If you’ve ever thought that winemaking is uptight or pretentious, then you should pay a visit to Caldwell Vineyard. From its earliest beginnings when owner John Caldwell smuggled vines from vineyards in France across the border, to its present-day reputation as one of the best - and most unique - producers in Napa, the vineyard is personality plus.

Don’t be fooled by this vineyard’s mischievous demeanor. Beneath it all is a precision-perfect approach to wine making, where every detail is carefully considered. Even their barrels are made by hand at the winery, by one of just a handful of Master Coopers. The hard work pays off, and the wines here are totally divine (yet don’t take themselves too seriously).

Looking for a winery with plenty of personality? With the mischievous maverick John Caldwell at the helm, this estate’s playful vibe hides a winery with serious viticulture credentials.

History of Caldwell Vineyard

Some people get into the wine business because of unbridled passion for the industry and love for the produce. This wasn’t necessarily the case for John Caldwell.

The story behind Caldwell Vineyard is more about happy chance and serendipity than it is about meticulous planning. Oh, and there’s also a little bit of smuggling thrown in for good measure. One thing is for sure - the Caldwell Vineyard story is not your average winery tale.

John Caldwell was a young man when he made his fortune selling ladies shoes in California. As his first experience in entrepreneurship showed, he had a knack for identifying an exciting opportunity and making the most of it. So, he quickly realized that the Napa region of California was on the cusp of greatness.

His original idea was to buy land to subdivide and sell, and he soon purchased about 50 acres in Coombsville. Alas, his plans to sell them as five separate plots was rejected by the planning authorities, and he turned his mind to another plan - making wine! Afterall, he liked wine, so why not?

Of course, starting a winery is not usually something that is done on a whim, especially when the land Caldwell had purchased was not thought to be much good for growing due to the rocky terrain. Initially, due to the terrain, Chardonnay was selected as the most appropriate grape.

A few years after he purchased the estate, Caldwell visited France and got the idea to clone French varieties. But to do so, he’d need to get the grapes to California - which was no easy task.

A plan was hatched and then executed - what Caldwell lacked in smuggling experience he made up for with quick-thinking and charisma. Via a comedy of errors and some good luck, Caldwell ended up with enough French vines to begin his winery.

Despite its intriguing beginnings, Caldwell Vineyard grew to be one of the most respected producers in the Napa Valley, although their own label didn’t start producing until the 1990s. John Caldwell never lost the twinkle in his eye, and there’s a certain playfulness and mischief associated with the estate.

It’s no average history - but it’s a great one.

What to expect

Having read the story of Caldwell Vineyard, it’s no surprise that John Caldwell is a well-known figure in Napa. His mischievous personality shines through, and his winery is a playful and downright enjoyable place to be. So, if you prefer drinking wine with a smile – make a visit.

As well as fun, Caldwell Vineyard also values family. Today, John Caldwell remains deeply involved, along with his wife. He’s also raising his children on the vineyard, and they may just take over the reins one day.

Don’t be fooled by the humble and down-to-earth facade: Caldwell Vineyard is also a winery for true wine enthusiasts. The heavily awarded vineyard not only produces its own exceptional wines, but also sells grapes to other producers such as the highly esteemed Insignia by Joseph Phelps.

One of the reasons why Caldwell Vineyard are so sought after is because of the unique terroir of the estate. The property features a unique “caldera”, or bowl-shaped impression. This allows the grapes to ripen more slowly than usual, heightening the intensity and vitality of the fruit.

This is just perfect, as far as the head winemaker Marc Gagnon is concerned. His philosophy allows the grapes to speak for themselves - and they have plenty to say.

Another unique characteristic of the Caldwell Vineyard is that it is the only winery in the US to have its own cooperage, headed up by one of only 32 master coopers in the world. This allows the winery to have total control over the barrels the wine is aged in - yet another way that Caldwell Vineyard does things differently.

Caldwell Vineyard offer private tastings by appointment. As well as the opportunity to taste some of the fabulous wine, the tasting is usually accompanied by some stories from John Caldwell’s colorful life.

As well as the tasting, the estate also opens its doors for frequent events. They’re particularly involved in the Napa Valley Film Festival, which is always a great event filled with celebrity guests, new films, great wine and general shenanigans.

Wines to Try

With over 30 different cloned varietals, there’s an amazing variety of wine to be enjoyed at Caldwell Vineyards. Whether you’re devoted to the reds, a fan of the whites, or eager to try them both, you will be well taken care of.

The flagship “Platinum” red showcases the absolute best fruit of the season and is utterly divine. There’s only two barrels per year, so it’s a rare wine. Similarly, their “Gold” Cabernet Sauvignon is a masterclass in what makes Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon famous worldwide.

For a more affordable foray into Caldwell Vineyard, there’s a sumptuous and full-bodied Syrah, while the Caldwell Chardonnay is a refreshing fruit-forward drop that’s just perfect for enjoying under the hot Californian sun.