L to R: Jaimee Motley, Winemaker, Stony Hill Vineyard; Avery Heelan Winemaker, Larkmead Vineyards; and Ryan Rech, Chief Winemaker/General Manager, Beringer Vineyards / Photos by Cayce Clifford
For a young winemaker, taking over a historical property can be terrifying, transformative or both, depending on a lot of variables. Some older wineries might need to be blown up and rebuilt again to regain their glory; others may just need a steady hand that won’t screw things up. In most cases, the truth lies somewhere in between.
What isn’t in doubt is that, whenever there is a winemaker change, it offers the chance for a fresh perspective. Here we explore five top wineries in the Napa Valley that have recently named a new winemaker, investigate the new directions they are exploring and the delicate balance between respecting a legacy and making something one’s own.
Winemaker, Stony Hill Vineyard
Motley was an aspiring painter from Maryland who came to San Francisco. She became enamored with wine while working at restaurant RN74 under Rajat Parr, who gave her the chance to taste Napa Cabernet Sauvignons from the 1960s and 1970s, which led her to journey up to the Napa Valley.
She first visited Stony Hill on Spring Mountain in 2011.
“I fell in love with the beautiful road up there, with the mysterious location,” says Motley. “Tasting the wines, they resonated with me. You can see a real signature with Stony Hill, there’s salinity and restraint, they showcase the vineyards.
Fred and Eleanor McCrea founded Stony Hill in 1943, planting Chardonnay in its volcanic soils and building a winery in 1951. Mike Chelini served as winemaker for 40 years, fermenting the wines in neutral oak with no malolactic fermentation.
“Being offered the position was a huge honor and intimidating at first; there are big shoes to fill,” she says. “The biggest draw and one of my main tasks is rehabilitating a lot of this vineyard. The vines are aging, and there’s erosion, there need to be replants and there are fallow parcels we inherited.”