Caldwell is about love and family (you can taste it in our wines). But around here, it’s a little bit about misbehaving, taking chances and mischief too.
John Caldwell is known by many names but here in legendary Napa Valley, he’s a legend all his own. Over the last 40 years John has built Caldwell Vineyard into what is arguably one of the greatest and most unique wine estates in the world. With 28 different clone-specific grape varieties, Caldwell also has the distinction of being the one of the first U.S. wineries with its own on-site barrel cooperage, something only seven other wineries in the world can say.
The original wine industry maverick, John is the man responsible for introducing the most prized Bordeaux root stock and grapevine clones to California. Now considered the industry standard in U.S. vineyards, John worked with the French government to create and license the Entav-Inra clones for all of North America.
Planted in 1982, Caldwell has been the grape source to some pretty heavy hitters, over the years including: Moone Tsai (Philippe Melka), Merus and Brion (Mark Herold), Pahlmeyer (Helen Turley), Patz and Hall, Joseph Phelps’ Insignia, Stéphane Derenoncourt and a heap of others.
When their first son was born, John and Joy decided to make a wine of their own to represent the best of what their vineyard had to offer. Working with Philippe Melka, they released the first vintage of 1998 Caldwell “Silver” Proprietary Red wine.
Today, alongside his wife Joy and winemaker Marbue Marke, Caldwell Vineyard makes more than 23 wines for the Caldwell Signature Collection, Varietal Collection, Rocket Science and the Society of Smugglers.
THE REST OF THE STORY
– The Real Deal About the Original Napa Smuggler
No bones about it, John Caldwell is known as the Napa grapevine smuggler, and for good reason. He did indeed smuggle grapevines into the U.S. to plant in his own vineyard (the full story of which you can read here). What many people don’t know is the rest of the story, the real deal about the certified, clean vines he brought in and how these vines ended up becoming the industry standard in North America.
Back in the 80’s John got a bad rap for smuggling grape vines into the country because only part of the story got told - which was the part about him getting caught by the local authorities in Napa for bringing in plant material that hadn’t gone through a two-year quarantine process in the U.S.
The truth is that John brought in certified Entav-Inra rootstock and clonal material that was already certified by the French government to be 100% disease free.
The reason he didn’t go through the standard customs route is because he was planting the vineyard during the start of the phylloxera epidemic, and the only commercially available rootstack at the time─the Davis-certified AXR─had been showing serious susceptibility to infection. John decided that betting his entire project on grapevines that were prone to phylloxera was just too risky. The standard import protocol at the time would have taken him 7 years, at best, to start producing wine, and would have only allowed him to bring in a few acres worth of vines.
During a visit to France, one of the respected nursery guys told him about a gentleman in Canada who had received a grant to work with the University of Toronto to test out Bordeaux varieties in their climate. The university brought in 6,000 vines of certified Entav-Inra Cabernet and Cab Franc. After conducting their research and trying to sell the vines in Canada, they realized that these varieties just wouldn’t thrive in their climate, and no one wanted to try to grow Cabernet at Niagra by the Lake.
Over the course of the study, the vines had already gone through a quarantine period in North America – though it wasn’t necessary given that the Entav-Inra certification policies are the same as ours in the United States, and Canada and France have a reciprocal agreement. Regardless, the French government had already visited the University and re-certifed the vines. Shortly after, John brought these vines into the U.S. and planted them in his vineyard.
A few years later he became the first licensee in the United States to propagate and sell the certified Entav-Inra rootstock and clones. In order to confirm that all the original “smuggled” vines were authentic, the French government came back to Caldwell Vineyard and tested everything again to confirm that it was certified and clean.