Monday, June 4, 2012

To Kalon: Chronology and genealogy of a vineyard for the ages

Oakville's standing as one of the world's premier wine-growing region has, to a large extent, been based on the presence of the To Kalon Vineyard -- the California Farm Bureau's 2011 Vineyard of the Year -- within its borders.  The vineyard soil is comprised of gravelly loam on the slopes and alluvial, loam, and clay soils on the valley floor.

The Crabb Period
Oakville graduated from a water stop on the Napa Rail Line to the steps of the wine region hall of fame with Hamilton Walker Crabb's (spelt Crabbe in Julia Flynn Siler's The House of Mondavi) 1868 purchase of 240 acres of land from E. L. Sullivan for establishment of a vineyard (According to, Crabb arrived in California in 1853 looking for gold and finally settled in San Lorenzo.). Crabb built his first winery in 1872 and by 1877 was producing 50,000 gallons of wine annually from 130 planted acres in the vineyard that he, at that time, called Hermosa Vineyards.

Crabb was considered the "first true horticulturist" to be associated with Napa wines.  He grew more than 400 grape varieties on his property (he had brought in cuttings of "noble varieties" from France) and was a leader in the research efforts to develop phylloxera-resistant rootstock.  He shared his viticultural knowledge with his peers and sold them thousands of cuttings from his vineyard.  He is reputed to have been the first to plant Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc in the valley.

In 1879 Crabb purchased a 119-acre parcel from Eliza Yount, bringing his vineyard size to 359 acres, the eventual size at the time of his death in 1899. By 1886, Crabb had adopted the name To Kalon (the good; the beautiful) for the vineyard.

Crabb's association with the 135.7-acre Davis parcel -- prior to his 1891 short-term purchase -- solidifies its consideration as a component of the historic To-Kalon Vineyard (To-Kalon Vineyard National Register Nomination):
  • Crabb had planted the first vines on this property (at that time owned by his in-laws-to-be) in 1873 and had been purchasing the fruit to include in his To-Kalon wines since 1879.
  • Crabb purchased the land at auction in 1891 and immediately sold it back to his daughter-in-law via a mortgage valued at one-third the price he had paid for the property just seven days earlier. In 1893 he filed a quitclaim deed for the property and Margarethe Davis (his daughter-in-law) sells the property to A. L. Williams in November of the following year.
  • Prior to the 1891 purchase, Crabb regularly referred to the parcel as his own
  • According to the nomination,, "Additional primary sources state that the historic To-Kalon Vineyard was contiguous and stretched from the highway back to the foothills."
Historical To-Kalon boundary
(Source: Graeme MacDonald)

Click here to learn about another interpretation as to the components of the historical vineyard.

The Churchill Period
To Kalon was sold to a banker named E. W. Churchill subsequent to Crabb's death.  In 1911, he set aside 20 of the vineyard's acres to be used by the US Department of Agriculture for viticultural research.  The Department had established a research station in Oakville (Oakville Station) in 1903 and placed it under the stewardship of UC Davis.  Today UC Davis manages 40 acres of land at Oakville Station where experiments aimed at improving viticultural practices are conducted on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Zinfandel vines.  The grapes grown at Oakville station are sold to wineries to be used in the production of table wines.

Wine was produced at To Kalon from the time of Crabb's death until the winery burnt to the ground in 1939.  With the winery gone, the Churchill family decided to sell the estate.  The estate itself appeared to have grown in size because 335 acres were sold to Martin Stelling ( a San Francisco steel manufacturer), thus becoming a part of the 2000-acre Stelling Estate, while 89 acres were sold to Beaulieu Vineyards and became its Beaulieu Vineyard #4, source of the legendary Georges de Latour wines made by André Tchelistcheff.  Churchill had acquired 359 acres from the Crabb estate and had set 20 acres aside for the Department of Agriculture which should have brought the To Kalon acreage to 339 acres.  Sometime during the Churchill tenure, then, an additional 85 acres were added to the original vineyard to support the sale of the reported acreage to Stelling and Beaulieu Vineyards.

To-Kalon (with Stelling extensions) at the time of
Martin Stelling's death (

Martin Stelling died in an automobile accident in 1950 and his estate was held in trust for his son Douglas Stelling.

Mrs. Hedwig Detert purchased 43 acres of the To-Kalon Vineyard in 1954 from Caroline Stelling after the death of her husband. Mrs Detert wanted to buy the house in the hills above the vineyard but was told that she would have to buy some land in addition for the deal to go forward (Remember that at his death, the Stelling estate had in excess of 2000 acres of land). Mrs. Hedwig agreed and named the purchase Detert Vineyards. Shortly after the purchase, Mrs Detert turned the vineyard over to her sons and they divided it up and worked it as two separate vineyards. (Today the MacDonald Vineyard is 21 acres in size -- inclusive of 3 acres purchased from Robert Mondavi for construction of the buildings currently resident on the property -- while their second cousins farm 25 acres.).

In 1962, Ivan Schoch, Stelling's former foreman, approached the Mondavi's, then the owners of Charles Krug, about buying some of the Stelling land.  The Mondavi's jumped at the chance and bought almost 500 acres of the property, inclusive of most of the original Crabb acreage, for $1.35 million.  The property was held by the Charles Krug parent company C. Mondavi and Sons.

After his expulsion from Charles Krug, Robert Mondavi set out to establish his own winery.  This initiative began with the purchase of  11.6 acres of the original Crabb estate.  Subsequent to Mondavi's purchase, discussions were begun about converting the Stelling property into a commercial development with a small winery at its core.  Robert Mondavi signed on to be the winery operator and gained a small parcel of Stelling To Kalon property on which to build his own winery. The land development project never came to fruition but, with investment assistance from Sicks Rainier Brewing Company, Robert Mondavi Winery was able to purchase an additional 230 acres of To Kalon Vineyards from the Stelling holdings.

Charles Krug board action subsequent to Robert Mondavi's ouster sought to alter his voting rights and ownership share, prompting a Mondavi suit against his former company.  Mondavi prevailed in his suit and gained most of the To Kalon properties held by C. Mondavi and Sons as part of the settlement.

When Robert Mondavi and Baron de Rothschild agreed to the joint venture that is today's Opus One, the Baron contributed the working capital while Robert Mondavi contributed the choicest fruit from To Kalon, wines, and the sales and marketing apparatus.  In 1981 Robert Mondavi sold the To Kalon Q Block (35 acres) to the joint venture.  The viticulturist replanted this plot in 1995 with low-yield, high-density, phylloxera-resistant rootstock.  In 2008 Opus One acquired another 48 acres (K Block) of the To Kalon Vineyard from the Robert Mondavi Winery.


Beckstoffer Vineyards acquired Beaulieu Vineyard #4 in 1993 to add to its stable of heritage vineyards -- vineyards blessed with history, great land, and great fruit.  Subsequent to the purchase, Beckstoffer replanted the vineyard (1994 - 1997) with multiple clones of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, modern trellising, and closer vine spacing.

Beckstoffer had, back in the 1970s, been an early proponent of the AVA system but his thinking has evolved and he is now an avid booster of vineyard-designated wines.  Beckstoffer requires that winemakers purchasing his fruit designate the vineyard of origin on the wine label.  Schrader Cellars followed this dictate and placed the To Kalon name on the label its 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon which was made from Beckstoffer-sourced grapes.  Robert Mondavi promptly filed suit against Schrader and Beckstoffer for infringement of copyright.  After a year of back and forth the suit was settled with Mondavi granting a perpetual, royalty-free trademark license to Beckstoffer allowing him to use the To Kalon Vineyard designation for grapes grown on his part of the original Crabb estate.  In 2007 Beckstoffer placed his To Kalon property under a land conservation easement that guarantees that it will remain agricultural land into perpetuity.

The vineyard plots associated with the "historic" To-Kalon vineyard is shown in the map below while the acreage distribution is illustrated in the pie chart following.

The Mondavi acreage is used as the source for Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Oakville District Cabernet Sauvignon, Fumé Blanc Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, and I Block Fumé Blanc (The Mondavi website gives the acreage as 550 acres on one page and 450 acres on another). The Mondavi To Kalon Vineyard is planted to Sauvignon Blanc (I Block; 60-year-old vines), Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petite Verdot, Syrah, and Semillon.

The Oakville Station acreage fuels the Silverado Vineyards UC Davis Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon, Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Red Wine, Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and Stepping Stone Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, among others. 

The Opus One K Block is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot while the Q Block is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.  These grapes are used to produce Opus One.  

Beckstoffer Vineyards is planted with multiple clones of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and is the source for wines such as Alpha Omega (2007-2009), Bacio Divino Cellars (2004-2007), B Cellars (2004-2008), Carter Cellars (several labels, several vintages), Macauley Vineyard (several labels, several vintages), Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon (2001-2010), Provenance Vineyards (2003-2007), and Schrader Cellars (several labels, several vintages) among others.

© Wine -- Mise en abyme

No comments:

Post a Comment