One of the oldest ranches in Napa County, Rancho Chimiles is owned and operated by the Wilson family. The ranch straddles the ridge between Wooden Valley and northern Gordon Valley, and includes bench land in both valleys. The original land grant was awarded by Governor Pio Pico, the last Governor of Mexican California, to Jose Ignacio Berryessa in 1846, and purchased by William Gordon and Nathan Coombs in 1851. Wooden Valley is named for John Wooden, six-foot seven and size 15 boots, who came here in 1847. He and his descendants are buried in a small cemetery on the ranch.
Nestled in the sunny hills of Wooden Valley, northeast of the town of Napa, the ranch’s climate is cooled by evening breezes and fog from nearby San Pablo Bay, making it a perfect wine grape growing region.
In 1972, Virginia and Terry Wilson planted their first vineyard on Rancho Chimiles, 10 acres of Napa Gamay (also known as Valdiguie). In addition to the vineyard, they also put together a herd of angus cows, and were growing oat hay, setting in motion what Terry refers to as a “seat-of-the-pants education in agriculture.” “One beautiful day in 1974,” says Terry, “We drove up unannounced to Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, shaded by live oaks and looking just like an artisanal winery should. With our first child, Lily, tucked in the crook of my arm, I pushed open the heavy rustic doors and wandered in. Halfway down the row of tanks and barrels, I encountered a guy in rubber boots, rinsing a tank I think, and I said, ‘Hi, I’m looking for Warren Wa-rin-ski’ (sic). Thus began our long association with the Winiarski family and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.”
Today 70 acres of vineyard are planted at Rancho Chimiles (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Musque, Semillon, Tempranillo, Valdiguie, and Zinfandel), about a third of those at 600 feet elevation and two-thirds at 900 feet to 1,000 feet. These vineyards provide premium grapes to Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Pahlmeyer, Favia, Cruse Wine Company, Wilson Foreigner, The Prisoner, and Immix Wines.
In 2011, Pahlmeyer Winery chose to showcase the 2009 Rancho Chimiles Cabernet Sauvignon in their single-vineyard lot for the Premier Napa Valley wine brand, noting that the vineyard, “has been a key Cabernet Sauvignon source for our Pahlmeyer Proprietary Red since 1993. That our bond has lasted almost twenty years, longer than any other grower relationship in our history, is no coincidence. Terry is a meticulous viticulturist who utilizes only the best and most sustainable farming methods to produce big mountain fruit.”
When recently asked by The Premium Grower (Napa Valley Grapegrowers publication) about staying ahead of the curve by using sustainable practices to ensure that the best quality wine grapes are produced each year, Terry says, “I believe the key is in timing- not just what to do, but when, so it’s a great advantage to live on the ranch and be able to tune in to the subtleties of the environment around us.”