It seems that we are always hearing about small wineries being bought by larger wineries or companies. Whether it be the financial challenges to run a small business or the “American dream” to make a profit, many family wineries cease to be family-owned when they are acquired.
Rarely do we hear the converse but Jamieson Ranch is a story of locals taking back the winery from a private equity firm and putting it back in family hands.
Located at the southernmost point in Napa Valley, Jamieson Ranch sits on 300 acres. The land was first developed by the Kirkland family, cattle ranchers, in 1998. In 2009, the ranch was taken over by a private equity firm when the Kirkland business went bankrupt. The property was renamed Valley Gate Vineyards and operated as a custom-crush facility. As the company shifted to making their own wines, it was named Reata, which was the name of the ranch in the movie “Giant.”
In 2013, Bill Leigon joined Reata. Originally from Houston, Texas, Leigon has a degree in acting and singing and went to New York to study with Lee Strasburg.
While performing, he also began selling wine, first at a retail store and then on the wholesale side for a Loire Valley importer. That job brought him to Los Angeles, California and in 1988 he moved to Napa.
Leigon first worked at J .Lohr where he co-founded The Wine Trust, a wine marketing company, and Ariel Vineyards, the first premium non-alcoholic wine. He was also president of sales and marketing for Associate Vintage Group and later spent 12 years as president of Hahn Estates in Monterey. Here, he created the popular brands Rex Goliath and Cycles Gladiator.
He joined Reata in February 2013 to create brands under the label. In September 2015, Ken Laird, one of the largest landowners in the valley, purchased the property and subsequently leased the winery to Leigon, who owns the Jamieson Ranch Vineyards brand, and manages operations and inventory.
Jamieson Ranch Vineyards currently has 10 acres planted out of their 300. The property also houses a 57,000 square foot winery that looks like a western mountain lodge. There is a wraparound veranda where guests can enjoy their wine tasting with views of the Napa Valley and San Pablo Bay. Inside, there are high ceilings and warm and inviting areas to sit, whether in front of a cozy fireplace or in an observation gallery overlooking the barrel room and production area.
Under the Jamieson Ranch name, there are four different labels. The wines from two labels, Jamieson Ranch Vineyards and Reata, fall between $26 and $85. The Jamieson Ranch Vineyard represents the Napa wines, including cabernet, zinfandel and merlot, whereas the pinot noirs from Sonoma and the chardonnays from Monterey are under the Reata label.
The everyday affordable wines for $15 are the Whiplash and Light Horse wines. Whiplash, named after a racehorse, includes a red blend, zinfandel and malbec. Light Horse, named for the saddled horses, includes pinot noir, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon.
Continuing the equestrian theme, on a visit to Jamieson Ranch Vineyards, you will likely see miniature horses walking around. These horses, Winnie the Pooh, Sweet Jane and Molly, are certified therapy animals and are used as service animals. These horses bring light into people’s lives, giving another meaning to the term “light horse.” Three days a week they are at the winery and other days they visit hospitals and schools in the area.
At Jamieson Ranch Vineyards, Leigon explains that “it is about creating moments that last for a lifetime. When you come here, you are our guests.”
Bill Leigon and his wife, Anna Carminito-Leigon, who met while performing on stage in Napa, created the Light Horse Foundation, dedicated to helping at-risk people, particularly those with autism, as well as helping other important humanitarian causes. A percentage of sales of the Light Horse wines help fund the foundation.
As part of the foundation, each year they host “Fresh Coat” at the winery where 13 urban artists come to the winery to paint installations of graffiti art along the perimeter walls of the building. They also partner with Aldea Children & Family Services in Napa and bring at-risk youth to work alongside these urban artists.
Jamieson Ranch Vineyards offers winery tours, wine and cheese and wine and food pairings or one can just enjoy an afternoon on the veranda sipping wine. It is nice to know that this Napa winery is back in the hands of locals who will make you feel like you have been welcomed into their home. And that is what makes a memorable wine experience.