Before the inception of PlumpJack Estate Winery, there was just a humble wine store, opened in 1992 in the Fillmore neighborhood of San Francisco, called PlumpJack Wines. Based on a mutual love and passion for wine, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and composer/philanthropist Gordon Getty opened the wine store with a mission of creating an approachable environment for people to learn about and purchase wine.
Newsom and Getty were inspired by one of Shakespeare’s most memorable characters, Sir John “PlumpJack” Falstaff. A down-to-earth, fun-loving, irreverent character, rivaled only by his fierce loyalty to Prince Hal (Henry V), with whom he shares more than a few goblets of sack (wine) at the local tavern. With this philosophy in mind and an opportunity to create their own winery, Newsom and Getty acquired a century-old 42-acre vineyard in the Napa Valley.
Dating back to 1881, this property is one of the oldest operating wineries in the Napa Valley, known then as Mount Eden Winery. After Repeal, the vineyard was kept up as part of the Fagiani Ranch. In 1974, proprietors James and Anne McWilliams restored winemaking back to the old ranch with winemaker Nils Venge, and brought the vineyard to prominence with dynamic, long-lived wines under the name of Villa Mt. Eden Winery.
In 1986 the McWilliams sold the Villa Mt. Eden brand to Stimson Lane Wine & Spirits, a subsidiary of the U.S. Tobacco Co. This deal allowed Stimson Lane access to the vineyards through a property lease, but the wine was made offsite. In 1994 Stimson Lane gave up the lease on the Oakville estate vineyard property and moved the Villa Mt. Eden brand to its current home at Conn Creek Winery.
In 1995, the McWilliams received another offer with intent to bring winemaking back to the historic facility – it was then that PlumpJack Estate Winery was born. Newsom and Getty vowed to celebrate the convivial spirit of the namesake at the winery by paying tribute to the world-class vineyard by crafting high-quality wines that honored the land with an inviting and approachable style.
Newsom and Getty, having little winery experience, committed in their endeavor to produce wine in the same approachable environment that gave birth to their store in San Francisco. They started producing several different wine varietals and at one point there were over 20 different wines being produced at PlumpJack and the winery began to suffer for it, fiscally.
In 1999, Newsom and Getty sought to bring someone into the winery to help run the winery operations and turn their business love into an established brand. It was then that longtime wine industry executive, John Conover, joined PlumpJack as General Manager, to provide strategic direction for the newly acquired property, in both the vineyards and production facility. Conover quickly made his mark, steadily increasing production from 1,000 to 10,000 cases annually and developing an image, brand awareness and global distribution that would ultimately sustain this amplified production.
In 2000, PlumpJack Estate Winery would forever change the wine world. There was a growing epidemic of cork taint, more formally known as trichloroanisole (TCA), which delivers undesirable smells or tastes to the wine in the bottle. The culprit – the cork. This wasn’t something Getty was going to stand for, and it spurred Conover to innovate. The answer was screw caps, a closure that has zero influence of TCA, along with more bottle consistency and more bottle uniformity.
Pioneers in this endeavor, PlumpJack Estate Winery introduced their 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville at the Napa Valley Wine Auction by bottling 50% of their flagship wine under a screw cap closure. Industry leaders in the use of alternative closures for luxury wines, PlumpJack Estate Winery made a huge statement that represents their commitment to quality as well as their spirit of approachability.
Today, Winemaker Aaron Miller and his team continue the winemaking heritage at PlumpJack Estate Winery by producing elegant wines that pay tribute to the Oakville estate vineyard and that earn critical-acclaim. In 2016, PlumpJack Estate Winery earned 100-points from Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate on their 2013 PlumpJack Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville marking just the second time in history that a wine under a screw cap closure has received this award.