Wednesday, March 15, 2017

MACDONALD: A missing piece of the To-Kalon Vineyard story

As part of his support of my efforts to tell the full story of Oakville's To-Kalon Vineyard, Tor Kenward (Tor Kenward Family Wines) put me in touch with Alex and Graeme MacDonald, sibling proprietors of the wine brand MACDONALD and, pleasant surprise, owners of a small slice of the historic vineyard. With the intro from Tor, I was able to schedule a visit with the brothers to talk about the history of their site and the scope of their current efforts.

The MACDONALD property is located on Walnut Drive, west of the Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard.

Signpost Tree
I was originally scheduled to meet with Alex but he was called away to a meeting and I met with Graeme instead. I was extremely satisfied with the meeting as Graeme is a history buff (who has done some innovative work on the To-Kalon history) as well as being the viticulturist and winemaker on the project. I will cover my visit with Graeme in two posts, the first adding to the To-Kalon historical context and the second focusing on the enterprise which the two brothers have launched. The map below shows theownership of the modern-day derivatives of the lands that have been referred to as To-Kalon at some time in the past while the diagram below summarizes the portions of the history that I have covered to date.

Created by Sarah MacDonald for Wine-Mise en Abyme

Graeme's Greatgrandmother -- Hedwig Detert -- purchased 43 acres of the To-Kalon Vineyard in 1954 from Caroline Stelling after the death of Martin Stelling in a 1950 automobile accident. Mrs Detert wanted to buy the house in the hills above the vineyard (shown in the picture below) 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 son and daughter and they have worked it since 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 1957, the current MACDONALD vineyard was replanted and the grapes produced therefrom sold to the Charles Krug winery. In 1954 their Grandfather signed a 3-year contract to deliver grapes to Robert Mondavi (while he was at Charles Krug) at $150/ton. The market price was higher than the contract price at harvest but, unbidden, Mondavi paid them at the market price. When this situation repeated itself the following year, his Grandfather strode into Robert Mondavi's office, tore up the contract and told Bob that henceforth they would do business on the basis of a handshake. This handshake agreement continued with Bob when he started his own winery in 1966.

They have sold grapes to the Mondavis for 60 years+ with Robert managing the vineyard for most of that time. The relationship with the Mondavis has been so close that when Robert and Peter had their falling out, Graeme's Grandmother tried to be Solomonic, offering half of the grapes to Bob and half to Peter. Bob took repeated actions to force the price of the grapes up and Peter could not keep up so his Grandmother eventually provided the grapes solely to Bob.

Their Grandmother had wanted the kids to enter into the wine business but they had all gone off to do other thngs.  When Graeme decided to get into the wine business, he asked Robert Mondavi where his focus should be. Bob suggested that he go to UC Davis and acquire the training to become a grower.

After Mondavi sold his winery, they had to begin farming on their own. They used a vineyard management company but he was dissatisfied with their willingness to pull out, needlessly, in his view, the old Cabernet Sauvignon vines. He began to purchase used pieces of equipment here and there and eventually underbid the vineyard management company for the right to farm the vineyard. He has worked and managed it on his own since then. In addition, the brothers have launched a wine, using grapes sourced from the vineyard. Alex is responsible for all other aspects of the business.

I will cover the vineyard and the wine in an upcoming post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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