“Not everyone has the chance in life to work at what they truly love, are truly passionate about. My desire is to make wines that bring you as much joy to drink as they did for me to make.”
Rob Sweeney arrived in the Napa Valley in 1986 when his family bought a piece of raw land in Oakville. A ghost winery of the former Vine Cliff estate which was defunct since the early 1900’s when phylloxera killed every vine. The property presented quite a project, one that Rob coveted. Excited to be involved, so began his journey to learn the business by working at other properties around the valley.
Rob was first hired at Buena Vista Winery by winemaker Jill Davis as a harvest cellar intern where he started building his vast experience. Interested in every facet of a winery he moved on to the tasting room at Franciscan Winery, it provided the backdrop for where Rob learned the art of selling wine. His interest in the vineyards then took him to A&P Structures where he learned how to build trellis systems from true pioneers in the field.
Concurrently Rob attended Napa Valley College and earned his degree in Viticulture under the tutelage of the inspirational Dr. Steve Krebs. Several years later and with a strong foundation of knowledge and well rounded education under his belt, Rob returned to Vine Cliff.
“Back then if I needed to know the answer to something, I couldn’t look it up on the internet or watch a how-to YouTube video, I rode my ATV across the field or jumped in my truck and asked a neighbor. That might have been Gustav Dalle Valle who showed me how to calibrate the sprayer, or Alex Vyborny, famed vineyard manager responsible for Far Niente and Joseph Phelps, whose ranch was across the street. Or after we bought a vineyard on Pickett Road, Al Frediani who would always dispense his advice with a twinkle in his eye. Occasionally we would source grapes from other vineyards and I think I bought more grapes from Laurie Wood and visited his vineyard more times just in the hope that Laurie would beckon me to his porch for a visit. Their collective knowledge was invaluable.” These salts of the earth farmers had a wealth of experience and they were happily willing to pass on their knowledge and even loan their equipment. Their seeds of wisdom fell on fertile ground and as Rob’s knowledge grew, so did his passion.
Ultimately, the Vine Cliff family vineyard grew into a winery operation and over the years Rob was inspired by having winemakers such as John Gibson, Paul Hobbs and Celia Welch who introduced him to cutting edge techniques and mentored him through blind tastings and blending trials. Each harvest Rob acquired more experience and honed his skills-different vintage, different outcomes, different vineyards telling different stories. More knowledge, more comparisons to draw from year to year. Crucial picking decisions became second nature and difficult blending trials made sense. The family business grew and made a place for itself among other wineries producing award winning wines with a reputation for excellence.
Over time, Rob identified and personally developed vineyards on properties which the winery purchased in Calistoga and on Howell Mountain. With Rob’s viticultural acumen and diligence these projects ultimately became the storied Pickett Road vineyard now known as the 100-point generating Few and Far Between vineyard purchased by Hundred Acre vineyard and the estate vineyards now owned by Cade Winery, Howell Mountain. At the time they each sold, both were the highest per-acre price ever paid for vineyards in the country.
As one chapter ends, so another begins-
A culmination of 30 years of experience, 30 years of literal blood, sweat and tears led Rob to realize an unfulfilled dream, one that remained dormant surfaced and was the itch he needed to scratch. It was time to branch out on his own and add winemaker to his portfolio