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Summers Winery
By Ha-Kyung Choi

The Summers Winery has been quietly distinguishing itself from other Napa Valley vineyards by producing the little-known and under-produced Charbono wine. The winery, which also produces Cabernets and Merlots, has built a reputation for making high quality, estate grown wines.Winery owners Jim and Beth Summers' philosophy is to work as a team with winemakers Cory Beck and Ignacio Blancas to make wine they love to drink - intoxicating, fruit driven wine that reflects their love of life and appreciation of family.

They must be doing something right as they have been picking up top prizes at wine competitions across the country and receiving accolades from some of the top wine authorities in the business. The Summers have been making hand-crafted estate wines since 1987, when Jim Summers purchased the Knights Valley vineyard. In 1996, the Summers added the Villa Andriana vineyard, named after their daughter, to their holdings. By setting up a tasting room, entertainment center, bocce ball court and a picnic area, the Summers have been able to realize their dream of creating a wine and a vineyard that reflects their dedication to family, community and celebration of wonderful food and wine.

Interview with Jim Summers
By Ha-Kyung Choi

Ha-Kyung Choi: You both were bankers before you were winemakers. What was the impetus for making such a dramatic career transition?
Jim Summers: In the late 1970's I was working in the financial services industry in New York City. During this time I came to realize that bankers drink good wine. At that time French wines were very popular in New York, with California wines being more of a curiosity. By the early 1980's I was working in San Francisco for a New York bank, but had acquired a passionate desire to learn everything about premium California wines. This passion led to the purchase of our first vineyard, in the Knights Valley Appellation of Sonoma County. The banking career has helped me in two major areas of the wine business. First, I met my partner and wife, Beth, in the banking business. Secondly, a banking career gives one insights into regulation and understanding financial statements, which are both handy things to know in our wine business.

HC: How is your first bottle of the Summers Cabernet Sauvignon? What made you decide to start producing Cabernets?
JS: We have always wanted to make a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Calistoga area. When we purchased our second vineyard on Tubbs Lane in Calistoga (Napa Valley Appellation) in 1996 all the Cabernet vines had to be replanted. This delayed the production of our Cabernet for several years. Initially we wanted to only use Estate grapes, but in 2000 we secured some grapes from a beautiful vineyard in the Calistoga area to blend with our own fruit. We are very excited about this Cabernet blend from two vineyards here in Calistoga. Sometime this year Calistoga should become a formal appellation in Napa Valley. Cabernet will be the star wine of this appellation due to the soils and microclimate; therefore, we wanted to exhibit our efforts in the Cabernet Sauvignon varietal from the Calistoga Appellation.

HC: Could you describe your Charbono wines and the history behind deciding to grow one of the least planted wine grapes in California?
JS: We purchased the Tubbs Lane property in 1996 in part because of the Charbono planted therein. With over two hundred Cabernets produced in Napa Valley, and only a handful of Charbonos produced in the same area, we believed that we would gain more recognition from the production of Charbono than almost any other wine. We also know that as much as we have come to love the qualities of Charbono, the market for this great wine is limited.

HC: How else do you distinguish Summers wines particularly with so many wines coming from the Napa Valley?
JS: As we mentioned earlier, our "estate" Charbono wine has made us different since there are only a few producers of this varietal throughout Napa Valley. Secondly, we focus on handcrafted, small vineyard designated wines at attractive prices. This philosophy has attracted a loyal customer base, which we plan to support and build upon. The Internet will become more important as a marketing tool, and with improvements in legal means of shipping wine, we will begin to cover the national market.

HC: How can we expect Summers to change in the coming years. Are you planning production increases, new varietals?
JS: Our business model is built on a model similar to the history of Inglenook. The majority of our wines will be estate produced, which for us means red wine. Single vineyard designated wines will be a focus with Napa Cabernet, Zinfandel and Charbono as well as our Knights Valley Merlot. The Calistoga area does not produce the quality of white wines, which we like to produce, thus we will continue to source white wine grapes from more favorable areas. We produce approximately 7000 cases today, and we have the potential to produce up to 20,000 cases. This growth will only occur if we have enough high quality grapes to reach that level.

HC: How has the Napa Valley changed since 1987 when you purchased the winery and what kinds of new issues do you face operating a small winery?
JS: In the 1990's the premium wine business in California had tremendous growth. We are on the other side of that cycle today, but this will also pass. I believe the premium wine business has tremendous future potential, but the small family wineries will have to create unique marketing niches to survive. Those wineries that build new distribution channels should be around to see the fruits of their labor. We plan to be around for a very long time.

HC: It is clear that you are very committed to emphasizing the importance of family and community at your winery. Could you please discuss how this has contributed to the wines and how they are enjoyed?
JS: Both Beth and I come from large families (four siblings each). Both of our families love to entertain and eat and drink fine foods and wine. Our commitment to our community stems from the fact that Calistoga is a great small town. We are and have been involved in many of the service organizations in town and have opened our winery to these organizations for use as fund-raising opportunities. We feel we are a part of Calistoga, and many in town are loyal supporters of Summers wines as well.

HC: I'm very intrigued by your love of Bocce? Can you describe the origin of this passion?
JS: Beth Mazzola Summers, my wife of Italian heritage was my initial bocce inspiration. Bocce Ball is a fun, relaxing game that is enhanced when drinking wine. We like to have fun; it is yet another way to have a good time!

HC: What is the wine that's enjoyed on a daily basis at the Summers household?
JS: All of our wines are enjoyed at home on an almost daily basis. As we drive home at night to Knights Valley we think about the meal we will prepare and select an appropriate wine. For example, when we have pork loin in a reduction sauce we'll have Merlot. If it is turkey, pasta or a game dish meal, we think of Charbono. Grilling and Zinfandel go great together. I would have to say our first love was our first wine produced, Summers Knights Valley Merlot. Since the inception of our Cabernet program, Cabs have become another favorite, and we are experimenting tasting it along with some new dishes.

Summers Winery & Vineyards Wines

  • 2000 Summers Charbono Napa Valley - Villa Andriana Vineyard
    "...saturated ruby/purple color as well as copious berry fruit and earthy aromas. Rich and full-bodied, but straightforward as well as monolithic..."
    Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate, June 2002
  • 2000 Summers Merlot - Knights Valley
    Gold Medal Winner -- The San Francisco Chronicle 2003 Wine Competition
  • 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon
    Gold Medal Winner -- The San Francisco Chronicle 2003 Wine Competition
  • 2001 Chardonnay
    Silver Medal Winner -- The San Francisco Chronicle 2003 Wine Competition
  • 2000 Summers Zinfandel Napa Valley - Villa Andriana Vineyard
  • 2000 Summers Viognier
    "Good acidity that refreshes palate with berry fruit, tropical fruit and lychee nut. Medium finish. A complex nose that rewards you with similar flavors on the palate. Refreshing acidity that may pair with melon and prosciutto, sardines or alone. Good."
    Paul Seyler - Le Cirque

    "A big, rich wine with the body and mouthfeel of quality Chardonnay, although the flavors are different and more exotic suggesting peaches, tropical fruits and flowers."
    Wine Enthusiast, December 2002
  • 1999 Summers Chevalier Noir
    Gold Medal Winner - 2002 Dallas Morning News Wine Competition

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