Joe Phelps founded Joseph Phelps Winery in 1973 at the very beginning of Napa’s modern wine renaissance. Over the years, it has earned a reputation for consistently producing some of the highest quality, most sought-after wines in the valley, not to mention a range of superb, more moderately-priced offerings.
Phelps became interested in Napa in the late 1960s while his construction firm, Hensel Phelps, was working on the Bay Area Rapid Transit project in San Francisco. During that time, the company received a contract to build the Souverain Winery (now Rutherford Hill). While the winery was under construction, Joe fell in love with the area (and with wine), and in 1973 he bought the Connolly property, a 600-acre cattle ranch on the east side of Napa in Spring Valley. Joe and his team got right to work that year making Cabernet, Riesling, and Pinot Noir at custom crush facilities. In 1974 they completed construction of an on-site winery and made the first wines in it, including the inaugural vintage of Insignia.
Today, the wines are 100% estate-grown, thus giving the team complete control over all farming and vineyard practices. While Joseph Phelps Winery is best known for its presence in Napa Valley, other holdings include outstanding vineyards on the Sonoma Coast and in Spring Valley, Rutherford, Oakville, Stags Leap, Yountville, Oak Knoll, and Carneros.
Thirty-five years after I first visited the property, Phelps continues to amaze me. A brand-new winery and revamped tasting room have ushered in a new era here, and I must say, the future has never looked brighter.