Quintessa Winery

Quintessa Winery

"In 1989, Valeria and I found the property that would become Quintessa, a remarkable estate in the heart of the renowned Rutherford appellation of Napa Valley. With 280 acres, it was the last great undeveloped property in Napa Valley and had all the characteristics of a great wine estate: rolling hills, many different microclimates, and a vast diversity of soil types. Now with nearly fifteen years of growth, the vines have lost their youthful exuberance and have developed into a balanced vineyard that needs little manipulation to produce low yields and concentrated flavors."
- Augustin Huneeus

Quintessa is comprised of a total of 280 acres of which 170 acres are planted to the classic Bordeaux grape varieties in 26 vineyard blocks as follows: Cabernet Sauvignon (129 acres), Merlot (26 acres), Cabernet Franc (7 acres), Petit Verdot (4 acres), and Carmenere (4 acres). The estate includes a valley, a lake, a river, five hills, four microclimates, and many soil types, as well as rich flora and fauna. The diversity of exposure, elevation, and microclimate and soil type produces 40 very different wines lots from the 26 different vineyard blocks. We believe the diversity of the property (valleys, terraces, hilltops, foothills and riverside) contribute to the high quality and uniqueness of the fruit.

Originally part of the Caymus land grant, the property was purchased in the 1940s by George Mardikian, a high profile San Francisco restaurateur, owner of the renowned Omar Khayyam restaurant. Mardikian had grand plans for the property and believed it's destiny was to be a premium wine estate. Unfortunately, George Mardikian died in the early 1980s never having fulfilled his dream.

The combination of the property's size, beauty, and location in the heart of one of the world's greatest appellations, Rutherford, created a speculative frenzy among potential buyers. From the time of his death until the final sale in 1990, many prestigious vintners in the Napa Valley attempted to buy the property, several getting as far as escrow, without success.

When Valeria Huneeus first saw the property in late 1989, she felt a special connection to the wild undulating hills, studded with mature oak trees and the beautiful Dragon's Lake. Like others before her, she also recognized immediately that the property had the potential to be a wine estate of superlative caliber. Although many others had been unsuccessful in attempts to buy the property, Valeria believed that she and Agustin alone were to be the stewards of this unique property. Their combined years of experience in all aspects of the wine making and vineyard development made them uniquely suited to shepherd this property to fulfill its great potential.

By patiently sharing her vision with the Mardikian family, Valeria won their trust and in 1990 they agreed to sell the land. Agustin and Valeria christened the property, Quintessa: a name that alludes to the five dramatic hills and five distinct microclimates included in the property's diverse geography, unique in the Napa Valley, and the belief they held that this property was destined to be the quintessential wine estate.

The story of Quintessa is really a story of destiny. That this unique property that was quite possibly the best parcel of land, in arguably the best appellation in Napa for growing the noble Bordeaux grape varietals had laid untouched for so long, when so many others before them tried to acquire it can be credited to nothing else than destiny. Agustin and Valeria believe this property was meant to be Quintessa.

The fact that Quintessa had not been planted throughout the early growth in Napa Valley's vineyard development is paramount. While other vineyards were overtaken with phylloxera in the early 1980's and subsequently besieged by an onslaught of aggressive mechanical and chemical remedies, Quintessa was spared. When Valeria began to develop the vineyard in 1990, the soils were alive and healthy, and free from prior disease, farming abuses, or other limitations inherent in pre-existing vineyards. Agustin and Valeria Huneeus were able realize their vision for Quintessa and create a world class wine estate capable of producing a great wine.

In 2002, Valeria and Agustin Huneeus' dream of the Quintessential Wine Estate, one vineyard that produces one singular estate wine, was realized with the opening of the winery at Quintessa. Walker Warner Architects of San Francisco designed the winery to reflect Agustin and Valeria Huneeus' desire for an inconspicuous structure that would blend into the contours of the property. The graceful crescent-shaped design was carefully considered for its environmental sensitivity and fits snugly into an eastern-facing hillside, disrupting little in the way of the aesthetics or natural beauty of the property. A facade of indigenous stone and natural landscaping of native plants and oak trees creates a subtle presence amidst the diverse terrain.

Quintessa is truly a “winemaker's winery”. The design facilitates a gravity-flow process and a state-of-the-art winery specifically tailored with fermenters and tanks sized to match the diverse blocks in the Quintessa vineyard. Additionally, the winery at Quintessa is outfitted with the latest in winemaking technology. French oak and stainless steel fermenters stand tall along the winery's front wall, providing the winemaking team with a choice of characteristics adding complexity and subtlety to the blend. Two Vaslin-Bucher JLB automated basket presses, designed for Quintessa to retain the benefits of gentle basket pressing while incorporating new efficiency and precision are ideally situated at the center of the tank room to receive the grape must following fermentation and maceration. At the heart of the winery and overlooking the tanks and presses below, sits the glass-enclosed blending room and adjoining modern lab where the winemaking progress is painstakingly monitored daily.

Behind the press hall lies the main entrance to Quintessa's caves structure, 1,200 linear feet, and 17,000 square feet of caves and tunnels carved into the volcanic ash hillside directly behind the winery. Here the wine is left to age in French oak barrels in the caves' ideal cellarage conditions for three years from vintage before its release. Quintessa's caves can be entered through one of four porticos from the winery and have a capacity to store up to 3,000 barrels.

"Everything that we do is based on our beliefs that wine should be—and our wine will be—known for the property from which it originates, rather than its varietal composition," Agustin states. Born in Santiago, Chile, Agustin Huneeus began his career there and is one of the few vintners who has dedicated his entire professional life to the wine industry. He entered the wine business in 1960 as Chief Executive Officer of Concha y Toro. Then a small winery, Concha y Toro grew to become Chile's largest winery under Agustin's leadership. In 1971, Chile's difficult political climate led Agustin to leave his home country. He subsequently headed Seagram's worldwide operations, responsible for wineries in seven countries, including the United States. He founded Noble Vineyard in 1977, which later acquired Concannon Vineyard, a premium winery in the Livermore Valley.

Agustin became partner and acting President of Franciscan Estates in 1985. Under his leadership, the ailing company was transformed into a successful group of premium wine estates. In 1999, Agustin sold his interest in Franciscan Estates. Today, he devotes his time to realizing his dream of developing Quintessa into a world-class wine estate. He also maintains vineyard holdings in Chile, Alexander Valley, and Napa Valley.

Agustin was awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the Wine Spectator in 1996. He is an accomplished and enthusiastic cellist, skier, and horseman.

"I believe that we are stewards of the land." This is the quietly stated philosophy of Valeria Huneeus, Ph.D., microbiologist, viticulturist, and architect of the Quintessa vineyard. Valeria stumbled on the Rutherford property during a time when she was searching for a new vineyard management project, one that would allow her to work closer to her husband than had her previous commitments. Her vision and perseverance made it possible to buy the property, which more than a dozen other suitors had failed in their efforts to purchase.

Born in Chile, Valeria originally intended to study medicine, but redirected her love of science into viticulture and enology. After graduating from the University of Chile, she worked as a viticulturist in the Southern Hemisphere. When Valeria and Agustin moved to New York and began a family, Valeria broadened her interests, pursuing a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Columbia University. She then spent ten years doing research in cholesterol and cell metabolism with the Veterans Administration and the University of California at San Francisco.

"I wanted to see the sun again," she smiles, explaining the next curve in her career: developing the Mistral vineyard in Santa Clara County with her husband. This project gave her valuable practical experience that she was able to use in the development of Quintessa. "Quintessa was a rare opportunity," she reflects, "but the topography was a great challenge. An avid proponent of a sustainable approach to agriculture that seeks harmony with the land, Valeria took special care to be respectful of the landscape and the soil. Many other facets of this philosophy have been applied to the development of the Quintessa vineyard and its daily care.

Charles Thomas joined the Quintessa team as winemaker in June 2007. He has a storied career with some of the most highly regarded wineries in the industry including Robert Mondavi Winery, Domaine Chandon, Cardinale, and Rudd.

Charles embarked on his journey into the world of winemaking, starting literally from the ground up as he was studying at the University of California, Berkeley. His early experiences include installing vineyard irrigation systems throughout Napa and parts of Sonoma, operating presses and tending vineyards for Domaine Chandon, leading tours at Robert Mondavi Winery and buying the wines for the Sonoma Cheese Company.

In 1978, Charles joined Robert Mondavi Winery's production department moving through positions including barrel enologist, senior enologist, and assistant winemaker. After gaining a thorough knowledge of every aspect of winemaking he was promoted to head winemaker. He assisted in the creation, execution and evolution of Opus One from 1979 through 1994.

In 1994, Charles moved to Jackson Family Farms where he worked closely with the rebuilding of Cardinale's vineyards and winemaking techniques. From there, he joined Rudd in 2002 where he directed changes to both the winery and vineyards. Charles lives on Napa Valley's Mount Veeder at the vineyard property he shares with his wife, Lily.