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elevating elegance Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

Robert Craig Winery

Napa Winery Carves a Niche in Showcasing Cabernets from Elevated Vineyards
— An Interview with the Proprietor & Winemaker of Robert Craig Winery

Expression.  Location.  Distinction.  These, we might argue, are the core elements of a finely made wine — one that conveys a message from a particular place with a unique identity.  With its wide variation of climate, soil, and topography, the north coast of California affords vintners a nearly limitless collection of stories to tell in the making of their wines.  One producer in the Napa Valley has taken to doing so from a rather lofty vantage… quite literally.  Robert Craig Winery focuses on crafting Cabernet Sauvignon from small vineyards located on three of the mountains that define the region's perimeter.  With rigorous vineyard management and meticulous winemaking, this producer has managed to highlight the singularity of its featured appellations with stellar wines made from fruit raised on Howell Mountain, Mount Veeder, and Spring Mountain.  On a mission to get to the bottom of this top-performer's story, I sat down with the proprietor himself, Robert Craig, and his winemaker Stephen Tebb, in the bright and airy tasting salon of his recently built winery, with a view of the valley below.

While his eponymous brand was established somewhat later in his career, Robert Craig is a seasoned veteran of Napa's wine industry.  Having started out by directing vineyard development and managing initial winery construction for The Hess Collection, Bob became intimately familiar with mountain grapegrowing long before setting out to make his own wines.  By then, he had already decided to focus not only on the production of Cabernets from hillside vineyards, but to impart a textural elegance and fruit expression to these wines that for so long bore the reputation of being unapproachable in their youth.  With the erudite guidance of consultant Keith Emerson and, more recently, winemaker Stephen Tebb, Robert Craig Winery has succeeded in its mission of not only carving a niche by featuring wines from Napa's mountain appellations, but in doing so with panache, by polishing their personality and highlighting their singularity.


The Planting of a Seed

NM:  You've managed to establish Robert Craig as a highly respected wine brand in a relatively short length of time.  But how did this all begin?

RC:  Increasingly, more and more people are coming into the Napa Valley from other parts of the country or even the world.  But when I first got started, people assumed (often rightfully) that if you're making wine in Napa then you're from California.  I was actually born in a mining town in Arizona and grew up in South Texas, then later came to California while in the Coast Guard.  I really loved it here.  After I got out of the service, I went to school and met my wife Lynn.  We used to come up to the Napa Valley — back in the '60s, when there were only eight or nine wineries!  {laughter}  What most people don't realize is that Robert Mondavi, in 1966, had been the first new winery established in the Napa Valley since Prohibition, which marked the beginning of the second era in California's wine industry.  But, anyway, after going to school in San Francisco, I went to the University of Chicago for a couple of years [of grad school].  Coming out of there, I thought, "With this MBA, I'm going to get a really great job in the wine business!"  But the reality was, I couldn't even get a job!  At that time, there were mainly small wineries that were all family owned, and apparently all the good jobs went to family members.  On top of that, there was apparently no place for marketing in the industry; I actually had the president of a then-major winery say to me, "Your background is in marketing.  We sell everything we produce, so we don't need any marketing!…"  {laughing} I now like to think of that as a great time-capsule comment: nowadays, grapegrowing and winemaking is only half the battle; marketing is the other half.  You have to be successful in both in order to be successful at all.



 

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