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 1790s 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 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 Bronstein’s’ (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 provided the fruit for their Cabernet Sauvignon. And more recently the grapes have come from Stagecoach Vineyard on Atlas Peak. 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 with also some of the production at Venge Winery.
Since we first met with Stephen, PROMISE acquired an approximately 100-acre property on Pritchard Hill, the uppermost piece of their property borders Bryant Family. Their property is off of Sage Canyon Road and is not connected to the 3 primary roads which lead to Pritchard Hill. There are no immediate vineyards close to their property. In 2019 they cleared a small section of land and in 2022, 1/2 an acre was planted to Sauvignon Blanc which was perhaps the first contemporary Pritchard Hill property in which a white grape was planted before red grapes as the first planting. This small block is called Belle’s Vineyard in honor of a treasured but now deceased goat which used to live on the property. In 2023, land began to be cleared to plant an additional 5 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon. The slopes for this block are extremely rocky and piles of rocks were excavated prior to planting. Eventually the McPhersons plan to operate a small winery on site, housed within a existing structure.
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. This rare spirit is dedicated to Stephen’s great grandfather Walter Henry McPherson who was raised in Kentucky and made whiskey for his friends and family. This bottling comes in a beautiful walnut box (each box and bottle is numbered). The first release was a 12-year-old sweet mash Kentucky straight aged in 100% new American white oak barrels (with heavy char). We have tried this several times and each time the most common descriptor word we use is smooth; it glides across the palate and there is nothing harsh about this beauty. Best consumed slowly and straight up. This extremely limited release is highly allocated and is released to their allocation list members.
PROMISE raises heritage pigs on their property, an unusual Hungarian breed called Mangalica (known as the Kobe of pork in certain circles); they often resemble sheep in appearance. We have seen Mangalica dishes on the menu in several restaurants in Budapest. PROMISE produces their own very limited production “Jamon Imberico Bellotta” and meat curing through a collaboration with St Helena Montessori School. And there are more than 80 bee hives on the property producing honey that they bottle for members.
Because of Stephen’s background in the entertainment business, it was entirely appropriate that we first met for lunch at Chateau Marmont, one of Hollywood’s historical “old dames located right off of Sunset Blvd. And then we followed this up with another tasting of the PROMISE wines at Wally’s Vinoteca in Beverly Hills. Wally’s is one of the most established and top wine shops in Los Angeles; incidentally, the current owners also own Marciano Estate Wines in Napa Valley.
Pinot Noir the love & the joy Rosé
The 2012 vintage was the first first ever release of a PROMISE Pinot Noir from the Bucher Vineyard in the Russian River Valley of neighboring Sonoma County and PROMISE continues to make this wine from this particular vineyard. In the cellar the winemaking is very gentle using only gravity flow. The wine is fermented using only indigenous yeast.
The 2021 PROMISE Russian River Valley the love Pinot Noir Bucher Vineyard was fermented 1/3 whole cluster using indigenous yeast. This wine is medium ruby in color; the bouquet is layered with scents of dark raspberry, leather, mushroom, cherry cola, black tea and a thread of darker spices running its length including of white pepper. As was mentioned during our tasting, this wine shows more of a French Pinot Noir nose and a California palate. Its texture is immediately evident, showcasing a creamy and supple mouth feel. The tannins roll over the palate similar to the feel of one running their fingers over soft velvet. This wine offers flavors of red plum, licorice and rhubarb pie.
The 2018 PROMISE Russian River Valley the love Pinot Noir Bucher Vineyard is pale to medium ruby in color; the bouquet shows aromas of currant, red cherry, dried rose petal and some noticeable savory, slightly meaty darker spice notes including of old cedar. Give this wine time to breathe in the glass – it will continue to open and show more fruit aromatics. The palate has some weight both structurally and with a noticeable intensity of fruit. Flavors are black cherry, raspberry and cherry cola. Lingers with both fruit and darker spices including clove and a light grip of earthy tannins which persist for some time.
The bouquet on the 2012 PROMISE the love Pinot Noir is floral leading to flavors of cranberry and raspberry on the palate. This wine shows notes of spicy white pepper and hints of cedar lingering on the finish. This wine shows a noticeable density and is a bit more robust of an offering compared to other more delicate Sonoma grown wines from this variety.
PROMISE also produces a rosé of Pinot Noir simply called “the joy” which was initially made with grapes specifically grown in Napa Valley’s Carneros region for this style of wine. As of our latest update to this review, current vintages are from the Russian River Valley in neighboring Sonoma County. Thoughtfully made – this wine will appeal to a variety of palates.
The 2021 PROMISE the joy Rosé of Pinot Noir is copper colored in the glass; the bouquet offers bright aromas of citrus blossom, and orange peel zest (think of peeling an orange and the fine mist spraying as one peels an orange) with some hints of vanilla deeper in the aromas. The entry is lively on the palate and bright from start to finish. Offers a rounded creamy texture with an intensity of flavors including raspberry, hints of watermelon jolly rancher, red cherry and graphite. Lingers with a freshness and richness of flavor including various notes of citrus. This wine was whole cluster pressed, fermented in stainless steel and then aged in neutral oak barrels.
the gratitude red blend
The 2020 PROMISE the gratitude is a red blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon 20% Cabernet Franc and 5% Malbec with the Cabernet Sauvignon coming from the Beckstoffer owned historic Missouri Hopper Vineyard just north of Yountville and the Cabernet Franc from the Sugarloaf Vineyard in the hills southeast of the city of Napa. This wine is deep ruby in color; the bouquet is sweetly fruited with aromas of blackberry, boysenberry, Pakistani mulberry, cassis, violets, bittersweet chocolate, blood orange and a light note of mint. This wine hits plenty of pleasure points on the palate. It is richly flavored including of plum, various darker berries, dark cherry and black licorice. The darkly fruited finish lingers with accompanying tobacco spice, a hint of coffee bean and an earthy note. The chalky, lightly grainy and long-lasting tannins are easily felt, but they roll over the palate comfortably and effortlessly.
The 2018 PROMISE the gratitude is a red blend composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. This wine is dark ruby in color; the aromatics are generous and immediately engaging with notes of blackberry pie, boysenberry, cassis, mocha, espresso and some cardamom spice. Smells like a post meal kitchen of friends and family gathering for the winter holidays – with a pretty union of darker fruits and dessert spices. The palate features plenty of fruit including blackberry, boysenberry and dark cherry. It is juicy and mouthwatering with a medium broadly based grip of long-lasting dusty/chalky tannins and lingering notes of dried tobacco leaf. This is an opulent expression of these four varieties and is sure to immediately bring pleasure but certainly has the characteristics to age for 10+ years.
The PROMISE, Cabernet Sauvignon
The 2020 PROMISE Cabernet Sauvignon is deep ruby and opaque in the glass with an amaranthine rim. The bouquet is open-knitted and immediately expressive including aromas of blackberry, boysenberry, mint chocolate, a hint of toasted open and as it evolves, it reveals scents of chocolate and mocha. The perception one has while tasting this wine is of sweet fruit including blackberry pie, boysenberry and mulberry. One would not be incorrect in labeling this as a hedonistic bottling. It offers flavors of dark cherry, dark plum and a note of chocolate primarily noticeable towards the back of the palate. The finish is richly flavored with a note of lingering sweet tobacco spice and broadly distributed, youthful, chewy, mouth-filling and energetic tannins. Both the fruit and this wine’s texture continue to persist in parallel for quite some time. Shows plenty of power in its youth – hold for ten to twenty years.
The 2016 PROMISE Cabernet Sauvignon is an exceptional wine. It is 100% varietal from the Stagecoach Vineyard on Atlas Peak; it is dark purple in the glass. Offers an elegant darker fruit bouquet with well layered aromatics including blackberry and a subtle note of dried tobacco leaf. A hint of sweetness from the oak shows initially on the palate followed by a layered richness of flavor. Shows flavors of blackberry and boysenberry along with lingering notes of mocha. Good acidity. Riper and grainy tannins with a noticeable grip, continue to linger for some time. This is a big showing, but its balance is one of its most attractive attributes.
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.
In addition to their Napa Valley wines, PROMISE also produces a Grand Cru Champagne made at Le Mesnil, Champagne and a very rare single barrel bottling of an exceptional 100% Cabernet Franc during select years from Sugarloaf Vineyard located south of the city of Napa. This highly coveted bottling is for members only.
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, select PROMISE Wines may be offered at the RH Wine Vault in Yountville.
For more information and to join their mailing list, visit: www.promisewine.com