Joe Heitz and his wife Alice were true pioneers of modern California winemaking when they moved to the Napa Valley in 1951. Joe earned an advanced degree in oenology from the University of California at Davis and he worked with famed winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu Vineyards for several years before he and Alice bought a small winery in 1961. Over the decades the couple turned the estate into one of California’s most admired estates. Joe died in 2000 but his children continued to run the estate, making the distinctive Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, among other highly acclaimed wines. In 2018 the estate was sold to Gaylon Lawrence Jr., a businessman whose family owns farmland throughout the Midwest and South as well as banks and industrial enterprises. Lawrence has brought in Napa wine industry veteran Robert Boyd as Heitz CEO. The estate owns 400 acres of vineyards.
Napa Valley AVA is the most famous winemaking region in the United States and one of the most prestigious in the world. With nearly 43,000 acres of vineyards and more than 300 wineries, it is the heart of fine wine production in the United States. Winemaking started in Napa in 1838 when George C. Yount planted grapes and began producing wine commercially. Other winemaking pioneers followed in the late 19th century, including the founders of Charles Krug, Schramsberg, Inglenook and Beaulieu Vineyards. An infestation of phylloxera, an insect that attacks vine roots, and the onset of Prohibition nearly wiped out the nascent Napa wine industry in the early 20th century. But by the late 1950s and early 1960s Robert Mondavi and other visionaries were producing quality wines easily distinguishable from the mass-produced jug wines made in California’s Central Valley. Napa Valley’s AVA was established in 1983, and today there are 16 sub-appellations within the Napa Valley AVA. Many grapes grow well in Napa’s Mediterranean climate, but the region is best known for Cabernet Sauvignon. Chardonnay is also very successfully cultivated, and about 30% of the AVA’s acreage is planted to white grapes, with the majority of those grapes being Chardonnay,
Zinfandel is a black-skinned grape, but 85% of the wine produced is made into a rosy “White Zinfandel.” Red Zin is far more complex and bold, while still being light-bodied. It grows in popularity as winemakers continue to experiment with new styles and blends.