THE HISTORY OF BURGESS
Four and a half decades ago the Burgess family took a chance, and made Napa Valley their home and wine their pursuit. In one year, they moved from New York to California, bought a winery and were expecting their first child who was due in the middle of harvest. It was a challening start but the family and the winery grew, and this year Burgess Cellars celebrates its 45th anniversary.
Today the second generation of the Burgess Cellars creates wines with mountain distinction on Howell Mountain, but all began with Tom Burgess and his growing interest in wine. While visiting Napa Valley in the early 70s, he stopped into a winery at the right time… bottles from the ‘30s to the ‘60s were open to taste. It was a seminal event in his life, and in Tom’s words, he “heard the wolves baying in the woods”. The Napa Valley was calling for him.
In 1972, Tom found an 1870’s era winery and established himself as a pioneer of mountain side wineries. At the time, there were only approximately two dozen wineries in operation in the whole of Napa Valley. In 1972, the number of wineries in Napa essentially doubled, and this founding group was later nicknamed “Class of ’72”.
The early years were hard for Burgess Cellars and other young wineries, but the industry persevered. Soon, Tom was on the road selling his wines to the country. Initially buyers were weary of the unproven wine region of California. It would take time and Tom’s personality for them to taste his wines, and new markets for Burgess Cellars and for the Napa Valley opened up.
A 1970s bank report had predicted Americans would soon signficantly increase their consumption of fine wine. This report proved true. Because of many factors, like the advent of jet travel to Europe and the Judgement of Paris in 1976, many Americans got turned on to wine and Napa as a part of life. When Tom found himself presenting a wine dinner with Julia Child in the ‘90s it was clear: Burgess Cellars and Napa Valley had grown together. Today the number of wineries has grown to over 500 producing about 1400 brands.
Decades after being born during the first harvest, Steven Burgess, along with his brother James ultimately made Burgess Cellars a true Second Generation family business. They had grown up at the winery, early on helping in the vineyards and cellar, learning how to drive from the vineyard team in pick-up trucks. After years of working side by side with their father, Steven and James became President and Vineyard Manager in 2012.
One of their first moves was bringing winemaker Kelly Woods on board. Kelly had chosen to pursue winemaking at the UC Davis School of Viticulture and Enology, and her winemaking career had seen her at many Napa and international producers. She brought a refreshed approach to winemaking at Burgess Cellars. Under her direction, fermentation and aging strategies were customized for each vineyard block, and she also innovated the barrel program with barrel trials and approaches that are in tune with mountain fruit.
As the second generation enters the 45th harvest, they reflect on Burgess Cellar’s impact. The winery now finds itself on a more crowded Howell Mountain, with new vineyard and winery neighbors, and an American market that finally sees the special palate of mountain wines. The team also takes pride as a family owned business, a rarity in an ever changing global wine industry. When fans, friends and family members fill the 45th Anniversary Celebration & Library Tasting on the evening of November 3rd, they’ll remember the past and look to many future vintages for Burgess Cellars.
THEN & NOW
What was happening during Burgess Cellars' first vintage?
Average cost of new house is $27,550
The Godfather is released
HBO Launched as the First Subscription Cable Service
Cost of a gallon of gas is 55 cents
XI Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan
Digital Watches are introduced
Bobby Fischer becomes World Chess Champion
NASA Launches Pioneer 10, the first to Jupiter