Mike Moone and MaryAnn Tsai first met in 1989 at Beringer. Mike was running the show there and he hired MaryAnn straight out of business school (Harvard, no less). Although MaryAnn stayed at Beringer for 20+ years, rising to become vice president of marketing, she and Mike worked together for only a few years. Later on, the two crossed paths again at Luna Vineyards. Together, they took production at the Italian varietal-based winery from a couple thousand cases to more than 50,000 cases annually. Over the years Mike and MaryAnn also became close friends, and in 2006 (probably over a few glasses of wine), they decided to throw their hats into the ring and make a couple hundred cases of Cabernet together.
After their first release — a 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet sourced from John Caldwell’s superb Coombsville Vineyard — their hobby began to grow. Mike, MaryAnn, and MaryAnn’s husband, Larry Tsai, who also joined the venture, soon realized that they either had to keep it scaled down to a truly hobby-sized operation, or devote some time and resources to see if they could build a little business out of their passion. As Larry said, “You know, you start writing checks, and the checks start getting bigger, and soon you realize it would be nice to get at least a little something back.”
In 2008 the trio of owners approached Philippe Melka, who had made the first few releases, to see if he had more time to put into the venture, a key condition for moving forward. When he said yes, they began a careful expansion to their current production of about 3,000-4,000 cases per year. Up until then they had made just a single flagship Cabernet Sauvignon — the Cor Leonis. In 2008 the team added two wines, a more approachable and affordable (though still high-quality) Napa Valley Cabernet, sourced from mainly from Caldwell, and a Howell Mountain “Hillside Blend.” A couple years after that, they added two Chardonnays, which, according to Larry, were the first made by Melka.
Fruit for the wines is sourced from some of the top spots in Napa and Sonoma: Beckstoffer To Kalon, Howell Mountain, St. Helena, and Pritchard Hill for the reds, and Charles Heintz Vineyards and Bald Mountain Vineyards for the Chardonnays. With the exorbitant prices of land and the relatively small scale of production, purchasing an estate vineyard hasn’t been feasible for Mike, MaryAnn and Larry. Fortunately, it hasn’t been necessary — their combined list of contacts is chalk full of excellent growers. At the moment, they are comfortably locked into seven blocks that they can control for five to 10 years, assuring them continuity going forward.
The wines are made at Caldwell’s winery, a cost effective and logical move. Not only does the Moon-Tsai team get use of the caves, winemaking equipment, and tasting rooms there, it is also where Philippe makes several wines for his other clients, so his staff is always on hand.
In all, this is one of the more grounded and realistic small wineries you’ll find. No surprise given the experience that Mike and MaryAnn bring to the table. The result? Classy, beautifully constructed wines that are well worth seeking out.