Bergman Family Vineyards. The property for Bergman Family Vineyards was acquired by Alan and Pam Bergman in 2013; they eventually acquired a neighboring parcel for a total of 40 acres. Ten acres are currently planted including 8 acres to red varieties: 70% Cabernet Sauvignon (3 clones), 20% Cabernet Franc and the remainder to Merlot and Petit Verdot. Two acres are planted to a Montrachet clone of Chardonnay. The vines range in elevation from 500 to 700 feet.
What is now Bergman Family Vineyards was originally part of Florentine Kellogg’s 600 acre property. Kellogg and his family crossed the country by wagon train in 1846 and settled in Napa Valley in October of that same year. Several other prominent wagon trains came west that year with members becoming early influential citizens of Napa Valley including the Donner Party and the Grigsby-Ide Party.
Kellogg planted some of the valley’s first vines in 1848 (2 acres of Mission grapes) and was the first wine grower in Napa Valley to ship his grapes to merchants in San Francisco. Records show he also grew English walnuts, peaches and apples. Wildlife was plentiful in those years including deer, elk and Grizzly Bear which he hunted on his property. And he maintained his own machine shop. After the news of the Gold Rush, he went to the gold fields and hit a moderate strike.
Kellogg was the engineer of the nearby Bale Mill, founded in 1846. He was in part gifted 600 acres in exchange for his iron work on the mill by Dr. Edward Turner Bale. The Bale Grist Mill still works with milling demonstrations taking place every weekend. A water shed used to supply additional water to the mill via a flume when the creek was low is still standing, located a short distance from the mill. And according to Barbara Neelands in her short book Reason P. Tucker: The Quiet Pioneer published in 1989, the first school built for children in the region was a shanty located in front of the Bale Mill prior to the Tucker School being built on Larkmead Lane in 1849.
Kellogg was Napa County’s first coroner and according to an in depth article dated December 22, 1890 in the Napa County Reporter highlighting some of Napa Valley’s early history in the 1840s and 1850s, Kellogg was one of its first three county supervisors. Their first meeting was December 6, 1856.
He was not the only early Napa Valley pioneer to later in life move to Goleta, Santa Barbara County. One of his prominent up valley neighbors and friends, Reason P Tucker left Napa Valley in 1872 and also moved to Goleta after a several month stay in San Francisco. This was following a lawsuit which took away all his property ultimately decided by the California Supreme Court involving a claim questioning rightful ownership of land dating back to the Bale land grant.
Kellogg and Tucker died within a year of each other in the late 1880s and both are buried at the Goleta cemetery located directly next to the 101 freeway. Tucker’s gravesite is a short walk from the tiny parking lot; two inscriptions on the marble grave marker are noteworthy – mention of his Donner Party rescue “one of the rescuers of the Donner Party” and one referring to his character, “a candid, honest and worthy man.”
Kellogg Avenue + Jonny Wallis Park, Goleta
Kellogg and Tucker share several other similarities having both migrated west in 1846 on separate wagon trains and both just barely escaped the early winter snow that year that trapped the Donner Party. They settled near each other in the northern part of Napa Valley. Both men left Napa Valley to look for gold in 1848. And their families joined when one of Kellogg’s children, Angeline married one of Tucker’s boys, George (Geo). Angeline and George’s original home built in the late 1850s serves as the visitor center for Bothe State Park, just south of the town of Calistoga.
Kellogg Avenue in Goleta is named in his honor; his house used to be located on what is now Jonny Wallis Park (also located on Kellogg Avenue). He also built the first church (Methodist) in Goleta. In 1907, Florentine’s son Frank Kellogg wrote a short memoir about his parents and their lives in Napa Valley and in Goleta.
Vines were originally planted on a north facing part of the property in the 1890s; county records show it was planted to varieties such as Burger and Riesling. Today nothing remains of the old vines although the Bergman’s have discovered old redwood stakes where they were planted. And that particular vineyard has long been overtaken by the forest. Another part of the property referred to the meadow, is now forested but used to be planted to vines in the 1940s.
Carl Heinemann, a Point Richmond junior high school administrator, along with his wife Inge (a German immigrant) and four young children moved to this property in the late 1960s. Several of their children later became involved in the wine industry. In 1969, with the help of Joseph Phelp’s founding winemaker Walter Schug, they developed 10 acres of vines including Pinot Noir. Joseph Phelp’s first vintage was in 1974; because their estate property had only been planted to vines in 1973 they did not yet have grapes from their own property. As a result, the first harvest of Joseph Phelps included Pinot Noir from what was called the Heinemann Mountain Vineyard and subsequent harvests also included grapes from this site. For reference, Stanton Vineyard also provided grapes for Phelps first harvest. And when Walter Schug left Joseph Phelps and founded Schug Winery, with production in the early years at Storybook Winery north of Calistoga, and later their current home on the Sonoma side of Carneros, he kept producing Pinot Noir from the Heinemann Mountain vineyard. Grapes from the property were later sold to Cakebread Cellars.
The property had several different owners since the Heinemann’s including the Westgates. Joan Westgate was a master gardener and grew numerous varieties of roses in the impressive still existing garden on a hill below the house. According to an article in the May 9, 1995 issue of the Napa Valley Register, she sold her roses at the Napa Valley Farmer’s Market under the name, The Rose Petaler. And she wrote an informative article about pruning roses in the December 22, 2001 issues of The Napa Valley Register.
The majority of the property is surrounded by the forested lands of Bothe State Park. The Glass Fire burned through part of their property in 2020, remarkably sparing their home and also did not burn through most of the immediate surrounding state park lands. With resulting smoke taint an issue for all vineyards in Napa Valley during 2020, local labs were overwhelmed with wine samples. Due to the backlog of local labs, some wineries even sent their samples to Australian based labs for results. Conveniently, Alan and Pam’s son Brett was at Cornell studying viticulture and enology. He was able to check samples from their vineyard in a timely manner. And one of the smoke taint machines he was involved in was able to produce results within a few seconds rather than the 20+ minutes needed by other machines. He was also one of only two winery employees for the first harvest at Bergman Family Vineyards.
In order to keep underbrush clear on parts of the property, goats and sheep are brought in to graze.
Pam left her position as Chairman, Board of Directors for the nonprofit P.S. ARTS in Los Angeles and since 2013 has overseen numerous improvements to the property. Prior to acquiring the property viticulturist David Abreu told them that if they didn’t purchase the site, he would. Abreu oversaw the replanting of the vineyard; existing vines were removed in 2014, rootstock was planted in 2015, grafted to the varieties in 2016 and their first tiny harvest was in 2018. The vineyard was certified CCOF in 2016 which due to requirements of needing to certify within 30 feet surrounding the vineyard, part of their garden is also CCOF. Pam calls their slice of Spring Mountain a ‘suspended nest’ located above the valley floor but below the upper parts of Spring Mountain. Its natural bowl shape resembles an amphitheater; if Napa Valley had ever created an outdoor concert venue using the natural contours of the land, this site would have been ideal.
There are not many properties in Napa Valley which have no immediate vineyard neighbors. The property is both an oasis but also a spiritual place of being. And part of this feel is from its isolation. There is an immediate connection to the land but also a connection to some of the early pioneers who settled this part of Napa Valley.
Great things are happening here on the wine growing and winemaking side of the operations. But its been a quiet project, an under the radar combination of curiosity, collaboration, passion and obsession with the intent of letting the wines do the final talking.
And unique for a Mayacamas mountain vineyard is their exposure; the majority of their vineyard faces west. Managing the vineyard has been a learning curve especially with the high sustained temperatures around Labor Day weekend in 2022. Misters are installed throughout the vineyard to provide a cooling influence when needed during periods of ongoing high temperatures and shade clothes are used as needed. Parts of the vineyard are netted to keep away birds and also a resident bear. We have seen a variety of methods being used to discourage birds from eating grapes including shiny mylar tape, speakers playing hawk calls, flying fake birds of predators but this vineyard was the first we saw a device emitting a laser over the vines.
The Bergmans call their vineyard Copper Hill in homage to the dark copper colored soils which dominate.
Production occurs inside a state of the art 7,000+ square foot winery cave that was drilled in 2020. The architect was Taylor Lombardo with construction overseen by Wright Contracting. Several of Napa Valley’s most talented winemakers have already assisted with production. Unlike most cave walls which are coated in rough gunnite, the walls here are smooth and made from plaster. Stainless steel tank sizes are small, ranging from several one ton portable tanks to a maximum size of 3 tons. Each tank has a dedicated pump for pump overs. Pam worked with Lejeune in Bordeaux to custom design the tanks. Sorting is an important part of their harvest operations. When fully operating the sorting line is impressive extending some 75 feet, including a station for both an optical sorter and manual sorting.
A large canvas sheet sized to fit the exact shape of one of their wine tunnels can be installed floor to ceiling when needing to create a warmer environment. Another tunnel portal is used to house their library collection, with the end of the tunnel left unsealed to show the native rock. For the first few vintages up to 9 coopers were used for aging the wines; today they use only three coopers.
And with global temperatures rising including at nighttime or in the early mornings when they pick grapes, Pam installed a refrigerated container outside of the winery. For picks that occur on warmer evenings, the resulting grapes are put inside the container to cool before they are processed inside the cave. The winery has a dedicated bottling line. Pam told us due to their isolated location, they need to have all the necessary equipment and technology to make their work as smooth as possible.
Le Jeune Headquarters, Bordeaux
The 2021 Bergman Family Chardonnay is deep golden in color; the bouquet suggests aromas of honeysuckle, lemon zest, ripe papaya, melon and as it further evolves it reveals scents of vanilla, crème Brule, caramel and toffee. The brightly lit palate offers a diversity of flavors including apple, pineapple, yellow peach, a light note of warm butter and honeydew melon. The texture is one of this wine’s hallmark characteristics, sporting a waxy almost briny feel. The grapes for this wine are planted on the highest elevation part of their vineyard on terraced slopes facing east at about 700 feet. There are very few mountain grown Chardonnays in Napa Valley; the Bergman bottling has taken a coveted seat at this intimate table and will shine brightly among any of these other producers. This wine was aged for about 12 months in a single barrel and a stainless steel drum before finishing its aging in stainless steel. Only 50 cases of this beautiful bottling were produced. Several vintages were made prior but were for friends and family; 2021 was their inaugural release.
The 2019 Bergman Family Vineyards Estate Proprietary Red Blend is deep ruby and nearly opaque with an amaranthine rim. The bouquet is initially sweetly fruited including of blackberry, dark plum, cherry and boysenberry. This is one of those coveted mountain sites in Napa Valley which delivers both a simultaneous freshness but also a ripeness. This is a serious wine which needs time to evolve in the glass. Additional scents show including of blueberry, lavender blossom, violets and a hint of crushed pink peppercorn. The focus of the bouquet is clearly on the fruit; we noted the word elegant to describe its overall character. The palate sports primarily red fruited flavors including of currant, plum and cranberry supported by grainy but well-integrated tannins. There is a density felt among their broadly distributed spread; this wine lingers mouth watering with a darker nuance including of tobacco spice and a drying and lasting character.
Graphic artist, Chuck House who is responsible for the design of some of Napa Valley’s most iconic brands designed the Bergman Family Vineyards label. House, along with Jeffrey Caldewey were the co-founders of Icon Design Group in 1985. Their first wine label design was for Frog’s Leap Winery.
The wines are primarily available through a wait list on a first come first serve basis. For more information or to signup for their wait list, visit: www.bergmanestate.com