Feb 2009

The Luxury of Time

By: Deborah Parker Wong

Sterling Vineyards marks 40 years, and counting

Marking four decades of success, Sterling Vineyards looks ahead

The magnificent view of Napa Valley that can be had from the vista terrace at Sterling Vineyards hasn’t changed all that much over the last forty years. And thanks to the winery’s efforts to protect the Duff and Wildlake Ranch ridgeline, the eastern view from the winery won’t change any time soon.  For four decades, Sterling Vineyards has been synonymous with fine wine, dramatic Greek Island–style architecture and hospitality—all of which distinguish it to this day.

VP of Winemaking Mike Westrick places tremendous value on the experience that visitors have when they tour and taste at Sterling. “In my travels around the country, I always meet people who have visited the winery, and the impression we make upon them is lasting.”

Sterling’s reputation for superlative guest hospitality has been a driving factor in the strong loyalty that the brand enjoys. “We welcome 200,000 guests annually,” said Visitor Center Manager Jim O'Shea. “Our sit-down service in the tasting room makes the experience here truly special. During our busiest times, we also offer a progressive tasting from five stations throughout the self-guided tour of the winery.”

Ramping up Reserve

With the recent launch of the winery’s Made With Organic Grapes label and the completion of a reserve winemaking facility at the base of the estate, Sterling continues to cultivate new audiences for its expanding brand. Westrick, a former academic who joined the winery in 2004, has hit his stride with Sterling’s Reserve program.

In a vertical tasting of four Reserve Cabernet Sauvignons, including barrel samples of the ’08 vintage, Westrick’s intention is revealed as the wines move from red to darker fruit and build toward a crescendo of brown spice, black currant, licorice and cedar in the ’07 release. Westrick and his team have isolated and blended lots of Sterling’s finest estate fruit in what becomes a fitting tribute to the winery’s more than forty years of heritage.

“Sterling was brought to life by a visionary vintner, Peter Newton, who was the first in the Valley to bottle a single-varietal Merlot,” notes Westrick. “Our reserve program is not only a commitment to the production of top tier wines, it is a continuation of Peter’s vision for Sterling.”

Sterling’s 2008 Reserve wines were produced in the new facility and take full advantage of what Westrick calls “the luxury of time.” “Our reserve winemaking team is using classic Bordelais winemaking techniques, which are never rushed, to produce wines that are truly elegant and approachable. The addition of a new sorting system and five- and ten-ton fermenters has already made an impact on these wines.”  Working in conjunction with his team—Julie Schreiber, who handles the whites, and Alison Crary, who works with the reds—Westrick oversees the production of 10,000 cases of Reserve and a total of 400,000 cases for Sterling’s Napa labels.

Conservation Culture

As one of the three most-visited tasting rooms in the Valley, Sterling has a vested interest in preserving its past and protecting its future; through the sale of its ’04 Wildlake Ranch Merlot, the winery was able to donate $30,000 to The Land Trust of Napa County and has since released a second vintage to further support that cause.

But Sterling’s commitment to conservation and sustainable business practices goes well beyond a desire to preserve its view or recognize the demand for organic products. With the addition of a solar photovoltaic system, the winery generates enough solar power to operate its unique aerial tram (one of its key visitor experiences) and offset power use at the new reserve winery; the initiative will reduce Sterling’s greenhouse gas emissions by 33 tons every year.

Through efforts to reduce waste, reuse, recycle and compost in 2008, the winery kept nearly 1,200 tons of solid waste from going to landfill and was recognized by The State of California’s Waste Reduction Awards Programs for that achievement. From this vantage point, as from the famed aerial tram, the future at Sterling looks bright indeed.

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