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The Wines that Tech Built

More than 90 percent of all American-made wine comes from California—and many of the best wines, like the ones that follow, were built with handsome profits from Silicon Valley ventures

Photo By Robb McDonough

OVID
Napa Valley

Owners Mark Nelson and Dana Johnson
What They’ve Learned “Software, however complex, is an entirely human creation, whereas winemaking integrates human intelligence and creativity with the infinite variability, beauty and complexity of nature.” — Dana Johnson
Silicon Valley Roots Nelson founded Ovid Technologies, which specializes in software and databases for the medical and academic communities. Johnson, who is married to Nelson, was a software designer.
Behind the Wines Ovid (43 BC-17 AD), a Roman poet whose best-known work, Metamorphoses , is a narrative poem about transformation, was the inspiration for Ovid Technologies, which Nelson founded in 1988. He sold it for $200 million in 1998 allowing Johnson and him to launch their winery, also named Ovid. Cantilevered on Pritchard Hill over the Napa Valley, the solar-powered winery is surrounded by organically certified vineyards. Inspired by decidedly low-tech practices still used in Bordeaux, the winery makes its plush, age-worthy cabernets in small concrete fermenters designed by French masons and built in place.

Top Wine, Current Vintage Ovid, Proprietary Red 2011 – $225
Mailing list Two-year wait to get on
Contact info@ovidwine.com, 707.963.3850, ovidwine.com


CLOS DE LA TECH
Santa Cruz Mountains

Owners T.J. Rodgers and Valeta Massey
What They’ve Learned “I was amazed to find out how complex and multidisciplinary winemaking is. It’s every bit as challenging as the semiconductor technologies I work on.” —T.J. Rodgers
Silicon Valley Roots Rodgers is the founder, president, CEO and a director of Cypress Semiconductor Corporation, and has just announced a merger with memory-product maker Spansion. Massey is a former senior SRAM design engineer at Cypress.
Behind the Wines Self-taught winemakers Rodgers and Massey, who are married, founded their appropriately named Clos de la Tech winery in 1994 with the goal of bringing Silicon Valley savoir faire to the 8,000-year-old wine industry. While Massey runs the winery, Rodgers (who also boasts degrees in chemistry and physics) has developed new winemaking systems and equipment, helping Clos de la Tech become one of California’s top pinot noir producers. In a design nod to the two industries they love, Rodgers and Massey have affixed each bottle of their reserve wine with a Cypress Semiconductor memory chip.

Top Wine, Current Vintage Clos de la Tech “Domaine du Dr. Rodgers” Pinot Noir 2010 – $102
Mailing list Available
Contact vm@cypress.com, 650.722.3038, closdelatech.com


PETER MICHAEL
Knights Valley, Sonoma

Owners Sir Peter Michael and Lady Michael
What They’ve Learned “I came to San Francisco in 1972, working in Silicon Valley. Shortly thereafter, I decided that I wanted a piece of the Golden State and became a vigneron . I’ve had the best ride in the two greatest of all valleys—Silicon and Napa.” —Sir Peter Michael
Silicon Valley Roots Michael founded England’s Micro Consultants’ Group and UEI, as well as Cosworth Engineering. In 1973, while working in Silicon Valley, he cofounded Quantel, a digital special-effects company whose product Paintbox revolutionized television and film graphics.
Behind the Wines In 1982, Sir Peter Michael and Lady Michael bought 630 acres of dangerously steep, volcanic ridges that form the western face of Mount St. Helena—and planted them with vineyards. Three decades and several destroyed tractors later, the estate makes perhaps the best chardonnays in California (Mon Plaisir and Ma Belle-Fille are favorites). Michael, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1989, has what he calls a “100 x 100” vision for the winery—100 percent family ownership for at least 100 years.

Top Wine, Current Vintage Peter Michael “Ma Belle-Fille” Chardonnay 2012 – $90
Mailing list Six- to 18-month wait to get on, depending on the wine
Contact retail@petermichaelwinery.com, 707.942.3200, petermichaelwinery.com


VINEYARD 29
Napa Valley

Owners Chuck McMinn and Anne McMinn
What They’ve Learned “In high tech, the product is everything—customers care much less about who makes it or how. In winemaking, the place, the process and the people are as interesting to our customers as the wine itself.” —Chuck McMinn
Silicon Valley Roots Now a consultant to tech startups, Chuck McMinn founded Covad Communications, a telecommunications firm providing broadband data services to homes and businesses, in 1996. (Anne, a teacher by training, works in horticultural therapy, the use of gardening for therapeutic purposes.)
Behind the Wines The winery’s address—2929 Highway 29—made naming it easy, but it took three and a half years to design and build the serene, modern winery with its electricity-generating microturbines and computer-controlled systems that use gravity to gently move wine from place to place. Sitting on an east-facing bank at the narrowest part of the Napa Valley, Vineyard 29 has 13,000 square feet of showplace caves. Known for its majestic cabernet-based red, the winery was also one of the first Napa Valley estates (along with Araujo) to make impressive Bordeaux-style white wines.

Top Wine, Current Vintage Vineyard 29 Estate Red 2011 – $225
Mailing list One-year wait to get on for the estate wines
Contact info@vineyard29.com, 707.963.9292, vineyard29.com


ST. EDEN
Napa Valley

Owners Dick Kramlich and Pam Kramlich
What They’ve Learned “California is blessed with wonderful terroir, climate and great people. Technology here is a cauldron of talent, energy and imagination. Both industries change the world for the better.” —Dick Kramlich
Silicon Valley Roots Dick Kramlich is the chairman and cofounder of New Enterprise Associates, one of the largest global venture capital firms specializing in technology.
Behind the Wines St. Eden is one of the five wines that comprise the Bond portfolio. Under the quasi-joint-venture structure, each wine is made from grapes grown in an independently owned vineyard. Collectively, the five wines are made and marketed by Bond, a winery and brand owned by Bill Harlan, who also owns the outstanding Harlan Estate. Spread over a knoll of iron-rich fractured rock in the prestigious Oakville section of the Napa Valley, St. Eden was established by the Kramlichs in 2001. The wine’s deep core of opulent flavor and layers of complexity have moved it high up on collectors’ lists.

Top Wine, Current Vintage Bond “St. Eden” 2010 – $425
Mailing list Varies based on vintage
Contact info@bondestates.com, 707.944.9445, bondestates.com

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