PROMISE Wine is a boutique producer, founded in 2004 by proprietor Stephen McPherson. Stephen was introduced to wine early on in his life. His family was living in Paris where his father was the headmaster for the American School in Paris. Stephen’s father was passionate about wine – even taking classes from Steven Spurrier the British wine expert and wine merchant who was based in Paris at the time (also well known for organizing the now famous Paris Wine Tasting of 1976). As a result of his father’s interest in wine, Stephen remembers visiting Burgundy and being intrigued even at the age of 10 by the industry.
Stephen eventually moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. His first job was perhaps typical of those who when they are young move to Los Angeles with big aspirations to work in Hollywood – he was a Limousine driver. In a successful career Stephen ultimately became president of ABC Entertainment for six years.
As an interesting side note, the first civilian owned vineyard in the state of California was most likely that of José María Verdugo planted by the mid 1790’s in the vicinity of what is now the current site of ABC Television Studios in Glendale. (For more information reference the book, Los Angeles Wine by Stuart Douglass Byles, published 2014).
When Stephen initially started dating his wife Jennifer he visited her apartment for the first time and noticed a copy of Wine Spectator on one of her tables. He questioned her as to why she brought his Wine Spectator magazine over to her own apartment but in actuality she was already a subscriber to the magazine. They immediately realized their shared passion for wine.
Stephen’s love of wine has never been far from his career – he would often visit the Napa Valley. Since his first visit to the valley, he has been drawn to the natural beauty, the lifestyle, the wines and to the vintners. He remembers being given bottles of wine or trying wine at a restaurant, then calling up the vintner and the openness in which he was treated…ultimately being invited to their home for more wine and conversation with vintners such as winemaker Nils Venge, the Bronsteins’ (Diamond Creek Winery) and other long time Napa winery owners.
Conversely, he tells the story of how if a passionate fan of Desperate Housewives would just show up at the studio wanting to meet ‘so and so’ actress security probably would be called in to handle this fan (this is a show we have heard of but have never seen, having never owned a TV in our life).
We have learned from older vintners in the valley that one of the most important aspects to remaining passionate about the wine industry as one gets older is to always be curious – learn new things about wine every day. Stephen continues to further his own education – continuing to learn from those who manage the vines that produce the fruit for his wine, from his winemaker as well as taking wine classes from both UC Davis and USC.
The name “Promise” and the label are directly tied to one another. This wine is a tribute to his wife and the promise she made Stephen keep to eventually pursue his interest in making wine (incidentally they were married in the Napa Valley). The label is a representation of Stephen’s own wedding ring – part titanium and part gold.
Over lunch with the label designer of the Fiji Water brand – Stephen discussed the need to create a label for PROMISE Wines. Surprisingly merely a few hours later that day the designer sent Stephen a rendition of an elegant design which ultimately became the final label for the Promise Wines.
In 2004 Stephen reached out to Rich Frank (owner of Frank Family Winery and former Disney Executive) conveying his interest in making wine. Interestingly enough both came from the entertainment business but neither knew each other prior to this initial contact.
Rich dedicated a single block of Cabernet Sauvignon in his Winston Vineyard in Rutherford for the inaugural PROMISE Wine (Stephen calls this the “heart” block based on its central location within the vineyard and presumably one of the vineyard’s sweet spots). This vineyard formed the core of their Cabernet Sauvignon from 2004 through 2014. The wine was made by the Frank Family wine making team for this period of time.
Beginning in 2015 and moving forward a vineyard next door to the Winston Vineyard (The Terraces) and a vineyard from Pritchard Hill now provide the fruit for their Cabernet Sauvignon. During this transition Stephen also changed winemakers and wine making facilities. He hired Kirk Venge and moved the operations to Hunnicutt Winery (where Kirk also makes the Hunnicutt wines).
Since we first met with Stephen, PROMISE acquired a property on Pritchard Hill – the uppermost piece of their property borders Bryant Family. Their property is off of Sage Canyon Road – not connected to the 3 primary roads that lead to Pritchard Hill. There are no immediate vineyards close to their property. In 2019 they cleared a small section of land to plant a tiny vineyard.
And in addition to wine, PROMISE is involved with two other products. A single barrel of bourbon whisky is bottled each year under Promise Spirits based in Kentucky. The first release was a 12-year old sweet mash Kentucky straight aged in 100% new American white oak barrels. This extremely limited release is highly allocated and is released to their allocation list members. PROMISE is also raising Mangalica pigs on their property, a Hungarian breed that remarkably resemble sheep.
Because of Stephen’s background in the Entertainment business it was entirely appropriate that we met for lunch at Chateau Marmont – one of Hollywood’s historical “old dame’s – located right off of Sunset Blvd. And then followed up by another tasting of his wines at Wally’s Vinoteca in Beverly Hills.. Wally’s is one of the most established and top wine shops in Los Angeles – the current owners also own Marciano Estate Wines in the Napa Valley.
The 2012 PROMISE Cabernet Sauvignon shows darker elegant fruit aromas – the bouquet is complex and layered and as it opens reveals black currant, an earth quality, leather, tar, and notes of black cherry. As it continues to breath notes of mocha and chocolate start to show. On the palate this wine is remarkably balanced for being so young (not even yet released at the time of this review). The tannins are well integrated – showing a bit early on in the front of the palate, slightly chalky and then lingering softly. Good acidity.
The 2012 vintage was their first first ever release of a Pinot Noir – from a premium vineyard in Sonoma County. The bouquet on the 2012 PROMISE Pinot Noir is floral with flavors of cranberry and raspberry on the palate. This wine shows notes of spicy white pepper and cedar lingering on the finish.
PROMISE also produces a rosé of Pinot Noir simply called “the joy” – from grapes specifically in Napa’s Carneros region for this style of wine. They have done a really nice job on this wine. It is salmon colored in the glass – the entry is lively on the palate with notes of watermelon and red cherry. The finish is clean and crisp with very good acidity.
In addition to their Napa Valley wines, also produces a Grand Cru Champagne made in Le Mesnil, Heritage Pigs raised on their Napa property and are making their own “Jamon Imberico Bellotta”.
Their wines are nearly entirely sold through their allocation list with a very select number of restaurants in the Los Angeles area carrying the wine – based on personal friendships Stephen has made with the restaurant owner or Sommelier. And as of our latest update to this review, PROMISE Wines were offered at the RH Wine Vault in Yountville.
For more information and to join their mailing list, visit: www.promisewine.com