The Vine Cliff Winery Estate of today is an exquisite mountainside property located on land which was once part of the original George C. Yount estate.
Noteworthy locals George Burrage and Thomas Tucker purchased the site for Vine Cliff Winery from the Yount Estate in 1870 (five years after Yount’s death). They started wine production a year later. At the time, one of Yount’s three vineyards – now covered by Rector Dam – lay in close proximity to the planned site of Vine Cliff Winery. Since acreage in vines northeast of Yountville at that time was limited, it is likely that the duo counted on purchasing all the grapes produced on Yount’s ranch and vineyard. Burrage and Tucker built Vine Cliff into what appears to be the largest winery in the Napa Valley.
Though Burrage and Tucker did not live long enough to establish a reputation for Vine Cliff, they did construct an impressive winery and tunnels, one of which remains to the present. After the deaths of Burrage and Tucker, wealthy San Franciscan, John Fry purchased the property and immediately set out to achieve his vision for the winery, which he did by the 1890’s. Fry had made a fortune in Nevada silver and invested heavily in San Francisco real estate. He served on the board of directors of a dozen major companies, including the Bank of California and the Napa Valley Wine Company, a connection, which proved particularly fruitful for Vine Cliff.
A half dozen wineries were affiliated with the Napa Valley Wine Company, the leaders of which wanted to build name recognition for the company by setting a quality standard with its wines unmatched in California. As Vine Cliff Winery prospered, it attracted the elite social set of San Francisco. Prominent San Franciscans visiting Vine Cliff included William Ralston, the founder of the Bank of California. During Vine Cliff’s heydays in the 1890’s, the winery and Fry ranch were model farms in the Napa Valley. In addition to the vineyards, the property also encompassed a water wheel functioning as a gristmill, and Yount Mill, home to a range of wild birds. Trees and formal gardens greeted guests arriving at the estate, which featured the stately 18-room Fry mansion. Amazingly, the early history of Vine Cliff is contained within a short thirty years. Phylloxera destroyed the vineyards and supporting wine production by about 1900. After Fry’s death in 1901, most of the winery structure disappeared in a matter of a few years, except for the stone first floor and tunnels.
It took close to 85 years before Vine Cliff, like the phoenix in its seal, rose from the ashes. In 1985, Nell Sweeney purchased the estate. The vineyards became alive again with new plantings of cabernet sauvignon. The Sweeney Family introduced ecological farming practices to Vine Cliff. The original Vine Cliff winery stone first floor was resurrected in 1990 and 1991 with the construction of a barrel chaise. In 1995 a new gravity fed production facility was completed. It is considered one of the top and most innovative production facilities in California. Additional vineyards were purchased by the family in Calistoga and Carneros achieving over 40 acres of estate vineyards by 1999. In June of 2000, the present day much acclaimed cave was completed, providing 15,000 square feet of barrel aging capability.
In 2014, the Sweeney Family opened the Vine Cliff Cellars St. Helena Tasting Room to accommodate a greater number of Vine Cliff wine lovers flocking to Napa Valley for an exclusive tasting experience. At the St. Helena Vine Cliff Tasting Room, a seasonal culinary menu compliments the Vine Cliff wine tasting program. The Sweeney Family continues the vision – to produce outstanding distinctive wines, and to create a landmark winery where the incredible beauty of its historic hillside setting is to be enjoyed and where the legacy of Vine Cliff continues to soar like the phoenix.