Joseph Phelps: Sheer Grit, Passion, and Determination Deliver Sensational Wine
Part of a Chardonnay blog series
What's Their Story:
There's something very appealing about a story where someone knows nothing about a particular subject, food, language, or what have you and creates something spectacular just out of sheer passion, grit, and determination. That's the story of Joseph Phelps.
Originally from Colorado, Joseph Phelps was a successful builder in the 1950s and 1960s until he caught the wine bug. He became an ardent collector of wine and studied the topic indefatigably. After opening an office branch in San Francisco and intrigued by the potential of the Napa and Sonoma valleys, particularly Napa, he opened a winery in 1973 near St. Helena bearing his name.
Napa has certainly benefited from Mr. Phelp's entrepreneurial spirit. Mr. Phelps was instrumental in ushering in the concept of big, bold wines. For big, bold wines, you need big, bold grapes; he began experimenting with Syrah (Rhône Valley of France) and other Rhône varieties such as Grenache and Mourvedre. In 1974, he ushered in his claim to fame (well, one of them) by introducing Insignia, California's first blend of traditional Bordeaux grapes released under a proprietary name.
At that time, many winemakers were arguing to label their wine with the type of wine., i.e., Pinot Noir instead of Hearty Burgundy, Chardonnay instead of Chablis, but Mr. Phelps harkened back to the days before varietal labeling. While some viewed the change as bewildering, for a winemaker striving to make the finest wines, eliminating the variety on the bottle label gave the winemaker an additional tool of determining the best possible blend year after year, depending on the vintage as opposed to trying to confirm with the 75% variety rule in California. Insignia became the impetus for other wineries, such as Opus One and Rubicon, to follow suit, eventually leading wineries producing cult Cabernet Sauvignons to label their bottles with just their names.
Family members have been at the helm of the winery since Joseph Phelps' death in 2015. In 2022, the winery was sold to French luxury conglomerate Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH).
Why The Winery Made The Grade:
It may seem a little odd that we included this winery in our Chardonnay guides and blogs, but Joseph Phelps makes phenomenal Chardonnay wine. In the late 1990s, Mr. Phelps once again acted as a pioneer, only this time it was to develop Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards on the Sonoma Coast. Pastorale and Freestone vineyards (added to their portfolio) are two exceptional vineyards responsible for producing memorable Chardonnays. These wines have floral, citrus, and mineral/crushed rock notes. Delicious!
One could loll about in their comfy Adirondack chair the entire afternoon, drinking their extraordinary wine and the incomparable views. The winery has a rustic but modern vibe that will surely please visitors.
Which Winery Visitor Type Would Love It :
All visitor winery types would find this winery a keeper. They offer an extensive menu of tasting options with something to offer all visitors. Any red wine lovers in your group will swoon over the Insignia wine.
Address: 200 Taplin Road, St. Helena, CA 94574
Phone: (707) 963-2745
Appointments are required.
Hours: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM Daily
Tours/Tastings Offered: As mentioned earlier, Joseph Phelps offers several different types of tastings. The Terrace Tasting, $115.00 per person, includes six wines for the tasting; Private Tasting, $200.00 per person, offers current and library releases and food pairing; Chef's Tasting Menu, $450.00 includes a full wine and food pairing to name a few.
Read the next blog in the Chardonnay series: Kendall Jackson
Or read all of the Chardonnay blogs in our new guide, Chardonnay Wineries of Sonoma and Napa.