An authentic Napa story & American dream achieved
Since the late 1930's, three generations of the Madrigal family have farmed some of Napa Valley’s finest vineyards. Our family history here is a constant source of inspiration, and it guides us in our wine making. We value the long relationship we've had with the land and people here, believing that the combined wisdom of the folks who have lived here for generations, and a deep appreciation of these vineyards, can be tasted in our wine.
The first Madrigals arrived to the United States as railroad workers. Chris’ father, Jess, a retired member of the US military, started the family’s vineyard management company that today manages over 800 acres. The early years, note Chris, were very difficult for his family. “We started from the very bottom. My father’s family lived in a one-room shack with 12 kids. They picked apples, walnuts, and grapes. And it was a better life than they had before. We were one of the first, if not the first Mexican families in the upper valley. In 1957 my dad joined the military, but he always talked about coming back to Napa Valley. In 1974 he got stationed in nearby Marin County, and he started pruning at vineyards on the weekends. When he retired from the military in 1976, he started doing vineyard management full time.”
Chris learned the vineyard farming business a little later in his life, after graduating from high school and working as a union carpenter. In 1985 – the same year that Chris began to work with his father’s vineyard management company – they began overseeing the vineyards of Clos Pegase and Duckhorn wineries and growing grapes for other premium wineries including Cakebread Cellars and Chateau Montelena. As their reputation soared and while still working the vineyards as often as seven days a week, Chris realized his dream of establishing the family’s own winery. Chris recalls urging his dad in the early years. “I said, ‘This is our time and our move, let’s do it.” Dad did it because it was my dream, but he sure didn’t make it easy on me. He said, “You can do the winery project, but you still have to do your vineyard work!” So I did! While taking care of my vineyard responsibilities, at lunch and in the evenings I’d make some phone calls and figure all the new winery stuff out.
Much of the passion that inspired Chris to get into the wine making and attend UC Davis’ viticulture and enology program, came from what he called the “Renaissance of Napa” in the early 1990s. Then, famous cult winemakers such as Mike Trujillo and Heidi Barrett of Screaming Eagle broke away from French traditions and started making phenomenal wines in a uniquely California style. They were saying, “We’re going to pick these grapes when they taste right, not by what the sugar says. We’re going to go by taste.” For Chris, these wines were a “game changer.”
The growth that the Madrigals have experienced in recent decades is impressive but Chris is quick to point out that their success was measured and even-handed, a strategy fiercely enforced by his father. Chris recounts his own impatience, favoring quick decision-making, hastier production, and fairly significant risk taking. While his father’s conservative approach and slow decision-making was at first frustrating to Chris, he readily acknowledges that his father’s ways taught him patience and the wisdom of thoughtful, careful planning. Chris is convinced that Madrigal Family Winery exists and is producing and selling exceptional wine, due to Jess’ strategic vision, forbearance and prudent decision-making.
Chris ultimately attributes their success to a strong work ethic. He also believes that luck has its hand in the equation. “I always say sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. I like being good and a lot of the things that have happened in our life has been a result of working hard; but if there wasn’t luck involved with it or if we weren’t at the right place at the right time, our story could be drastically different. Be it luck or hard work, the Madrigal dream is alive and well!
Madrigal winery and vineyard is located between St. Helena and Calistoga, on the west side of Highway 29. Today’s production is just under 10,000 cases, featuring three Cabernet Sauvignons: Napa Valley, Las Vinas and Atlas Peak, Petite Sirah and a proprietary red blend named Sonnet #63.