In the late 60s, Joseph Phelps was running one of the largest construction companies in the U.S. when he won the bid to build Souverain Winery (now Rutherford Hill) located a few miles outside of St. Helena. Enamored with the beautiful Napa Valley and contemplating a career change, in 1973 he bought the 600-acre Connolly cattle ranch in Spring Valley, and began planting vineyards. The winery was completed in 1974 and that same year the first Syrah was made, the first grapes were crushed at the new facility and the first Insignia was produced. It was a period of unparalleled activity, creativity, ingenuity, entrepreneurship and risk-taking and it put Joe Phelps on the map of top Napa Valley wine producers.
Four decades later, the flagship wine, Insignia, is recognized as one of the world’s great wines. Thirty-one of thirty-six vintages have been rated ninety or more points by various wine publications. The 2002 vintage was awarded “Wine of the Year” by Wine Spectator Magazine. Over the years, the goal of becoming 100% estate grown resulted in carefully planned acquisitions of prime vineyards in the Napa Valley. Today, the Phelps estate consists of the Spring Valley Home Ranch outside of St. Helena, Banca Dorada in Rutherford, Las Rocas and Barboza vineyards in Stags Leap, Yountville Vineyard in Oak Knoll, Suscol Vineyard in South Napa, Backus Vineyard in Oakville and Larry Hyde & Sons Vineyard in Carneros.
Beginning with the 2009 vintage, estate-grown wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Insignia, Cabernet Sauvignon Backus Vineyard (the single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Oakville) and Eisrébe, a dessert wine made from the Scheurebe grape. In addition, Syrah is produced from the Larry Hyde & Sons Vineyard in Carneros.
Though the main focus is on Bordeaux varietals, Joe Phelps has had a life-long love affair with the wines of Burgundy and a desire to craft wines in that style. Originally Chardonnay was sourced from St. Helena, later from Yountville and then from Carneros. Through the years, however, Joe continued to search for the ideal spot to grow both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and his search ended when the perfect combination of climate, soil and location was found in Freestone, located in the Sonoma Coast AVA, a mere five miles from the Pacific Ocean. In 1999, Joseph Phelps Vineyards began developing 100 acres of vineyards just outside of Freestone. In 2005, construction began on a new winery which was completed in time for the 2007 harvest. Today, 80 acres of Pinot Noir and 20 acres of Chardonnay produce remarkable estate-grown wines bearing the Joseph Phelps name.