A Groth Vineyards & Winery History
You might say this is a story of right time, right place. In 1981,Dennis and Judy Groth came very close to realizing their dream of buying a premium vineyard in the heart of wine country. However, the vineyard they nearly purchased was located in Sonoma County and did not grow Cabernet Sauvignon.
The two realized that they really needed to have a great Cabernet vineyard. "The moment that everything changed," recalls Dennis, "was when the phone rang and Napa realtor and grape farmer, Ren Harris, told me I had to drive over the hill before I made any final decision. Judy and I took his advice and we drove from Sonoma to Napa via the Oakville grade. When we reached the top, we stopped and looked down on a spectacular sea of vineyards. Curiously, the vineyard we bought from Ren is the very one that we saw that moment, and every time we drive over the grade we think of that day."
The year was 1981. The 121 acre purchase was the Oakville Vineyard planted by Justin Meyer and Ray Duncan from 1972-1974 to Cabernet Sauvignon, in the heart of the Oakville appellation. It was prime Cabernet Sauvignon land, planted by masters. Some of the grapes found their way to Justin's Silver Oak bottlings and to other successful Napa Valley wines.
"It was a life changing investment for Judy and me," Dennis recalls. "We were not grape farmers, but we were serious wine consumers who loved and had consumed our fair share of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon over the years. The greatest wine I had ever tasted prior to in 1981 was the 1968 Beaulieu Private Reserve. Before we committed, we needed confirmation that the land would produce something that could possibly be that special."
In 1978, a neighboring winery, Villa Mt. Eden, had made a reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from its Oakville vineyard. "We hunted down a bottle and opened it immediately. We knew at that tasting that if we could make a wine this good, we'd be happy."
Dennis and Judy, natives of the Santa Clara Valley, had been married for twenty years when they bought the property in 1981. Dennis had worked up the ladder to partner at Arthur Young & Co., and was one of the key architects that built Atari, a consumer electronic company, into a 2 billion dollar company. In 1984 Atari was sold. In 1985 Dennis, Judy, and their three children moved from San Jose to the Napa Valley and never looked back. Their home, and then the winery, were built on the Oakville ranch.
"We wanted to keep the business family owned and operated," states Judy Groth. "What we couldn't have anticipated is how much the kids now play a role in our business. Suzanne, Andrew, and I are as involved as Dennis, and all those who work here are like family to us. That is the way we like to do business."
"I think that those who visit the winery in Oakville feel this," adds her daughter Suzanne. "To this end we formed a Groth Wine Club, Team Red Stripe. They know us, follow the wines, and follow the efforts we take to continually evolve the quality of our wines. "
Looking back, Dennis admits, "Groth's first vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon immediately put us on the map. Our first Cabernet was the top wine in its class at fairs and tastings, as was our Chardonnay. Robert Parker gave our 1985 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon the distinction of California's first 100 point wine. Despite the acclaim, we have worked very hard to fine tune the quality of each of our wines since our first vintage in 1982."
Michael Weis has been Groth's winemaker since 1994. His method is to not only to stay on the cutting edge of winemaking, but- more importantly- to understand the estate vineyards. "Great wines," says Michael, "do need the influence of an experienced winemaking team. Our vineyard manager, Ben Benson, has been at Groth since the very beginning. I had many years of making wines in Oakville before I came to Groth. But I also feel that great wines are made in the vineyards; to this end we have dramatically changed the way we grow our Estate grapes," concludes Michael. "Two decades ago the canopies were uneven, and the grapes were not as exposed to direct and indirect sunlight. Today we grow grapes that have richer flavors, darker colors, and frankly, make better wines. My job is to identify the essence of our vineyards, then bottle it."
"Making great wine takes a large investment of patience, experience, and dedication, not to mention dollars," states Dennis. "Between 1999 and 2003 we replanted all 54 acres of our Cabernet Sauvignon in Oakville." Each block was replanted with new clones, rootstocks, new trellising techniques based on our twenty two years of experience, and the experience of world class viticulturalists. In 2006 we rebuilt our barrel cellars, crush, and fermentation areas. All this has one purpose: to make the best wine the vintage will allow."
From 1983- when the first Groth Reserve was produced- and until 1999, the Groths exclusively used grapes from a specific section of their vineyard. The Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon always came from a special location, and received special handling as it was harvested, fermented, and aged separately.
The Groths' commitment to the Reserve program was tested when their vineyard's Reserve blocks were replanted in 1999. As a result of the replanting, no Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was produced until 2005, when the replanted vines matured to produce fruit of Reserve quality. Groth produced a very distinctive Reserve from 1983-1999; they wanted to continue making a wine with the same distinctive characteristics.
Dennis' commitment to his winery's success has extended toward his industry's welfare. The health of the family business, he has felt, depends on the health of the California Wine Industry. He has served as President of the Napa Valley Vintners and Chairman of The Wine Institute. This service included years as a board member of both trade groups, as well as a Trustee of the Queen of the Valley Hospital in Napa, California.
Groth Vineyards & Winery was established in 1982 and produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay from Napa Valley's Oakville AVA. In special years we will make a "Reserve" bottling of Cabernet Sauvignon from a small lot in their 121 acre Oakville Estate. The Groths also own and operate the 44-acre Hillview Vineyard in Yountville, a prime source for the Winery's Chardonnay and Merlot. From its inception the winery has been family owned and operated.