Your Story: The Hearts of These Farmers
By: Christopher Tenggren
My Story of Jim & Barbara Richards of Paloma Vineyards – Spring Mountain, Napa Valley, CA
Long ago now (and many of the details are either lost to age or filed away in my own mental archives), my recollections as a fan, a follower, and as a #FrustratedOenophile are forever fond when it comes to Paloma Vineyard and the Richards Family.
Like many of the fine things in life, as with food, wine, and good company, one comes to learn their preferences and passions. In my case, as a perpetual student of the vines, the soils, and the people, I have come to love the candid conversational opportunities I’ve had as part of the trade and as an overachieving consumer.
As a forever and curious stalker of the Spring Mountain A.V.A. (incl. Keenan, Togni, Lokoya, Barnett, Schweiger, and of course Pride Vineyards), I first came to know the fruit of the Paloma Vineyard through Pride Vineyard. I recall the early partnership that existed between Carolyn and Jim Pride, their winemaker Bob Foley, and the Richards’ vineyard fruit that allowed “Paloma” to take its first steps in a Pride bottle. Eventually, as the Paloma brand grew its own legs in the late nineties, I became familiar with the source. Stepping out into their own label was undoubtedly one of the things that, as farmers, was quite daunting to the Richards.
To this day, I miss the Syrah. Specifically, the ’98, which remains my pivotal moment with Paloma. It was my first encounter with such a unique example. I found it to be an amazing blend of new world meets old; a style I have only found elsewhere at Cayuse in Washington state by the hands of owner/winemaker Christophe Baron, and yet in a more restrained way. That Syrah brought me to their Merlot, which brought me to their ’01 Cabernet of which I have very fond memories.
While I had enjoyed the fruits of their labor indirectly as a dedicated Pride follower, their early “successes” are when I personally intersected with the Paloma label. I had recently enjoyed their ’99 Merlot; the bottle was a new look–the now well-known Paloma Dove–from the original parchment label I was accustomed to with the Syrah. The Richardses came to Chicagoland for a trade event and we shared a dinner out with some mutual friends. The farmers I got to know were so humble and kind. Like extended family, we chatted about food and wine of course, but also about life and current affairs. Their passion for their vineyard was obvious. I wish I could remember the wines we enjoyed that night, other than the Pride label I know I recall on the table.
Shortly thereafter, with the ‘01’s now in the queue and the press about to break regarding the “Wine of the Year” accolades, they returned to Chicago where we were fortunate enough to break bread with them once again. They were already amidst dealing with the mental side of pre-press pressure and the fame that was about to cross their path; it would be a double-edged sword.
When the news finally broke, it was chaotic for the family. At the time, they didn’t fully understand the repercussions of it all; they were going to have to sacrifice so much of the vintage to the Top 100 trade events, along with strangers around the world hunting down the year’s number one wine. And, as I know Sheldon recalls all too well, the phone ringing off the hook and the passersby at the gate looking for access. Things that would forever change life on the home front.
In the ever-increasing pressure cooker that is the Napa Valley, and while the press has continued to bless the humble family farm with the occasional accolade, I am refreshed to see how the Richards family, now in the 3rd generation, has stayed both real and grounded. Amidst the large buying the small, the droughts and the fires, and all the other challenges that make growing grapes and making wine in Napa more and more difficult, the Paloma family has endured.
In the end, I feel truly blessed to share this story about a family with such humble, loyal roots and beliefs. I very much look forward to what the future will bring for Paloma Vineyard and the Richards family, and to see what exciting dimensions the Cabernet Franc plantings will bring into the fold. In the meantime, I’ll think of Jim & Barbara’s legacy with every Hummingbird I see. God Bless them, Jose, Sheldon, Caston, Jace & the next generations! May they continue in the success and enjoy “the view from on top”!
As with many great wines, it’s always sad to know you can never go back once the last bottle is gone; all you have are its memories. Although not the “Wine of the Year”, I am blessed to still have some ’01 Cab in my cellar. Not sure I can ever bring myself to open it. For me, it is all that the Merlot was, and more! But that’s a debate for the ages…