At Naggiar Vineyards and Winery, the rows of neatly kept grapevines are beginning to show signs of life after their winter dormancy.
So, too, do the winery’s tasting room and outdoor entertaining area.
A tractor parked in the lot, piles of gravel and cut-out areas clearly indicate where crews have begun to expand outside seating and relocate the stage in time for the winery’s May 11 kickoff of its annual music series.
As the 60 acres of vines sat inactive during the winter months, founder Mike Naggiar and his family were busy establishing new roots for the winery — through a major investment by the Headley Property Corporation.
The corporation is owned by a trust for the benefit of the family of Sir Timothy Sainsbury, a retired Minister for Trade and Minister for Industry in the United Kingdom, according to a message that went out to Naggiar Wine Club members.
The new partnership between the Naggiars and Sir Sainsbury gives the winery the capital needed to build on its operations and strategy to create a destination experience.
An opposite approach
Mike Naggiar and his wife Diane planted the first grapes in 1998. They purchased the Rosemary Lane property (off Garden Bar Road) and planned to grow a vineyard after he took an early retirement from Hewlett Packard after 32 years in sales and marketing.
From the beginning, the vision was to not get into the wine business, Naggiar said.
“The idea was to grow grapes and sell grapes to people who wanted to make top quality wines,” he added.
The first grapes came in 2001.
Their product was and still is sold to wineries in Napa, Sonoma and the Sierra foothills.
Talk of making wine came about when the families of Mike Naggiar’s nephew and son moved to the vineyard in 2002 and 2004, respectively.
Most small wineries plant an acre or two of vines and purchase the remaining grapes from other vineyards to make wine, Naggiar said.
The money, he points out, is in the land and vineyards. Today it costs about $22,000 to $25,000 an acre to put in a new vineyard.
“Luckily or unluckily, we did it the other way around,” he said.
The Naggiars hired winemaker and consultant Derek Irwin and began selling estate grown varietals locally in 2005.
The winery produces about 3,000 cases a year from all estate-grown grapes.
In 2009, the family invested in what Naggiar now refers to as “Phase 2” of the winery and constructed the tasting room, which is a key feature of the facility today.
The impressive structure stands out among the green hills and features the general tasting room, a private tasting and event room, a commercial kitchen, outdoor fireplace and partially covered patio.
About a year and a half ago, the Naggiars began seriously looking for an investor to expand the business.
Winemaker Irwin had worked with Sir Timothy Sainsbury and his wife, Lady Susan Sainsbury, through Emery Estate, a vineyard and winery in Sonoma. When that venture dissolved, Irwin suggested a meeting with Naggiar.
To be successful in the wine industry, it helps to have location, land and a story that goes with it, Irwin said.
Naggiar Vineyard and Winery had all those things, plus it was looking to expand.
Irwin said he knew both parties for a long time but didn’t know if anything would result from it.
But the chemistry was there, and in November, a partnership was formed.
The investment by an international person or company in the Sierra foothills is a trend that Irwin expects to continue.
Across the industry, the Sierra foothills wine region is emerging as a quality contender. Restaurants in the Bay Area and Los Angeles now carry wines from the region on their menus and even Napa labels — which use Sierra foothill grapes — are experimenting with vineyard designates, said Irwin, who lives in Napa but says he has “chosen” to plant his personal vines in southern Nevada County.
A destination location
The Naggiars continue to live at the vineyard and run the winery as its general managers. From the outside, the partnership is most apparent through the enhancements at the winery.
Naggiar is currently selling Emery Estate bottled wine and will incorporate wine from Sonoma for the first time into some of its red blends.
A new stage is going in next to the pond, downhill from the tasting room, creating an amphitheater effect and allowing for additional seating for live music performances or special events.
The large shade structure will triple in size and include more tables and chairs.
Parking will be added and traffic control improved for larger events.
Naggiar is in final negotiations to have a professional chef there to fully utilize the commercial kitchen and offer a new and varying menu for patrons.
Live music events are also being expanded. Last year, Naggiar sold out all of its Tribute Series performances.
This year, it will feature a double bill for all Tribute performances, which include those to Lynyrd Skynyrd and Journey, Huey Lewis, the Eagles, Billy Joel, Steely Dan, Beach Boys, Earth, Wind and Fire and Chicago (see Thursday’s Prospector for more about the Tribute shows and special events).
Tickets for these shows will go on sale to Naggiar Wine Club members at their April pickup weekend or to the general public April 22.
In addition to these special series, which cost $40 a ticket for wine club members, $45 for non-members, the winery will still have live music every Friday and Saturday night from May to October.
In all, 58 nights of live music, Naggiar said.
All about the wine
In a region where most wineries have moved from the vineyard to in-town tasting rooms to maintain successful operations, Naggiar’s strategy is to bank on the bucolic setting and create an environment that draws people in, first for the wine, then the food and music.
“We’re still in the wine business and the grape-growing business. We still sell 60 to 70 percent of our grapes to other wineries,” Naggiar said.
Features Editor Brett Bentley can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.