. Sam had developed a 
very keen awareness of wine; he had actually grown up, which is 
sort of a rarity, in a home where fine wine was a part of life. 

What was his name? 

Sam Cooper. Through Sam, I became aware of what is good and 
learned a little about wine. And that experience was kind of 
one of the building blocks. I finally got around to spending a 
little time traveling and learning more about wine and food. 
Then in the mid-sixties, after I had established an office in 
Burlingame, I was here in the [Napa] Valley from time to time 
and began to experience the California wine country. I made an 
arrangement with the Compleat Winemaker here in Napa Valley to 
buy and ship grapes to Colorado, where I made wine in my 
basement. Not necessarily wonderful, but it was all right. 

What kind of grapes were you using? 

The first two years I did Cabernet [Sauvignon] and Zinfandel, 
and then one year I branched into Riesling and Chenin Blanc. 
But my whites were not as successful as the reds. So I had 
that little bit of a background. 

When did you start your office in Burlingame? 

In 1966. 

So you were coming out here trying to find-- 

Right . 

And didn't you plant some grapes also? 

I planted grapes in Colorado -- French hybrids that I bought 
from Philip Wagner in Maryland. That was a very difficult 
encounter with nature; northern Colorado is just too close to 
the Arctic Circle to really have viticulture. There is, of 
course, a burgeoning wine industry of sorts in Colorado, with 
some vinifera in the Grand Junction area. But I was in the 
wrong place, a few years before my time. 

Building the Souverain Winery (now the Rutherford Hill Winery) 

Phelps: There has long been a somewhat apocryphal version of our 
history that we came to California to build the Souverain 


Winery. Actually, we were already in California and had been 
for quite a few years. But even before I had set up an office 
in Burlingame, I had established a correspondent banking 
relationship with the Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco. This 
was before the days of "Money Market" funds. We developed a 
little homemade money market fund that involved wire transfer 
of payments from various Corps of Engineers Districts and 
headquarters of our national clients to the Wells Fargo, where 
the pooled funds would be invested and /or reinvested almost 
daily in short-term CDs, banker's acceptances, etc., to keep 
those dollars working for us during the days we were paid and 
the days on which we were committed to pay our sub-contractors. 

Our contact in the national division of the Wells Fargo 
was Adolph Mueller. In 1971 he and Fred Holmes, who was one of 
the original partners in the Robert Mondavi Winery, put 
together a plan to buy the old Souverain (which is now Burgess 
Cellars) from Lee Stewart, who had revitalized the facility in, 
I think, the "50s. Later on, of course, they elaborated on 
that plan to build another winery in the Alexander Valley and 
then sell the company to Pillsbury. 

Anyway, Bud Mueller was a little concerned about whether 
or not the job was big enough to attract enough contractors to 
have a totally competitive situation when they put the 
Souverain job out to bid, so he asked me, as a favor to him, if 
we would bid on the job. Our Pacific Division, based in 
Burlingame, was primarily involved in heavy construction, such 
as BART, Corps of Engineers, and Bureau of Reclamation work- 
bridges and structures, rather than building work- -but we 
decided to go ahead and take a look at his project on the 
theory we could transfer people here from Colorado if we were 
the successful bidder. His concern was well founded, because 
we didn't put together a really tough bid, but we were several 
thousand dollars under the second bidder and felt we could 
complete the project well ahead of schedule. There were some 
attractive bonuses offered for early completion also, so we 
transferred the people necessary and that was the construction 
of our first winery. 

Shortly after work commenced, Bud asked us to be the 
construction manager, overseeing both the design and 
construction of the Souverain plant at Geyserville, and work on 
that started late in 1972. That winery was ready for 
production in July of 1973, and Souverain Napa Valley started 
crushing in '72. 





























From left: 
Craig Williams, 
Joseph Phelps, 
chairman, and 
Bulmaro Montes , 
vineyard manager. 

From left: 
Tom Shelton, 
Joseph Phelps, 
chairman, and 
Craig Williams, 
vice president 
of production 
and winemaker. 




Locating the Property 

Phelps: Once we had a crew out here doing this kind of work, it 

probably contributed to my interest in going ahead and buying 
the ground and building a winery for myself, which I kind of 
always wanted to do but just hadn't been triggered. 

Hicke: So you were driving up here to the Napa Valley looking around 
at available vineyards? 

Phelps: Sure. I had fallen in love with this property earlier on 

because I am a farm boy, and I had experience with a couple of 
ranches in Colorado. Just the glimpse of the purebred Polled 
Herefords that Pat Connolly used to run on his ranch- -you could 
see them as you rode by on the Silverado Trail; you only get a 
little cameo shot of it between the knolls. I had really 
fallen in love with the property, and when it became available- 
-or at least the realtor that I worked with in San Francisco 
thought it might become available- -we put an offer in and ended 
up with the property. That was actually in January '73, and by 
March of '73 we had the property. 

I had previously owned property at the intersection of 
Silverado Trail and Zinfandel Lane, which I purchased from the 
Christian Brothers in 1972. Our plans involved a smaller 
winery at the foot of a small knoll on the property facing the 
beautiful, old, double-vaulted bridge over the Napa River. 
This location, as a matter of fact, influenced our choice of 
names when we first incorporated our business as "Stone Bridge 
Cellars." We had filed for a use permit on that property, and 
the final hearing was going to be the last Tuesday of January, 
as I recall, of 1973. The afternoon of the day that the permit 
was to have its final hearing, we got word that we were going 
to be able to buy this property. I put that permit on holdin 
abeyanceand then I eventually began to repeat the process 


here on this property, which was big enough to have a lot more 

Hicke: How many acres was it? 

Phelps: Fifteen. Down on Zinfandel. 

Hicke: Oh, that's the earlier piece, but how many did you buy here? 

Phelps: Oh, just a little over six hundred. 

Hicke: And there was nothing of a vineyard here? 

Phelps: Not a grape on the property. Lots of nice-looking cattle. 

Hicke: What happened to those? They left with the sale of the 
property, or did you buy those, too? 

Phelps: Actually, Pat had sold his herd the year before, when he had 
been diagnosed with terminal bone cancer in '72. They had a 
nationally advertised, very successful sale of his herd here, 
and so it was only a matter of time until the land would 
probably become available also. I got to know him through 
negotiations; a wonderful guy. He lived on for a few months 
after we bought the property, but he was never able to come up 
and look at it. 

Hicke: Did you investigate the suitability for grapes? 

Phelps: Not really well. I had two people come on the property with me 
before I closed the deal, one of whom was Ivan Schock, who 
passed away a month ago and whose service was a couple of weeks 
ago. Ivan was an associate of Fred Holmes and a longtime 
vineyard manager operating in the Napa Valley. Ivan had come 
on the property and said grace over it, although he gave me, I 
think, some good advice that I should also be looking for some 
different soil on a different location for Cabernet, which we 
eventually did. He correctly predicted that this would not 
necessarily be a number one Cabernet location. We also had 
Andre Tchelistchef f look at the land before planting started. 

Hicke: You were looking for Cabernet, or-- 

Phelps: Oh, actually we weren't focused on Cabernet; we were looking at 
the possibility of having two varieties, and of course it 
turned out to be even more than that that we were interested 
in. This, interestingly enougheven though the soil wasn't 
that well drained, and it was probably not exactly the right 
climate for Cabernet- -we thought it was a superb red wine 
location, and so we committed pretty heavily to Zinfandel and 


Phelps : 


some Cabernet, but there was still some prime acreage left 
uncommitted in '74. We were trying to decide what we would 
plant where. 

Actually, that was '74, because in '73 we had to build a 
reservoir and weren't ready to plant this part of the property. 
We planted down by the river in '73, but this was in mid-summer 
of '74; we still hadn't totally decided on what we were going 
to do here. I wanted to find the answerwhat I thought would 
be an ideal red grape location and suggested to Walter that we 
should find out what would be required to- -Walter Schug was our 
first winemaker--to bring in Syrah, which had been a favorite 
wine of mine, Cote Roti and Hermitage. So he called and spoke 
with Professor [Harold] Olmo at [University of California] 
Davis as to what would be involved and how long it would take 
to get materials available for propagation. And he said, 
"Well, you don't have to do that at all; I did that for you in 

There was a vineyard just across the river from 
Zinfandel, which was owned by Christian Brothers, the Wheeler 
Ranch. They still had ten acres of the true French Syrah that 
was the only survivor in the state from the experimental 
propagation that Olmo had done in 1935. Then in 1946- - 
someplace in there, '48- -he had to take Syrah out of the 
experiment station. And so he talked the Christian Brothers 
into moving it over to the Wheeler property. They had never 
done a varietal Syrah, and these grapes ended up in their red 
burgundy program. So we were able to buy ten tons of the fruit 
and all the budwood that we wanted. And it's in that year that 
we started our Syrah program. 

Now this is where you really were a pioneer, so I want to go 
back a little bit to talk about some of those things. First of 
all, tell me how you knew Walter Schug and how you got 
interested in Syrah. 

Okay, well, let's go back to Walter. In the process of working 
with the management of Souverain and particularly designing and 
making plans for the Geyserville operation, Bill Bonetti, who 
had been with [Charles] Krug [Winery], was selected by 
Souverain to be the winemaker at the property in Geyserville. 
When I knew for sure that I was going to buy this property, I 
got in touch- -well, actually, it was even when I was working on 
the design for the property on Zinfandel. And so it was before 
'73, late '72, I interviewed two or three winemakers, including 
Joe Cafaro, who was then assistant winemaker at Chappellet 
[Winery] . Gino Zepponi was involved a little bit in my 
conversations, but Bill Bonetti recommended Walter Schug. And 
as soon as I met Walter, I realized that this was probably the 


right move for us to make. He consulted with us on the 
Zinfandel Lane property with the understanding that if we went 
ahead with it, he would come to work. Then, he actually did. 
His first day with us was the day we took possession of this 
ranchthe first of March in '73. 

Walter was very, very good at the planning steps and 
equipping the winery. 

Hicke: He had a German background, right? 

Phelps: Absolutely. Walter's father was the regisseur at Staatsweingut 
Assmanshausen, which is the only one of the nine state-owned, 
formerly church-owned, wine estates in Germany, that made red 
wine. They grow Spatburgunder, which is actually Pinot Noir. 
Kind of pink, but they're awfully close to the Arctic Circle 
for red wine [laughter]. 

So Walter had grown up on a wine estate in Germany and 
had gone to Geisenheim and was a natural for this job. After 
Walter had left Germany, he worked for a bottling company in 
London, and then eventually came to the States and worked for 
one or two large producers in the Central Valley before 
connecting with Gallo [Winery). He moved to St. Helena as 
Gallo's wine country representative for quality control in the 
wineries that they bought product from, most notably Frei 
Brothers, which they eventually bought out. Also the two co 
ops here in St. Helena, the Napa Valley Co-opwhich only 
recently closed its doors and then the North Co-op, or the 
Little Co-op, as it was known. It had ceased to be a viable 
winemaking facility by '72. However, it is very much alive 
now- -completely rebuilt by new Japanese owners, and is known as 
Markham Winery. In Sonoma County, Walter operated as Gallo's 
representative with regional growers and also did quality 
control work, in addition to Frei Brothers, for Martini & Prati 
as well as Seghesio. 

Hicke: He had a lot of different things. 

Phelps: Yes. Walter was interested in eventually having his own 

winery. In 1980 we helped him with a three-year phaseout 
actually, it was a five-year plan that we worked out to do it 
in three- -to start his own winery in partnership with Jerry 
Sepps and has long since built his own winery over on Bonneau 
Road in Sonoma County. 

His efforts continued to be important to us in the sense 
that in 1976 Walter had had one other assistant winemaker but 
in 1976 he hired Craig Williams as assistant winemaker, and by 
1980 Craig was pretty much responsible for red winemaking. 


Then in 1983, when Walter went full-time into his own winery, 
Craig took over all production control, including vineyard 
operations, and the wines have been over his signature ever 

Hicke: I also see his influence in your German wines, but I don't know 
whether you want to talk about that or get back to the-- 

Phelps: There's no question that Walter's input had an awful lot to do 
with the prominence of Riesling as one of this winery's 
important wines. Interestingly enough, that doesn't come from 
his own family's estate, but rather from his father-in-law who 
was an important wine negotiant in Wachenheim, in the 
Palatinate. So that we had a lot of input on our Riesling from 
the Rheinpfalz rather than the Rheingau. 

I think that will take care of that part of it for now. 
Syrah was important- - 


Phelps: The Syrah grape was obviously something waiting to happen in 
California, and it had been important in California in the 
nineteenth century, although to our best knowledge and belief, 
it was never commercially bottled and sold as a varietal. But 
we only know for sure going back to pre-Prohibition, and as far 
as we can tell, our 1974 Syrah was the first commercially 
bottled and labeled Syrah wine, although some Syrah wines were 
being made but they were being blended. 

Our confidence in Syrah, which has eventually been 
vindicated, was based primarily on the fact that it is such a 
noble variety in France and relatively rare. But you may 
recall that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the 
British market, particular Bordelais wines that were from a 
relatively insignificant year, or a less than important year, 
would command a much higher price if they could claim to be 
"Hermitaged." What that expression meant was that the estate 
had brought barrels of Syrah from the Rhone and blended it with 
the Bordeaux varieties of the estate. That made up the middle 
body and extractive elements that were lacking in a less than 
wonderful year. So there was a lot of background for that. 
And of course in Australia, Shiraz is one of the finest and 
most expensive wines of a number of the old-time producers, 
particularly the wines of Penfolds, La Grange Hermitage. I 
bought some the other day, and even the '92 is almost $100 a 
bottle. But that's a blend of Syrah and Cabernet. 

Hicke: Where did your interest in Syrah come from? 


Phelps: Just from having collected Cote Rotie's and Hermitage of 

several producers, primarily Guigal and Chave, and enjoying 
them--wines from the fifties and sixtiesand wondering why you 
couldn't find this grape in California. Then we finally did. 
But I will have to say that the clone that Dr. Olmo had worked 
with in '35 and '36 is not the very best of the available 
clones, and we're experimenting now with three or four other 
clones. More particularly, we're learning that the cooler 
growing regions are more likely to develop a Syrah of more 
intense varietal character. 

Hicke: On that hill over there-- 

Phelps: That's Syrah, and that's been pretty good. The hillside's 
better than the valley floor. 

Hicke: Because of the importance of cooling? 

Phelps: Better drainage, and it's a little cooler up on the hillside at 

In 1985 we planted a one-acre experimental plot of Syrah 
on one of our Stag's Leap properties. Unfortunately, this 
planting has since been the victim of phyloxera and has been 
replaced by Cabernet. From it, we were able to confirm the 
affinity of Syrah for a cooler growing region and subsequently, 
in '90, we planted some Syrah in Carneros, and this has 
provided us with additional valuable data. 

Hicke: Is that because of climate or soil? 
Phelps: Climate. 

Hicke: Didn't I read someplace that you traveled through the Rhone 
district of France, or was that later? 

Phelps: Actually my first trip to France included a trip through the 
Rhone Valley, but that was several years before buying this 
ranch. You may be associating my interest in those wines with 
the fact that I've owned a home in the Luberon for several 

Hicke: Yes, I didn't know which came first: your travels in the Rhone 
Valley or your interest in the Rhone wines. 

Phelps: I started looking for a farmhouse in Provence in '85, but I 
didn't find what I wanted until "89, so that's relatively 
recent. We started making this wine in '74. 



Hicke: Yes. And you had primarily just tasted it; you hadn't been to 
the Rhone area. 

Phelps: Oh, yes. I had been there, going back into the early 

seventies. In your correspondence you asked about our early 
work with Viognier, and that has been a long, hard, slow battle 
propagating Viognier to the point where we could really develop 
significant quantities. But our interest in Viognier, at the 
outset in the mid -seventies, was not as a varietal; we were 
interested in Viognier because in Cote Rotie that's allowed or 
expected to be a major contributor up to 20 percent; may be 
blended with Syrah, as is Marsanne in Hermitage. So we, in 
order to try to get some grace into the Syrah, which was a very 
forward brute, in '82, we got our first budwood. Up until that 
time, we had been experimenting with blending Chenin Blanc and 
Grenache with Syrah, small lot experimentation. We had co- 
fermented with Grenache; we just hadn't found the right 
blender, and that's what led us to Viognier. 

It took a long time to get our Viognier production up to 
the place where it was more than just experimental, and by that 
time there was so much demand for the Viognier, as a varietal, 
and since we had not particularly developed the right answer on 
blending it with Syrah, so we diverted in that direction. But 
so far, we're finding that there are other things that we can 
do in the vineyard that are more productive and more helpful to 
us in getting the Syrah where we would like to have it. 

More on Syrah 





And, quite coincidentally, the Wine Spectator, on November 15, 
gave us a nice 92 [rating] on the '92 vintage. 

That is impressive. 

Pretty hard for a red wine to get in the '90s with all the 
Cabernet and Pinot Noir competition. 

That's true. [Looking at magazine] Maybe I can get a copy of 

Phelps: You can have that. 


CANADA S3.95/39ffA2.SO DEC. 15, 1995 

_^ .__ -.- /^^ CANADA S3.9V3WA2.MJ Ult. l>, WS 

Wine Spectator 

Highly Recommended 




PHELPS VINEYHUDS (y2yJ S1 Ht ' l x * tAll>ollvl4 


92 Joseph Phelps Syrah Napa Valley Vin du Mistral 

1 992 Intense and tightly wound, with a ripe, complex 
core of pepper and currant flavors. It picks up an earthy, 
oaky tone on the finish before the tannins clamp down. 
Given its weight, it has a remarkably smooth texture at 
mid-palate. 500 cases made. 


Hicke: Thanks. Is there anything else about the Syrah that you can 

tell me, about the development of clones and how that went and 
who worked on it? 

Phelps: Well, Craig has done all the work on the Syrah clones. 

Actually, I would defer to him on an informational basis. The 
U.C. [University of California] Davis sources really refer to 
only about three different clones , some of which are called 

Hicke: It's the same grape? 
Phelps: It is the same grape, right. 
Hicke: But there's a Syrah and Shiraz. 

Phelps: Well, the original name for Syrah was Shiraz, and that's what 
it's called in Australia. 

Hicke: I thought you said there was a clone by that name. 
Phelps: There's a Shiraz clone, yes. 

I don't think that I've got an awful lot more to this 
particular point. 

Hicke: How about marketing the Syrah? 

Phelps: Well, it was a real struggle. I came into the wine business 
with the misconception that there would be an advantage to be 
the only one to be a pioneer and be able to say, "We're the 
only house that makes Syrah." That just isn't the case, and I 
learned the hard way: it's much easier to sell Syrah now that 
there are twenty or twenty- five wineries making a Syrah. So we 
sort of broke our pick on Syrah in the early years. It was a 
pretty good wine, but people didn't know what it was. And then 
there was the confusion with wine made from the unrelated 
California Petite Syrah. The wine in the early years wasn't 
always that ready to drink at the time it needed to be sold. 
It's a very, very surprising ager, though, and the more 
difficult vintages that we thought were going to be a problem 
for us--ten years later, they just taste wonderful. It's a 
wine that doesn't always have instant charm. 

Hicke: I guess in today's wine drinking public, people are looking for 
instant charm. 

Phelps: And yet even that is not always easy to market, depending on 
how it's designatedas a varietal or as a proprietary blend. 
We have a very, very wonderful blend of Rhone wines called Le 


Mistral. It's just an absolutely delightful, engaging wine, 
and it's ready to drink, you know, two years after the harvest. 
And it is a Chateauneuf du Pape style. Wonderful, wonderful 
wine. In fact, I'll give you an interesting article that was 
just out last week or the week before from Mike Dunn of the 
Sacramento Bee, in which he was very, very complimentary of the 
wine, and he gave it a 93. But he's also spending half of his 
article talking about how* difficult [it is to sell], and this 
came as a surprise to him to find out that we still have a lot 
of wine that we released in September, because he thought it 
would be all sold out within a matter of weeks after it was 
released. But this is not an easy wine to sell because people 
are very inclined to want to see a variety on the label. It's 
an educational process that goes on and on and on, to get them 
to try a blend. Once they try it, they love it. 

Hicke: I want to go back to the Meritage-type wines a little bit 
later, but let me first back up and ask about building the 
winery. That was right along your line of business; I trust 
you had a major hand in it. 

Phelps: Interestingly enoughand I guess this probably reinforces the 
idea that Souverain was that important to usthe architectural 
concept for the building was done by John Marsh Davis, who was 
the design architect although he didn't do the working 
drawings of the two Souverain wineries. So it was natural, 
when I had really fallen in love with his style, to have him do 
this one for us in 1973. And I'm sure you'll notice the 
similarity, particularly between this winery and Rutherford 
Hill in the use of redwood and the trellising. 

Hicke: Yes, it ' s a really lovely building. How long did that take, 
and what were the special challenges in building it? 

Phelps: Well, we had a bad winter in '73 and couldn't continue 

construction. We built a road and started the foundation in 
the fall of '73. We were relatively late in the year, because 
the timing of our application for a use permit here coincided 
with about the most stringent use permit requirements, land use 
requirements of the last twenty years. It was a six-hundred 
acre ranch, but it didn't make any difference whether we were 
planting vines in a given place or whether a winery was going 
to be built; we still had to have the bird count and the 
archeological exploration and all that sort of thing for the 
entire six hundred acres. It was just one frustrating process 
after another to get the use permit cleared for this, so it was 
really like, I think, the end of September before we could 
start. So we were only, like, finished with the foundation and 
beginning the substructure when the rains of November shut us 
down in '73. We remained shut down until it was mid-April of 


The Sacramento Bee 

November 29, 1995 


By Mike Dunn 

When I find a wine I like, and which 
I suspect has a story to tell, the first 
thing I ask the winemaker is whether 
it's still available. To write favorably 
of a wine no longer on the market is 
to invite angry phone calls from irri 
tated consumers. 

Initially, therefore, I was relieved to 
learn that of the 6,900 cases of the 
1993 Le Mistral ($15) that Craig Will 
iams made at Joseph Phelps Vineyards 
in the Napa Valley, some 5,700 cases 
remain in the winery's cellars. 

Upon further reflection, however, I 
was mystified that so much of this 
extraordinary wine has yet to be sold. 

Though the wine was released only 
in September, there's simply no rea 
son why it shouldn't be flying off store 
shelves. The proprietary name Le Mis 
tral, after all, is taken hopefully from 
the wind-/e mistral-lhzt whips across 
France's Rhone Valley. 

Well, there is a reason. Americans 
prefer their wines as varietals-Char- 
donnay, Pinot Noir and the like-and 
are wary of blends that bear propn- 
etary names. Even though the folks at 
Phelps have done their darnedest to 
explain that Le Mistral was inspired 
by a grand old French tradition the 
blending of several Rhone Valley grape 
varieties in the mighty and honorable 
wine Chateauneuf-du-Pape- American 
bibbers still seem inexplicably reluc 
tant to get with the program 

If they just would take one sip of 

the '93 Le Mistral, they'd recognize that 
here is a wine whose impact is greater 
than the mere sum of its parts, and 
they quickly would move beyond their 
pro- varietal bias. 

Seven different grape varieties go 
into the wine The three principal ones 
are Grenache (54 percent), Mourvedre 
(23 percent) and Syrah (13 percent), 
all major players in the southern 
Rhone Valley Supporting roles are 
played by two other Rhone varieties, 
Cinsault and Carignane, and two vet 
eran California workhorses, Alicante 
Bouschet and Petite Sirah. 

The upshot is a marvelously har 
monious wine that captures the youth 
ful raspberry fruitiness of the Gren 
ache and rounds it out with the 
pluminess of the Mourvedre and the 
jamminess of the Syrah The bit play 
ers help provide structure, softness 
and color, adding up to a wine that 
while sturdy nonetheless crosses the 
palate with uncommon grace-round 
in feel and long in flavor 

Food suggestions: Craig Williams 
likes the wine with grilled chicken and 
vegetanan pastas heavy with tomato 
sauce, olive oil and garlic 


'74. Then we had no problem getting the winery complete enough 
for the crush in "74 and that was our first crush year. 

We did make wine in '73: Pinot Noir, Cabernet, and 
Johannisberg Riesling. The Cabernet and the Riesling were made 
at Souverain, and the Pinot Noir was made for us by Joe Heitz, 
who took us in out of kindness and because we had extra Pinot 
Noir [grapes] that he wanted. So he took half of our grower's 
Pinot Noir and made Pinot Noir for us that year. And when I 
say he made it, that's kind of the way it was, whereas at 
Souverain, Phil Baxter was the one making it. He had come to 
Souverain from- -he also had been at Krug under Bill Bonetti. 
He had been there for the "72 opening harvest at Souverain, and 
then "73 was his second harvest and our first. He was totally 
open to letting Walter call the winemaking shots . That was 
particularly appropriate, because of the coinciding of the fact 
that nobody had really made a Spatlese-style Riesling, except 
Wente [Brothers Winery] had done a little bit two or three 
years earlier. But the world was ready for a California 
Riesling that was off -dry. Walter consulted with his father- 
in-law and got it made just that way, and that became our style 
for a number of years. 

Hicke: Well, that's another major innovation. 

Phelps: It was almost a first, let me put it that way. And then, 

interestingly enough, tastes changed and by 1977 it was time to 
do a kabinett-style Riesling, and we called it "Early Harvest." 
Grapes were brought in at twenty, twenty and a half, or twenty- 
one, and made in a drier style. That was never as popular as 
the regular Spatlese-style Riesling. At one point we made 
sixteen thousand cases of dry and off-dry Riesling wine and two 
thousand cases of sweet. It was a big component of our total 
production. Then almost as suddenly as it began, the American 
palate moved away from that sort of thing, and it became very 
difficult and we gradually withdrew from the growing of 
Riesling. We have a contract with a grower in Anderson Valley 
that cooperates with us to achieve a botrytis condition so that 
we can bring those grapes in for a much heavier must-weight 
wine. Unfortunately, in the last two years, the vineyard 
hasn't been able to become fully botrytized; we have not had 
the Beerenauslese or Trockenbeerenauslese level that we would 
like. So we're settling for just an Auslese or a late-harvest 

Hicke: How about marketing that? Was that a challenge? 

Phelps: Well, it was a challenge when we made lots of the wine. It's 
not a problem now. Oh, you're referring to the dessert wine. 








Right. The Rieslings in general, I mean, each one. 

Well, the sweeter the Riesling is, the less of it, of course, 
we produce and the easier it is to market, because there is a 
demand for the very sweet botrytized wine. 

Is there? So that wasn't difficult. 

No, we've never had a problem selling the higher must-weight 

But the Spatlese I was just asking about the early dry 
Rieslings, which were not very well known in California. 

The early harvest. 

When I said early, I meant the first ones you did. 
the kabinett-style. 

But also 


I'm going to say that particularly the wines and the style of 
'73 through '76 were in great demand. That style continued to 
be in great demand until maybe 1986 or '87. It's in the '80s 
that we built the level of production up to sixteen thousand 
cases of that style wine. The early harvest was drawn along, I 
think, and the style of the other wine didn't really change but 
it became less sweet. At one point, the residual sugar in our 
Spatlese- style wine was as high as 2 1/2 percent, and it 
finally settled back down to around 1 1/2. That seems to be 
where those people who like that style of wine now are most 

I'm not sure that I'm answering your question, but I 
think the biggest single factor, when you get right down to it, 
is an increase in the sophistication of the buyer and the 
tendency to move away from semi-sweet wine or off-dry wine on 
the one hand, and then the tremendous popularity of Chardonnay 
--paradoxically, the take-off of Chardonnay really came in the 
early '80s when wineries beganand some people say as a 
consequence of stuck fermentations, but people began to leave 
residual sugar, above the threshold, in Chardonnay as high as 
.8; that's been, I think, the driving force behind the 
popularity of Chardonnay as a fighting varietalthe amount of 
sugar left in them. So the masses like off -dry Chardonnay, 
maybe, a lot better than they ever liked off -dry Riesling. And 
who knows: Chardonnay, it's is easy to say, is a cult of the 
tongue . 

It's interesting to me that you said you made a range of 
residual sugars and changed ityou know, you went up and then 


back. How did you get the feedback? 
people are wanting? 

How do you know what 

Phelps: We monitor restaurant sales very carefully and very closely and 
are guided a lot by that. We certainly pay attention to wine 
critics, and we're influenced by that, in a subject of that 
nature. How else will you know what the public, what the 
consumer wants? 

Hicke: Well, it would take years to figure out what percentage is 

buying a little more of this or a little more of that because 
of a little more sugar or a little less sugar, so that's why I 

Okay, I'm not sure that we ever got the winery built, but 
it did happen eventually [laughter). 

Phelps: Well, we were ready for the crush in September of '74. After 
the harvest, we finished the rest of the building and so on, 
and we occupied this level in January of '75. 


Hicke: How did you make decisions about equipment, and what did you 

Phelps: We were definitely influenced by the movement toward stainless 
steel and temperature-controlled fermentation. We came at the 
right time to be part of that movement. We were prior to the 
availability of the new wave of crushers, for instance; we 
accepted pretty much fifty-year-old technology in our original 
Healdsburg crusher. 

Hicke: Is that the Healdsburg Machinery Company? 

Phelps: Right. We were still a few years away from automated, very 
sophisticated, programmable presses, although we moved into 
that within a matter of three or four years after we opened. 
We had a certain amount of trial and error; we didn't plan the 
winery for enough intermediate oak, for instance, and we were 
lacking in capacity to move wine back from small to appropriate 
intermediate-oak aging prior to bottling. We didn't have 
enough intermediate oak to do wines that we didn't want to go 
into small oak barrels, like Sauvignon Blanc, for instance. So 
that gave birth to the need for the addition that you 
undoubtedly went through today, which went on in '78, what we 


Phelps : 




call the Oval Room. It's where all the array of German ovals 


In '78 I was out working with a surveyor staking out the 
addition. It was going to be the entire length of the north 
wing, but it was only going to be wide enough to permit the 
ovals, which are about eight feet, plus another eight for a 
corridor that pumps and filter presses and hoses could be moved 
back and forth in. And I realized that I was missing an 
opportunity: for a very little additional expense, we could 
put another eight feet in the width and have a room big enough 
to accommodate the ovals , but also have space where we could 
set up tables for tasting or entertaining. So that room became 
what it is as a afterthought to the original design, and we 
just kicked the wall out another eight feet and made a multi 
purpose room out of it. And, of course, then that required 
adding a kitchen, so that we could have catered events or cook- 
in events there. So that opened in '79. 

That table is just spectacular. 

The kitchen table? 

That one too, but the one in the Oval Room. 

Oh, that belongs to Belle and Barney Rhoades. That had been in 
their home in Piedmont, and when they moved to their home here 
in Bella Oaks they gave that to me on a long-term, no-charge- 
for-storage basis [laughter]. They've since told me that it 
should stay here forever, but it is gorgeous, isn't it? It 
fits in beautifully; it gives the entire room a different 

It's a work of art. 

Who made the decisions on the equipment? 

Most of the decisions were recommended to me by Walter in the 
'70s, and Craig since. I don't know that we've ever bought a 
piece of equipment without it being mutually agreed upon 
between the people that have to use it in the production 
department and the manager of production and the people who 
have to find a way to pay for it. It's been a--I don't want to 
say a committee decision, by any means, but participatory. 


And what about the decisions on cooperage? 
the sizes, but the kinds 

You told me about 


Phelps: Well, interestingly enough, cooperage is frequently influenced 
by availability. The wish list is invariably compiled by Craig 
and Damian and the people in the lab who are responsible for 
measuring results and so on. Interestingly enough, the wish 
list isn't always fulfilled entirely in that the amount of 
toast or the forest or the tonnellerie that's going to supply 
may not have as much as we need or may not be able to supply 
our need in the time frame that we would have to work with. 

Hicke: How about American versus French oak and that kind of thing? 

Phelps: Well, we're experimenting with combinations of the two. There 
are unquestionably places where the American oak is very 
adequate and there might even be places where it has its 
advantages . So we ' re open-minded on that , although 
particularly with our Insignia, we're pretty dedicated to the 
idea of using new French oak. 

Vineyard Management 

[Interview 2: December 12, 1995 ]tt 


Hicke: Let's start this morning with some discussion about the vineyard 
management. First of all, can you tell me how you acquired your 
vineyards? You mentioned the one right here, but I know you have 

Phelps: Well, the home property was of course the first to be developed. 

We did the flat- lying acres on the valley floor first, and then in 
subsequent years, each year we would go farther back in the hills, 
and we eventually developed about 170 acres here, of which about 
70 was hillside and 100 acres was more similar to valley floor. 
This occupied us up through 1978, and then in '79 we made our 
first acquisition, which was a fifty-acre vineyard that we had 
been buying grapes from. It's halfway between Yountville and 
Napa--from the Jesse Stanton Estate. 

Hicke: Did it have a name? 

Phelps: It has a name that we're just getting used to. We are now re 
naming our various vineyards with Spanish names to honor the 
people who make the vineyards productive for us. What was the 
Stanton vineyard will become the Renaciemento--Renaissance-- 

Hicke: Will that be on a label? 

Phelps: No. That will be an internal designation. That particular 

vineyard was half planted to old standard vine and half planted in 
1968 to a combination of Pinot Noir and Riesling, and that was the 
original source of our Johannisberg Riesling and more particularly 
the Riesling that was successfulabout two years out of threein 
having botrytis infection; so that we thought the location was 
worth eventually owning ourselves . Only this last year have we 
finally taken out all the Riesling and converted that vineyard to 
other varieties, including Merlot and some Viognier. It's one of 
the more important vineyards in our down-valley operation. 

In 1983, we were successful in following on with a thirty- 
five-acre vineyard in Stag's Leap, which is almost entirely 
Caberneta little bit of Merlot; at the same time, we bought and 
redeveloped in the mid-eighties a thirty- five acre vineyard on 
Manley Lane, which is on the Rutherford Bench southwest of the 
town of Rutherford. It's a well-drained, beautifully situated 
Cabernet vineyard which we call Banca Dorada. Unfortunately, that 
was one of our first vineyards to be attacked by phylloxera. So 
we're in the process of replanting that, and it's about half 
replanted at this point. We pulled everything out in '83, and 
originally planted it in '84 and '85. Then we began to replant it 
in '90; it didn't last very long. 

Hicke: It was on A x R #1? 

Phelps: Yes, most of it all but five acres. 

Hicke: Are you now using several different rootstocks? 

Phelps: Yes. For one thing, we're at least twenty years away from having 
all the answers on this subject. Beyond that, we need several 
different selections in order to meet variables such as depth and 
composition of soils, drainage, water-holding capability, and 
intended varietal scion. Interestingly enough, when we planted 
rootstock in Banca Dorada in the mid-eighties, we had about five 
acres which we committed to disease-resistant stock 
experimentally. We did not do this for disease resistance, we did 
it because we were experimenting with devigoration limiting 
productivity to learn about the impact of devigoration on wine 
quality. It Just so happens that this experiment turned out to be 
very timely in that it resulted in five acres that did not need to 
be replanted. 

Hicke: Really? So that actually was phylloxera-resistant, 
what rootstock that was? 

Do you know 


Phelps: Well, actually there were several, but the two primary ones making 
up the five acres consisted of about two acres of 110R and a 
little over three acres of what was called S04 when we planted it 
but turned out to be 5C. In the same vineyards we also planted a 
number of other rootstocks for the purpose of annually collecting 
and weighing cuttings to learn about their effect on canopy or 
foliage yield. 

Then we followed in '86 with another small vineyard adjacent 
to our Stag's Leap Vineyard. It was planted to Merlot and 
Cabernet but suffered from both phylloxera and eutypa and has 
gradually been replanted on resistant rootstock, close-spaced. 
Then in "89 we purchased a vineyard in Carneros, almost on the 
Bay, on Milton Road. It has been planted primarily to several 
clones of Chardonnay and some other varieties experimentally, 
including Syrah. 

Hicke: Do all of these vineyards now have Spanish names? 

Phelps: Yes. The one I just mentioned in Carneros is Los Carneros Negros 
--the Black Sheep. The Stag's Leap vineyards are called Las 
Rocas, and the Rutherford vineyard is called Banca Dorada--Gold 

Hicke: You also have a vineyard in Monterey. 

Phelps: Well, we are developing vineyards in Monterey, right. The one 

Napa vineyard that I didn't mention is one we have on a long-term 
lease, which is the Bacchus Vineyard; it's on a red soil hillside 
on the east side of the Silverado Trail near the Oakville 
crossroad. That's the only vineyard from which we presently 
produce a vineyard-designated wine. 

Hicke: And is that Cabernet? 
Phelps: Cabernet, right. 

Pierce 's Disease Task Force 

Hicke: Besides phylloxera, do you have other vineyard diseases? 

Phelps: Absolutely. As a matter of fact, I put in the folder some 

information that I thought you might find interesting in terms of 
our involvement in research. Vine diseases such as the fan- leaf 
virus, nematodes, and eutypa are still a challenge but are at 
least susceptible to solution. The largest and unfortunately 
unresolved problem is Pierce 's Disease, sometimes known as the 
Anaheim Disease, inasmuch as it was first discovered in that area 


in the nineteenth century. It has reappeared cyclically, and it 
is again a serious problem here in the Napa Valley, focused 
primarily in the Stag's Leap District and on Spring Mountain. 
Aside from the fact that it is lethal to the vines and so far 
incurable, it is pretty well established that the causal bacterium 
is transmitted primarily by the blue-green sharpshooter. There 
are other vectors as well, but this one seems to be the critter 
that causes the most damage. At this point, efforts have been 
limited largely to controlling the breeding habitat of this 
vector, namely creek beds and concentrations of dense vegetation 
bordering vineyards. 

Hicke: Is this in collaboration with U.C. Davis? 

Phelps: We bring people in to participate from Davis, but basically 

they're from Davis and a couple of other entities working on the 
problem. You're probably familiar that this is--I won't say 
unique, but it's bacterial rather than viral. At this point, the 
best information is that the vector is the Blue-Green 
Sharpshooter. It lays its eggs and thrives in riparian vegetation 
along the creek beds at the borders of the vineyard. 

Hicke: [Looking at rain outside the window] It must be doing well today! 

Phelps: Well, I'm not sure. We don't really have a good handle on whether 
it's aided and abetted by stormy, wet weather. There are a lot of 
questions without answers yet. 

Hicke: Well, that's what the task force is for. When did this start? 

Phelps: In 1994. 

Hicke: And how long do you expect it to continue? 

Phelps: Until there's a solution to the problem. 

Hicke: Who else is helping to fund this? 

Phelps: Well, almost all the vineyards in the Stag's Leap and Spring 

Mountain area are participating. I think there's a long list in 
the folder. The American Vineyard Foundation is matching funds, 
dollar for dollar, that are contributed by growers and wineries, 
and this helps a lot. Several vineyard management companies are 
participating. The University of California Extension Service is 
very active and helpful, as are U.C. Davis and Berkeley, with the 
latter perhaps even more active. 

Hicke: What department? 


Phelps: Well, I think the principal player is Dr. Alexander (Sandy) 
Purcell of the Department of Entomological Sciences. 




What about other problems in the vineyards? 

You had mentioned 


Well, 1 don't think of spacing as a problem per se as much as an 
ongoing learning process. Spacing has been the subject of major 
experimentation and innovation in California for at least ten or 
twelve years. I would say that the primary objective of changing 
to closer spacing is to maintain yield per acre to offset 
decreases in per vine yields which accompany replanting to less 
vigorous, disease-resistant rootstock. To some degree, spacing 
decisions are also influenced by canopy choices as, for example, 
the popular GDC (Geneva Double Curtain) requires somewhat greater 
row spacing than a single vertical trellis system. Expenses, 
however, increase in direct proportion to the number of vines per 
acre resulting from closer spacing. This is true both in 
development and annual farming costs. More stakes and vines per 
acre to plant initially and prune each year; two to three times as 
much drip irrigation and trellis hardware per acre, etc. We 
believe that on the whole, closer spacing is quite effective in 
concert with the less vigorous rootstock we are now using. In the 
last two or three years in looking into the future, our spacing 
and system of choice will be five by nine (one thousand vines per 
acre) and the single, movable wire, vertical trellis 
configuration. We are using this both in the Napa Valley and in 
Monterey County. 

Do you prefer to own a vineyard, rather than buy grapes? 

Actually, we buy quite a large percentage of our production from 
independent growers. We're about, at this point, about fifty- 
fifty. When all of our vineyards are back in production, we will 
probably be 60 percent to 65 percent self-sufficient. We do enjoy 
working with independent growers as well. I think there's a good 
balance that can be achieved. 


Bulraaro Montez 

Will you tell me who your vineyard manager is? 


Phelps: From the very beginning our vineyard operations have been under 
the control of Bulmaro Montez. Bulmaro was just a young man, 
barely out of school, when he began work here in 1973. His 
ability to lead and to absorb technical as well as practical 
knowledge of viticulture is truly remarkable. 

Hicke: How did you find him? 

Phelps: Walter knew Bulmaro and his family before either of them came to 

work here, and he brought Bulmaro on board within days of the time 
that we took possession of the ranch, taking down pens, fencing, 
and other vestiges of the cattle ranch in preparation for 
planting. That first year, Bulmaro planted the twenty acres or so 
between the Silverado Trail and the Napa River, our so-called 
River Ranch. As our vineyard acreage grew, Bulmaro built the 
organization carefully and steadily to where, today, he supervises 
about forty people, more than half of whom have been here ten or 
more years . Several of the vineyard foremen have been here 
fifteen to twenty years, and we see this as a tribute to his style 
of leadership. 

Hicke: Jeff [Hunsaker] told me that this year you kind of went against 

the trend. The trend in the grape production was everybody had a 
lot of problems. But he said your vineyards did very well. 

Phelps: I think on average Napa Valley growers had between 10 and 15 

percent reduction in productivity. We had a couple of vineyards 
that were off, but we had two or three vineyards that were ahead 
of anticipated or estimated production. So on average we had 
achieved our full productionour full estimate, let me put it 
that way. Our estimates were lower than last year to begin with. 

Hicke: That's not just luck. 

Phelps: Well, I think that Bulmaro put in a great deal of effort to help 
that result along, without any question. 

Hicke: I think loss of blossomswasn't that a problem? The hailstorm? 

Phelps: Well, actually, the hailstorm came after the crop had set, so he 
was probably referring to rains during bloom, which tended to 
reduce yield in many vineyards. 

Hicke: What can the vineyard manager do to overcome it? 

Phelps: Certainly nothing about rain or hail, but beyond that, careful 
attention to the irrigation regime is probably the most 
significant thing, once the crop is set and for the balance of the 
growing season. At a time when the vineyard needs a little boost, 
the application of water is probably the most significant factor, 


although canopy management- -leaf thinning, hedging, and cluster 
thinning- -all play an important role in quality control. 

Hicke: Are there certain grape varieties that you prefer to buy? 

Phelps: Well, we've made the decision not to plant Riesling, but we still 
intend to produce a small amount of Riesling dessert wines when we 
can find and purchase botrytised grapes. The same is true of 
Muscat, which we use in our Beaumes de Venise style Vin du Mistral 
dessert wine. We intend to continue purchasing, rather than 
planting, Carignane, Alicante Bouchet, Petite Syrah, and Cinseault 
for the Vin du Mistral program. 


Hicke: What about other vineyard management problems or factors? 

Phelps: In my mind an area of change over the last ten years of critical 
importance is related to improvement of canopy control through 
selection of trellis systems, together with such efforts as 
hedging and leaf thinning. The traditional, conventional T 
crossarm and two-wire system is a thing of the past. I believe 
the most significant trellis systems available now are to be 
movable, vertical wire, single canopy system (which we use), the 
lyre, and the Geneva Double Curtain. Each of these systems, 
together with hedging and leaf thinning, improves grape quality by 
increasing the amount of ventilation and sunlight reaching the 
fruiting zone of the vine. 

Hicke: So you've got most of at least your own vineyards on the movable 
vertical. And how about your growers? Do you have something to 
say about their systems? 

Phelps: It depends, as certain grower relationships that we have where 

we're involved at the time the vineyard is developed and are asked 
to participate; others are of course already in existence, and in 
those cases we try to work out in advance with the growers a 
cooperative approach where we may pay a little extra in order to 
get leaves stripped, some of the crop dropped if there is a need 
and we have problems facing us. We find that most growers 
nowadays are pretty much aware of canopy control and are willing 
to cooperate with management of the canopy system in a way that is 
pretty effective. 

Hicke: But the impetus for canopy management came from the winemaker or 
the winery? 


Phelps: Yes, I think our North Coast Viticultural Group, with U.C. Davis 
help, pioneered canopy control in the eighties and actually 
borrowed a great deal of the technology from Europe as well. 

Hicke: From France, or what part of Europe? 
Phelps: Yes, primarily from France. 

Grower Contracts 

Hicke: When it comes time for harvest, how do you work with the growers 
on deciding when to pick? 

Phelps: Our contracts invariably call for that to be the decision of the 

winery. The growers respond within a few days, or a day sometimes 
if we need to have the crop taken off. 

Hicke: And you have to manage bringing in the crops also, so you don't 
get it all in the winery in the same hour. 

Phelps: Right. That's a finely tuned, finely orchestrated process that 
Craig is in charge of, but he has an excellent communication 
system developed with the people in the production department and 
in the vineyard to execute that. 

Hicke: It must be very complicated, especially when the weather causes 
unexpected difficulties. Anything else about the vineyard? 

Phelps: Nothing more that I can think of at this point. I think maybe you 
are very much aware that probably the most significant change in 
winemaking philosophy over the last twenty years has been the 
shifting of focus to the source, to the vineyard. 


Phelps: Twenty years ago and before, the industry tended to have a rather 
simplistic view: what to do to make wine was determined by the 
equipment and by the processes that were employed in the winery. 
Gradually over the years we've come to realize that wine is 
basically a product that is dependent on how the grapes are grown, 
much more so than how grapes are processed here in the winery. 
That's been a major change in how we look at winemaking. 


Designing the Label 

Hicke: Let's go back and talk about the label for a minute. How did you 
design the labels? For example, how did you decide to label each 
product differently, as opposed to using one label for all? 

Phelps: Actually, what we have now is a variety of labels that are based 
on families of wines. Our principal brand is Joseph Phelps 
Vineyards, and the varietal wines of Joseph Phelps Vineyards have 
the same label essentially, with minor changes depending on 
whether they ' re red or white . And then in the case of the 
vineyard-designated Bacchus Vineyard, the label is slightly 
different to accommodate the vineyard name. 

The Insignia brand, which is dealt with separately, is 
another label variation. And then our family of Rhone-style wines 
under the label of Vin du Mistral is a third. From time to time, 
we have a Rhone-style wine called Pastiche that has a separate 
label to separate it from the other Vin du Mistral wines. Then a 
label for wines from our young wines that don't otherwise make the 
grade for the Joseph Phelps brand is called Innisfree. Our 
production of Innisfree has declined substantially over the years; 
we no longer need that label nearly as much as we once did, so 
that's become a less significant member of the family. 

Vin du Mistral and the Rhone Rangers 

Hicke: Since we're on the subject, let's go into these different labels. 
First of all, the Vin du Mistral. How did that come about? 

Phelps: We originally made a Syrah under the Joseph Phelps label, and then 
in 1989 we were ready to introduce Viognier commercially and 
Grenache Rose. And at that time, we decided to put our Rhone- 
style wines under a different family name and a different label. 

The name Vin du Mistral was chosen for reasons best described 
on its original back label, written for us by Gerald Asher, 
referring to the Provencal phenomenon Le Mistral. "Only the 
sturdiest of temperaments, it is said, can live with this wind 
that scours the Rhone Valley from the Alps to the Mediterranean. 
The vines of that valley, too, need vigor and tenacity to resist 
it--the reason, perhaps, why the wines made from them are prized 
for their boldly individual character. When grown in California, 
these Rhone varieties display that same distinctive character, 
thus our choice of the term Vin du Mistral to describe them." The 
most important member of that family was one we talked about 






yesterday, which has been somewhat of a marketing problem, and it 
requires consumer education, because American wine buyers are 
prone to choose a varietal and are, as a group, reluctant to 
experiment with wines they don't recognize the composition of. 
The blend of Rhone varietals which we call Le Mistral, is a 
gorgeous wine, a wonderful wine in the Chateauneuf du Pape style 
but it does not have the consumer acceptance that the varietal 
wines have. Someday it will! 

Several other wineries came along with Rhone blends, 
communication with them? 

Were you in 

Yes, to a certain extent. Some of the more significant players in 
this game were Randall Grahm at Bonny Doon with his Cigare Volant. 
It really got the tradition going for a blend. I think that Bonny 
Doon, Qupe, Sean Thackrey, McDowell Valley, and Estrella were 
pioneers and important players in the advent of the Rhone Rangers- 
-not to leave out the reality that with Syrah, we were the very 
first of the Rhone-style producers [laughter], 

I was going to say it's more likely the other way around. 

From '74 on, however, our focus was on Syrah; the other varieties, 
such as Mourvedre and Grenache didn't find their way their way 
into our repertoire until the late eighties, although we have been 
working experimentally with Voignier since 1983. 

Pastiche is one of the Rhone wines, as you mentioned, 
more about that? 

Can we talk 

Phelps: Pastiche is a product that we make when we have more Grenache 

and /or Mourvedre than we can use in Le Mistral. We are able to 
bring it out a year earlier than Le Mistral and sell it for a 
slightly lower price. So we use the strategy of a separate label 
for that wine to separate it from Le Mistral. 

Hicke: Is it mostly Grenache or all Grenache? 

Phelps: I would say mostly, in that it's usually 50 to 60 percent 


Hicke: Now can you tell me about Insignia? 

Phelps: I'd love to. Insignia is a great story in and of itself, 
first Insignia was the '74 and came about as a result of 






discovering that we had a single tank of truly great Cabernet from 
a vineyard in Stag's Leap immediately adjacent to what became, 
nine years later, our Las Rocas Vineyard. Although the "74 was 
mostly Cabernet with only a small amount of Merlot, we knew that 
we wanted a name for this wine that would give us the long-range 
ability to blend superior selections of Bordeaux grape varieties 
without regard to the limitations of the BATF regulations 
governing varietal labeling. - We decided that our label should 
refer to this wine simply as "a red table wine" and that the 
perceived quality would ultimately speak for itself. The 
"reserve" designation, which was in vogue at the time, had already 
been compromised by large producers, and had no recognized 
definition within the wine industry. Therefore, the proprietary 
name Insignia was selected to represent the finest lots available 
form each vintage, and to emphasize the importance of blending 
over varietal designation as a determinate of quality. We are 
steadfast believers in varietal integrity whenever a variety is 
shown on the label, but we are equally committed to the idea that 
blending, in certain cases, can truly enhance other wines, adding 
interest and value for the customer. We were the first California 
winery to introduce a high-end proprietary label and remained 
alone in that field until 1984, when Mondavi-Rothschild brought 
out Opus One. The idea caught on eventually and has become a 
class of wines called Heritage. 

Another pioneering step. 

We were all alone on that for a number of years. We brought the 
'74 out in '78, and it wasn't until '84 when Mondavi/Rothschild 
introduced the "79 Opus One that there was a second Heritage wine. 
Now I think there are probably twenty-five to thirty at least. 

Isn't there a Heritage association? 
The Heritage Society, right. 
Did you help found that? 

We were involved in that for the first couple of years, and then 
eventually decided we would go our own separate way. 

It's a marketing organization? 


How did you market this Insignia? 

Well, it sort of marketed itself in that we had never made that 
much Insignia, so that it was almost always an allocated wine. We 


have, I think, been successful in keeping the quality at a level 
which tells the story in itself. 

Hicke: You don't offer that for tasting? Do you offer it to restaurants? 

Phelps: Actually, Insignia, like all of our other wines, is sold through a 
national distribution system. And yes, we certainly try to see 
that the Insignia is presented as a on-premise wine. Also, it's a 
very popular collector's item; so there's a demand for it 
certainly in the off -premise retail outlets. 


Hicke: Okay. Innisfree. 

Phelps: Innisfree was originally created as a way of using grapes that 

were not up to the standards that we wanted in the Joseph Phelps 
brand. We had a couple of vineyards that we had planted here on 
the ranch with Chardonnay, and we felt that the climate was a 
little warm here, and those grapes normally didn't make it into 
the primary brand. Innisfree was a good outlet for that. Young 
vines, in the first, second, and third year of production, from 
any of our vineyards generally found their way into Innisfree. In 
reality, the Innisfree became a second label. 


Hicke: You also have another one called Ovation. 

Phelps: Exactly. That's a sweetheart. It's a Chardonnay that is selected 
at the time of harvest and then dealt with in a much more intense 
way. It stays on the lees for fourteen to fifteen months and is 
treated with a lot of respect and becomes a unique wine in and of 

Hicke: And that's pretty new? 

Phelps: Yes, the '93 was our very first Ovation. 

Hicke: And you're not producing very much of that. 

Phelps: No, it's a limited wine. 

Winemaking Philosophy and Techniques 

Hicke: Well, we haven't talked too much about the actual making of the 
wine. Do you have a philosophy for winemaking? 

Phelps: Well, what's even more important is that Craig certainly has a 

approach to winemaking which I totally endorse. I 
had an opportunity to see growth and development as 
that which has taken place with Craig in the twenty 

been with us- -both as the winemaker and as a manager 
Yes, his approach is philosophicalbut at the same 
unique blend of intellectuality, passion for the 
dedication to the highest standards. 

have seldom 
dramatic as 
years he has 
of people, 
time it is a 
subject, and 

It is no secret that our brands were impacted by a 
combination of factors in the late 1980s, ranging from grape 
sources and vineyard problems to overloaded facilities and a 
couple of difficult vintages. Craig deserves full credit for 
turning this situation around through his work with Bulmaro in the 
vineyards, his design and construction of additional production 
facilities, his judicious use of consultants, and openness to new 
and different ideas. The results have been phenomenal in terms of 
both critical acclaim and a renaissance of winery sales and 

Hicke: I'd like to ask you some specific things, like about the 

cooperagewhat kind of barrels and how long you put the wines in 
the barrels. 

Phelps: Okay. I think I mentioned yesterday that we use primarily French 
oak for our Cabernet and especially for Insignia. We use a small 
amount of American oak with the Napa Valley Cabernet and about 40 
to 50 percent American oak with the Rhone-style wines. 

Hicke: I must have seen at least four or five different French oak 
coopers on your barrels. 

Phelps: Right. That is intentional and by design in some instances, and 
in other instances it's based on who can make the delivery of a 
specific barrel that we want at the time that we need it. So 
sometimes that's by design, and sometimes it's by process. 

Hicke: You specify the toast? 

Phelps: Yes. 

Hicke: Individually for each varietal? 

Phelps: To some extent, right. 

Hicke: Bottles and corks? 

Phelps: [laughs] We have the same problem that the industry as a whole is 
faced with. I don't know that there's anything unique in our 
experience in terms of glass, but we certainly have had our share 
of problems with corks, and we go to great lengths to try to keep 
that under control. There's not an awful lot to elaborate on in 
terms of the cork problem; it's going to be with us, I think, 
until another sealer is accepted by the consumer. 

Hicke: What can you do to keep it at a minimum? 

Phelps: We've been, I think, fairly successful in increasing our ability 
to test and preselect cork now. We have much more rigid 
specifications than we once had; it's just a matter of constant 

Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewiirztraminer, and 



Let me ask you about the Pinot Noir. 
when Walter Schug was here. 

I know you had some earlier 

Right. Pinot Noir has never been a very successful wine for us, 
and one of the reasons is that we believe that we're not a large 
enough winery to focus on both the Cabernet and Pinot Noir. So 
gradually over the years, as our Pinot Noir vineyards were 
replaced, we have increased our focus on Cabernet Sauvignon. It's 
been a constant struggle for us to resist the temptation to try to 
be all things to all people and make fifty-seven flavors 
[laughter]. So wherever it's made sense for us, we have reduced 
our repertoire. But we still manage to produce twenty-two 
superior flavors. 

One of the easy reasons why we don't make Pinot Noir is that 
we no longer have Pinot Noir vineyards, and the same is true of 
Zinfandel. We no longer grow Zinfandel on any of our properties. 
We continued through 1990 to make a small amount of Zinfandel from 
a wonderful vineyard in Alexander Valley (Demonsthenes Brothers) 
that had sourced us since 1975, and when that source was no longer 
available, we discontinued making Zinfandel, although at one time 
we had thirty-some acres of Zinfandel on this property. We've 
placed our red wine chips on Cabernet and the Rhone varietals. 

Hicke: There are three other whites that you make or have made: 

Sauvignon Blanc, Gewiirztraminer, and Semillon. 
with those? 

What's going on 


Phelps: Sauvignon Blanc will be always an important varietal for us, 
because we have a fair amount of that variety planted on this 
ranch and it does very well here. At the same time, we only make 
about half as much now as we made at one time. The basic problem 
with Sauvignon Blanc, given the farming costs in the Napa Valley, 
is that it is a wine that, except for barrel time, costs almost as 
much as Chardonnay to make, and does not command a Chardonnay 
bottle price. Economics becomes a limiting factor. 

Moving on to Gewiirztraminer, we no longer grow that variety. 
We continue to make a small amount--maybe a thousand cases as 
opposed to the five or six thousand that we made at one time. 

Semillon is a variety that we grow for two reasonsto blend 
with Sauvignon Blanc, or when Botrytis comes, to make a dessert 
wine. Our dessert Semillon is sold under a beautiful proprietary 
label and is called "Delice du Semillon." It is a very, very 
popular wine in the one year out of three we're able to make it. 


Hicke: And tell me about Scheurebe. 

Phelps: Scheurebe is unique to our winery. It is a hybrid crossing of 
Sylvaner and Riesling, and was developed in 1916 by Dr. George 
Scheu, a German botanist. The name of the variety is, literally, 
"Dr. Scheu 's grapevine." 

Hicke: And Walter Schug knew about this, I suppose? 

Phelps: Yes, absolutelyhe selected the first cuttings in the Rheinpfalz, 
and our first harvest was a '78 Auslese-style. We made several 
vintages of similar wine through 1984, and only intermittently 
since. The vineyard was replanted and beginning in 1994, we are 
producing Scheurebe under the proprietary name "Eisrebe" which is 
made in the tradition of the German Eisweins, but rather than 
having been frozen on the vine, which can't happen in California, 
it is refrigerated commercially and kept in a frozen state until 
it can be brought back to the winery following the regular crush. 
As the ice crystals begin to thaw, the concentrated juice is 
pressed out and most of the water in the grape remains with the 
other solids in the press. Thereupon it is fermented and treated 
the same as any high-must weight dessert wine. Incidentally, 
that's going to happen tomorrow with the '95 Eisrebe. 

Hicke: You mean you're going to press it it's in refrigerated storage 
right now? 


Phelps: In Sacramento, right. We are just releasing the '94; I had it at 
a dinner at another winery Sunday night and it was just gorgeous. 

Hicke: It's something like 39 percent sugar? Is that what I read? 
Phelps: Yes. 

Hicke: That's wonderful. I just read about it in your newsletter. Now, 
you can't depend on the botrytizing every year, though, can you? 

Phelps: That's right. One of the advantages, of course, of this process 
is that we can reliably produce an eisrebe dessert wine every 

Hicke: Oh, I see. It doesn't have to be botrytized. 

Phelps: No, it helps. If the grapes can be botrytized, it would be that 

much better, even if they were slightly botrytized, but if they're 
left to hang out and can reach twenty-five or twenty-six degrees 
Brix, that's a good start. 

Hicke: And did you ever make a Scheurebe wine other than the dessert 


Phelps: We harvested the Scheurebe every year and made it into a small 
amount of wine, but only in the years when it was infected with 
botrytis were we able to make a dessert wine and keep it separate. 
In the other years it was just simply blended into the Riesling, 
adding complexity. 

Hicke: But you never made a varietal? 

Phelps: No, not as a table wine. The highest and best use of Scheurebe is 
as a dessert wine, and if it doesn't go to a high must-weight 
level, the wine is not that special. They do make a certain 
amount of Scheurebe in a couple of the German winegrowing regions, 
but it's not sought after. It doesn't have the character of 
Riesling when it's dry. 

Hicke: Are there any varietals that I haven't brought up that we need to 
talk about? 

Phelps: I think we've covered everything that we produce in commercial 

volume. We do make experimental and small lots of an additional 
eight to ten red and white French and Italian varieties, but these 
as yet are not in the distribution system. 



We've covered all the ones that I've read about, 
table wines--Vin Blanc and Vin Rouge. 

You've also made 

Those were the wines that subsequently became known as Innisfree. 
Young vines or ranch-grown grapes that didn't make the cut for the 

The Innisfree Building 

Hicke: And you now have a new building; isn't it called the Innisfree 

Phelps: Right. That is actually our red wine facility. Most of our white 
wine is made here; we can make white wine down there, but most of 
that facility is dedicated to red wine. 

Hicke: And when was that built? 
Phelps: In '89--we moved into it in '89. 
Hicke: You simply outgrew this facility? 

Phelps: Yes. And we had been storing barrels in other locations around 

the valley and wanted to bring everything into one place. Now we 
have again reached that point where we rent space for barrels in 
other wineries. So we just took out a building permit, and we 
will start with construction of a 17,000-square-foot addition to 
that winery, which will be all barrel storage. Since Innisfree is 
no longer applicable, we are renaming that facility. 

Hicke: Another thing I found very interesting was Jeff was telling me you 
do a lot of recycling; something like 100 percent of the water and 
also cardboard and glass. 

Phelps: Well, let's talk about waste water. Nothing leaves the property 
except some insoluble solids and wine; most of the insoluble 
solids, in fact, go back into compost. Grape solids, skins and 
seeds, go back into the vineyard also in the form of compost. The 
processing water goes back into the reservoir eventually for 
irrigation purposes, and everything else that comes stays here in 
the form of grape juice converted into wine. 




Private Labels 

Another thing that I saw on my tour was boxes of private labels. 
Can you tell me about that? 

Like many of our fellow vintners, we have a following of 
restaurants, athletic clubs, country clubs, and alumni 
associations, etc., across the country that have asked us to do 
private labels over the years. We're actually reducing the amount 
of that work that we're accepting, and I think probably within 
five years we won't do any private labeling at all. Only when 
it's for a very special situation. 

Marketing and Distribution 



Let's talk a little bit about marketing, 

Who did the marketing 



I sold the first releasealmost all of it anyway. In March of 
1975 we had our first person that was not in the production field 
come aboard, and that was Bruce Neyers, who came on as a tour 
guide and took over the marketing of the wine from me at a time 
when we had six hundred cases left to sell, and grew into the job 
of being our national sales manager. He was with us for seventeen 
years and made many valuable contributions. When Bruce left four 
years ago, we were able to retain Tom Shelton, who has just become 
president of the company and is also national sales director. 

How did you expand your market? 

Through the use of a distribution system, a network of 

You don't have any one distributor; you have different ones for 
different parts of the country? 

Yes. Distribution of alcoholic beverages is highly fragmented in 
a regional way. There are some distributors who own wholesale 
houses in several statesSouthern Wines and Spirits and NPC 
[National Distributing Company] being good examples. NPC is our 
distributor in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, New Mexico, and 
Colorado, so they're a big player, but they appear as separate 
companies in each of those states. 

Going back to the repeal of Prohibition, the local-option 
movement was conceded by the federal government as a way of 


enlisting or getting enough states to sign the amendment. The 
individual states were given the right to control the distribution 
of alcoholic beverages at the repeal of Prohibition, so it's a 
maze of frustrating rules and regulations, and each state has the 
right to tax importation of alcoholic beverages and to regulation 
of the distribution of alcoholic beverages including wine. There 
is no way that we can sell wine directly into any other state 
except California. So we need a licensed importer in each of 
those states, even if we only had two cases of wine to sell. 

Hicke: How about international? Do you export? 

Phelps: Yes. We hope and expect to put more emphasis on exporting as time 
goes by. Our primary export markets now are in Canada, the 
Caribbean, Germany, Scandinavia, and an increasing amount to the 
Pacific Rim. The U.K. [United Kingdom] is always there but not as 
prominent in California exporting as it once was. The British 
economy is very sluggish right now, and the British market really 
can't afford California wine; they don't want to pay the price. 

Hicke: Is Scandinavia a big one? 

Phelps: It's growing. Primarily Sweden and Denmark have increased 200 
percent to 300 percent in the last two or three years. 

Hicke: Do you or does Tom Shelton do a lot of traveling? 

Phelps: Tom does a lot of traveling. I don't travel any more than I 
absolutely have to, which is maybe four or five times a year. 

Hicke: We were up at Tahoe last week, and I think he was doing a 

winemaker's dinner up there. I suppose that's a major part of his 

Phelps: Yes, both he and Craig are involved in that. 

Hicke: That's fun for everyone. Well, I don't know how much for the 
winemaker, but it's fun for the people that attend. 

Anything else about your sales at the winery or other areas 
of sales and marketing? 

Phelps: Retail sales at the winery have always been an important component 
of our overall sales program. As you probably noticed, we have a 
new guest center and a new retail sales room. We look forward to 
increasing the amount of wine that is sold here at the winery. 

Hicke: Was it a conscious decision not to have an open tasting room? 


Phelps: No. In 1973, when we obtained our use permit, it wasn't possible; 
the tasting rooms were limited to Highway 29, and the only 
available use permit at that time permitted tours and tastings by 
appointment only, which was fine with us, and we've lived with 
that very comfortably over the years. 

Hicke: And I see that you now have a club: Phelps Preferred? 

Phelps: It's a mail-order, retail consumer organization. It seems to be 
off to a very good start. 

Hicke: How did you launch that? 

Phelps: By introducing people to the concept here at the winery when they 
visit. And by use of a consumer mailing list that we had built up 
over the years based on people who had visited the winery or have 
ordered wine in those states where we can ship wine--that's 
limited by the reciprocity laws of individual states. 

Hicke: How do you decide what to offer to club members? 

Phelps: The decision is usually based on supplying a wine which isn't 

going to be easy for the consumer to f ind--allocated wines or some 
special reserve wines that are not just an ordinary garden 
variety, really. 

Hicke: I wanted to ask you the Wine Services Co-op. I know you were 
president of a while. Did you help start that? 

Phelps: Yes, as a matter of fact we did. It's been an extremely 

successful organization; it has thirty-three member wineries now. 
At one time it was as many thirty-six, almost forty. It's a real 
pleasure to look back over the years and see how successfully that 
was cooperatively developed by the wineries. 

Hicke: Tell me how it started. 

Phelps: Actually, it started as a co-shipping group, and we would have 

containers at one winery or another to go to southern California. 
There were five original members. Each winery would deliver its 
wine to the location where the container was set up and shipped 
together. That went on for about two years, and then in 1976 we 
built the very first co-op, which was a 40,000 square foot 
building and by '78 we had it full. We had to add 70,000 feet. 
And then by '84 we had to build another addition, and then that 
used up all the available property. In fact, there was a lot of 
interest and effort that went into getting that additional 
property for the '84 addition. That was the last addition there; 
now the co-op has a piece of property south of Napa at the 
airport, and we will build another building in that location 


eventually. The mode of the co-op has generally over the years 
been that the increased business is based on expansion of the 
existing member wineries, rather than seeking new members. 



Oakville Grocery 

Hicke: Okay. The Oakville Grocery. How did that come about? 

Phelps: The Oakville Grocery sort of evolved as a result of my interest in 
having a means of presenting the idea that food and wine are 
synergistic and complementary. 

Hicke: This was 1978; you were way ahead of your time on that one. 

Phelps: Not necessarily. You must remember that Robert Mondavi got us all 
headed in that direction with the Great Chefs program that he 
introduced in '75 or '76, and then Beringer of course, with 
Madeleine Kaman in the late seventies, originated the idea of 
teaching people to cook right there in the winery environment. 
This is simply another way of projecting the idea that food and 
wine belong together. 

Hicke: Tell me how you got the idea and how you went about it. 

Phelps: The original concept that I had was to develop little food markets 
in different regions of the United States. The first idea was to 
go into Scottsdale, Arizona. This all came about because I had 
purchased a condo in the little desert town of Carefree, Arizona, 
north of Scottsdale. In the process of furnishing that condo and 
buying the kitchen supplies that were necessary, my wife and I 
went through several different department stores in the Phoenix 
area. My observation was that the women of the Phoenix area were 
very noticeably attracted to cooking demonstrations, to cookbook 
signings, to shopping for expensive saucepans and cookware. And 
yet there was no place in the entire Phoenix area where you could 
reliably buy fresh mushrooms; very little fresh seafood, if any, 
no serious cooking ingredients. You couldn't buy saffron. You 
name it, you couldn't find it. 







So it dawned on me that the people of Phoenix and Scottsdale 
were ready for the wave of cooking interests that had come to 
California ten years earlier, but there was nobody there to supply 
them. So my original thought was that I would open a shop there 
which would bring California products to Scottsdale; then I might 
eventually develop a way of opening other shops, say, in Michigan, 
where I could ship back Midwestern products like morel mushrooms 
and so on to the Bay Area in airfreight containers. That probably 
was just a piece of blue sky, and I didn't really ever get 
involved in that, but I hired a young man, John Michaels, to help 
me with the planning and research that would be involved in 
opening something like that. I was going to call them the Le 
Fleuron shops, because we had another wine label at that time 
called Le Fleuron. It wouldn't have been a good name at all for a 
grocery store, but anyway, that was the project. 

John was a half -owner in the Oakville Grocery. In the 
process of working together with him as a consultant on the Le 
Fleuron project, John, after about the third meeting, proposed to 
me that we should really just consider buying his interest in 
Oakville Grocery. He would go to work for us, and we would open a 
store in San Francisco and forget about Scottsdale. So within a 
matter of a year or so, we were looking in San Francisco and 
eventually did open a store there which lasted for five years. But 
it was a bad location and-- 

It was on Polk Street? 

It was on Pacific right between Larkin and Polk. 

And there was no place to park, as I recall. 

Parking was a real problem, right. So eventually we closed that 
store, and then a couple of years later opened in Palo Alto at the 
Stanford shopping center, and then our third store was opened last 
year in Walnut Creek. We're looking for a fourth location now. 

It's practically world famous. 

Well, people love the Oakville Grocery. 

Yes, you can hardly get around it on a weekend- -people are just 
piled up there. And do you have a philosophy for the store? 
Fresh ingredients and so forth? 

Yes. It started basically as being designed as a source of rare 
and hard-to-find ingredients for serious cooks. But Steve Carlin, 
who is Oakville Grocery president and general manager, has sort of 
developed that into a much broader concept, with a heavy emphasis 
now on prepared foods, particularly in Palo Alto and Walnut Creek, 


where we have enough space to have kitchens. At Walnut Creek we 
enlarged our repertoire to include a pizza oven and a rotisserie, 
so that it's becoming closer and closer to a restaurant 
[laughter]. There is a little space at the Walnut Creek store to 
sit outside in good weather. 

Steve is a great team-builder and visionary, and brings a lot 
of talent and energy to the task of building an ever-better 
specialty food organization. 

Personal Wine Collection 

Hicke: Okay, I'm going to skip around here a little bit. I want to ask 
you about your own wine collection and how that got started. 

Phelps: It started in the sixties, I guess. We had a couple of wonderful 
stores in Colorado that had great wine selections and didn't 
charge an arm and a leg for imported wine. One was Harry 
Hoffman's in Denver and then the Boulder Liquor Mart in Boulder; 
they were great sources for wine collectors. I just gradually 
developed a collection in Colorado, which I then moved here in the 
early eighties when I had a place where I could build a good 

And then I began--! would say it was the mid- to late 

seventies--! began to buy wine at auction at Christie's. We 

developed a way of getting the wine here; that had been a barrier 

before. We had an arrangement with a warehouse in London to store 
the wines until there was enough to make a shipment worthwhile, 

and then we would fly the wine into San Francisco. I would say 

that at least half of the wine that I have in my cellar now was 
bought at Christie's. 

Hicke: Do you concentrate on certain kinds of wines? 

Phelps: I had some vintages that were important that I would generally bid 
on. I did kind of focus on certain estates in Bordeaux. I wasn't 
that selective in Burgundy. But ports, Burgundy, and Bordeaux 
certainly, were focal points, and good Rhone wines when I could 
find them. The auction didn't offer the wines of the Rhone valley 
to anywhere near the extent it did the others. So I don't have as 
good a selection of Chateauneuf du Pape, for instance, as I would 

Hicke: Well, you're making it [laughter]. 
Phelps: But old wines is what I'm referring to. 

Hicke: Yes. 

Phelps: I focused on Mouton-Rothschild, on Latour-Rothschild, on La 

Mission Haut-Brion, and Gruaud Larose. I have a lot of vintages 
of those. 

Hicke : You pull them out once in while and pop the cork? 
Phelps: Yes. 

Hicke: I wanted to ask about some of your other professional activities. 
For instance, you've mentioned the North Coast Viticultural 
Research Group. Can you tell me about that? 

Phelps: Actually, that's not an activity that I have been directly 
involved in. Craig and Bulmaro are much more active in the 
viticultural organizations; I served for a number of years on the 
board and a couple of years as the president of the Wine Service 
Co-op, and then I was president of the Napa Valley Vintners 
Association. I was on that board for four years. I was president 
in "83, and helped lay the groundwork for a cooperative effort 
with the growers to develop an appellation "education" group to 
promote the brand new Napa Valley appellation. It was the first 
U.S. viticultural region to be approved by the BATF, and that was 
in 1983. Under the plan, growers selling grapes to the Napa 
Valley Vintners Association members were asked to contribute 
through a small assessment on each ton purchased by the members 
and forwarded to the committee. Each of the wineries then added a 
larger assessment based on the tons of grapes purchased in the 
valley. That effort was completed during Greg de Luca's term as 
president in 1984. During John Trefethen's term in 1985, that 
effort was firmly in place and it's been a real success. 




Hicke: In view of the fact that you're getting more and more hoarse, I'm 
going to ask you if you could just briefly tell me about what you 
think are the significant changes in the Napa Valley in the wine 
industry here. That's a big one to do in five minutes. 

Phelps: I think the most important changes in the wine industry in the 
Napa Valley certainly include the consolidation of ownership in 
larger companies. I think there is a very significant change in 
progress there. I don't see it as either bad or good, but it's 
one of the major changes in the profile of the valley. 

The new awareness of the importance of vineyards and vineyard 
control to the quality of wine has influenced some radical changes 
in vineyard development, which are all to the good. 

The marketing of wine--not just limited to the Napa Valley, 
certainly--! think it affects all of the wine-producing regions of 
the United States in that the marketing of wine has become much, 
much more sophisticated and demanding. 

Globally, though, I think the biggest single change is the 
quantum leap in quality and consistency in both Napa and Sonoma-- 
maybe all over Californiain relation to the other wines of the 
world. This phenomenon is, in fact, the most noticeable change to 
me. Is that five minutes? 

Hicke: Is there anything we've missed, that we haven't covered? 

Phelps: Maybe we've missed some things on history. I can't think of 

anything particularly in the wine industry. But I would like to 
mention a few of the people who significantly influenced and 
contributed to my involvement in the wine industry: Jack Davies, 
Chuck Carpy, Joe Heitz, Angelo Sangiacomo, John Trefethen, and 
Justin Meyer. They are all friends and associates in Napa or, in 
the case of Angelo, Sonoma. 






I think that one of the more profound changes in Napa Valley 
has been what we've seen in the redevelopment of the vineyards and 
what the impact has been of phylloxera. That of course isn't a 
planned change, but I think that it's been handled and controlled 
very well; instead of a disaster, it's been turned into a positive 
improvement. And the wines of Napa Valley will, I think, continue 
to improve for a number of years as a result of the replanting, 
making a new valley out of it. 

Can you elaborate a little on thatthey're planting varieties 
that are more adapted to the microclimates? 

Actually, there are several things that can be factored into that. 
It's an opportunity to rethink the varieties, number one. But 
it's also an opportunity to switch to improved or better clones. 
Clonal selection was not terribly important twenty years ago; now 
it's very important, and it gives us an opportunity to 
reorchestrate the unique clonal attributes that we didn't even 
know existed maybe twenty years ago. And we talked a bit earlier 
about how this replanting has provided an opportunity to go to 
different and more appropriate vine spacing, better trellis 
systems, canopy control, and another opportunity to make sure that 
we exercise better judgment in where we put a given variety that 
will give it the best exposure and the best terroir. I think all 
of those things working together will produce dramatic increases 
in the quality and consistency of Napa Valley wines. 

Maybe you could just tell me one more thing: 
biggest satisfaction for you in your life? 

what has been the 

1 think the thing that I feel has been very, very satisfying to 
me, and that I look back on as something that maybe sets me apart 
from a number of other people is the good fortune that I've had in 
experiencing several careers. I look forward to growing in other 
directions the rest of my life. I had a very, very successful 
career in construction, and I feel that it's been interesting and 
productive to spend the last twenty-some years in the wine 
industry. That has permitted me to have another interest in the 
field of specialty foods and cooking. I'm confident other doors 
will continue to open and lead me in other directions as well. 
Another great source of satisfaction for me has been my children 
and the way my family has grown and developed in an independent 
way. Aesthetically speaking, I believe this winery has been an 
object of great satisfaction in that it says a fair amount about 
me and things that are important to me. It reflects my 
appreciation of designespecially the integration of design with 
nature; up close it reflects a devotion for attention to detail 
and from a distance it shows a good relationship between function, 
scale and visual experience. I'm very proud of it and of the way 
it enhances its small place in the world. 


Hicke: I think the key is that you look forward; you said you look 

forward to other things, and I think that's why it happened. It's 
not just good luck. You've always looked forward. 

Phelps: And I hope I continue to. 

Hicke: Well, I want to thank you so very much. 

Phelps: Sure. It's been my pleasure. 

Transcriber: Gary Varney 
Final Typist: Shana Chen 
Production Editor: Carolyn Rice 

TAPE GUIDE- -Joseph Phelps 

Interview 1: December 11, 1995 

Tape 1, Side A 1 

Tape 1, Side B 

Tape 2, Side A 

Tape 2, Side B 27 

Interview 2: December 12, 1995 
Tape 3, Side A 

Tape 3, Side B 43 

Tape A, Side A 51 

Tape 4, Side B 60 



r W %/ ; >&sliHlE 



Alcohol I3.0S by volume. 

Produced and bottled by Joseph Phelps Vineyards, St. Helena, Ca. 





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M ii 

Appendix A. Wine Label Samples, 



.-i '. 










Appendix A, cont. Wine Label Samples. 

INDEX- -Joseph Phelps 


Baxter, Phil, 32 
Bonetti, William, 25, 32 

Cafaro, Joe, 25 
Carpy, Charles, 61 
Chateau Souverain, 22, 25, 32 
collecting wines, 59-60 
Connolly, Pat, 23-24 
contracts, 44 
Cooper, Sam, 20-21 
cooperage, 35-36, 49 

Davies, Jack, 61 
Davis, John Marsh, 31 
de Luca, Greg, 60 
Dunn, Mike, 31 

equipment, 34-36 
fly-tying business, 7-11 

Gallo Winery, 26 
Greeley Daily Tribune, 9 

Healdsburg Machinery Co., 34 

Heitz, Joe, 32, 61 

Hensel Phelps Construction Co., 18- 


Herter Manufacturing Company, 11-12 
Holmes, Fred, 22 

Innisfree label, 45, 48, 52 
Insignia label, 45, 46-47, 49 

label, 44-45, 53 

marketing, 32-34, 54-56 
Markham Winery, 26 
Meritage Society, 47 
Meyer, Justin, 61 
Michaels, John, 58 
Montez, Bulmaro, 41-43 
Mueller, Adolph, 22 

Napa Valley Co-op, 26 

Napa Valley Vintners Association, 


North Coast Viticultural Group, 43 
North Co-op, 26 

Oakville Grocery, 57-59 
Olmo, Harold, 25, 27 
Ovation label, 48 

Phelps, Barbara Babcock, 17 
Phelps, Hensel [father], 1-3, 6-7, 

Phelps, Juanita Cundiff [mother], 

3, 6 

Phelps Preferred wine club, 55 
Phelps-Tointon, Inc., 20 
phylloxera, 37-38 
Pierce's Disease, 38-40 
Purcell, Alexxander, 40 

Quincy, John [grandfather], 1-2 

Rhoades, Belle and Barney, 35 

Rhone Rangers, 46 

Rhone Valley, 28-29 

rootstocks, 37-38 

Rutherford Hill (formerly Souverain 

Napa Valley) winery, 21-22, 

Ruyle, Bob, 20 

Sangiacomo, Angelo, 61 

Schock, Ivan, 24 

Schug, Walter, 25-27, 35 

spacing, 41 

Staatsweingut Assmanshausen, 

Germany, 26 

Stone Bridge Cellars, 23 

Tchelistcheff , Andr, 24 
Tointon, Bob, 20 
Trefethen, John, 60, 61 
trellising, 41, 43-44 

vineyard management, 36-43 

Wente Bros. Winery, 32 

Wheeler Ranch, 25 

Williams, Craig, 26-27, 30, 35-36 

winemaking, techniques, 48-50 

winery buildings, 31-32, 35, 53 

Zepponi, Gino, 25 



Cabernet Sauvignon, 24-25, 37, 38 

Johannisbberg Riesling, 37 

Merlot, 37, 38 

Pinot Noir, 32, 37 

Syrah, 25, 27-28, 30 

Viognier, 37 

Zinfandel, 24 


Cabernet Sauvignon, 21, 32, 50 
Chardonnay, 33 
Chenin Blanc, 21 
Gewiirztraminer , 51 
Johannisberg Riesling, 21, 27, 32 

Early Harvest, 32-33 

dessert wines, 32-33 
Le Mistral, 30-31, 45-46 
Pastiche, 45-46 
Pinot Noir, 32, 50 
Sauvignon Blanc, 34, 50 
Scheurebe, 51-52 

Spatburgunder, 26 
Shiraz, 27 
Syrah, 25, 27-30 
Viognier, 29 
Zinfandel, 21, 50 

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 Community, 1991; 
history of Farella, Braun & Martel; history of the 
Federal Judges Association. 

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.