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Walnut Creek Magazine

Pioneering Napa Valley Winery Cuvaison Continues to Captivate

Jun 05, 2024 09:18AM ● By Fran Miller

Founded in 1969, Cuvaison is one of the pioneering wineries that shaped the modern era of California winemaking, helping to catapult Napa Valley onto the global stage as a one of revered wine region. More than five decades later, Cuvaison remains true to its roots: an independent, family-owned, working winery dedicated to making Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. 

After several years of making his own home wines, in 1967 Thomas Parkhill traveled to Napa Valley in search of high-quality grapes. There he met winemaking legend, Louis Martini who pointed him westward towards a Pinot Noir vineyard in Los Carneros. 

Two years later, Parkhill and Thomas Cotrell founded Cuvaison, with an inaugural vintage of Napa Valley Chardonnay—a varietal focus that has continued for more than five decades. 


In 1979, Cuvaison was acquired by the Schmidheiny family of Switzerland—fifth generation vintners who still own the winery today. The Schmidheiny family immediately cemented Cuvaison’s focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir by acquiring 400 acres of highly prized land north of San Pablo Bay in Napa Valley. 

The site was selected both for its ideal mix of clay and loam soils, and for its unique marine-influenced microclimate, where wind and fog from the bay result in cooler summer temperatures, providing ideal conditions for Burgundian varietals Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. 

Los Carneros’ unique conditions resulted in it becoming the first American Viticultural Area in California to be established based on its climate.

Cuvaison's glass-walled tasting room provides stunning vineyard views.

In the four decades since its founding, Cuvaison’s Napa Green-certified Tai Vineyard, at 125 planted acres, has been sculpted into a mosaic 16 blocks of Chardonnay and 13 of Pinot Noir, along with smaller blocks of Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Semillon, Syrah and Grenache. 

Neighboring sites like the Hyde and Hudson vineyards, it is a grand-cru caliber vineyard that has evolved through a constant process of refinement into one of Napa Valley’s finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vineyards. 

In order to preserve the character and complexity of the estate’s diverse palette of grapes, Cuvaison built a new 32,000-square-foot winery in 2009. Designed to handle numerous small lots, the winery was built to the specifications of Cuvaison’s talented winemaker, Steve Rogstad, a master of Los Carneros Chardonnay and Pinot Noir who has guided Cuvaison’s winemaking since 2002. 

Fully temperature controlled, the smart-shed winery includes an optical sorting system, gravity flow, three concrete eggs, and more than 60 tanks for individual fermentations. As a result, each individual vineyard block has a vessel specifically selected for that wine. 

Cuvaison winemaker Steve Rogstad

Cuvaison's varied winemaking vessels

In 2016, three years ahead of Cuvaison’s 50th anniversary, Dan Zepponi was named president and CEO of its parent company, Two Estates Wine Collective, which includes Brandlin Estate Winery. The son of famed vintner Gino Zepponi, who cofounded ZD Winery, Dan Zepponi grew up in the wine industry, and recognized the pivotal role Cuvaison played in shaping the modern era of Napa Valley winemaking. 

“When you look at the world’s most revered wineries, there are several common threads,” says Zepponi. “They are often independent, family-owned wineries that have spent generations focusing on a few core varietals, while nurturing a remarkable piece of land. These wineries also helped to pioneer and define their regions, making wines that captured the imagination. These are Cuvaison’s values, and the foundation we are building on as we look toward our next half century.” 

Cuvaison’s Tasting Salon features glass walls and stunning views of Carneros’ undulating vineyard hills. From private, immersive tastings, with walking tours of the property, and seasonal bites to estate tastings of acclaimed Cuvaison and Brandlin Estate wines, each of the experiences celebrate the essential character of the winery’s estate. 

Photos courtesy of Cuvaison


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