It has been 40 years since enology professors at UC Davis said congratulations to numerous students who then went on to enological fame.
In that historic graduating class were folks who later became wine luminaries, such as Craig Williams (Joseph Phelps), Cathy Corison, Tim Mondavi, Mike Martini, Ed Sbragia (Beringer and Sbragia), and Jed Steele.
Also in that class was a bright young man whose reputation behind winery doors today is legend, but whose name is basically unknown to consumers.
Tom Eddy, however, has a long resume of exemplary work that has made him an insider’s hero. The most recent chapter in Tom’s story occurred three weeks ago when he and his wife, Kerry, celebrated the opening of their new winery in Napa Valley – almost exactly 15 years from the date that they bought the 22-acre property.
The project is on Highway 29 and is the very last parcel in the county, surrounded on three sides by the Sonoma Land Trust.
What took so long to get the winery built were complex architectural plans, lengthy and expensive legal disputes with neighbors, and battles with Napa officials and their permitting demands that are so numerous and complicated you wouldn’t believe some of them.
Many of the county’s requirements were outrageously expensive, and the Eddys didn’t have a bank loan; banks were skittish about investing with a winemaker whose name didn’t mean much to them.
As a result, Tom relied on friends as investors and needed $1.7 million to complete the project he mapped out in late 1999.
In fact, final permits aren’t even signed yet. A new requirement that he pave the road from Highway 29 up to the winery hit the Eddys like a ton of asphalt and called for additional money that they didn’t have. The road is being paved this week, thanks to additional investors.
Last week a walk up the gravelly hill from the entrance to the top of the hill revealed numerous handsome old oak trees and no edifice. On the back side of the hill, a gracefully sloped and curved berm hides the entrance to the subterranean caves.
After graduating from UC Davis, Eddy got his start working at Bear Mountain Winery in Arvin, then moved on to Wente, the Christian Brothers, and Souverain. He also began to do consulting work for literally dozens of wineries. And he has recently been importing his own wines from New Zealand, notably a brand called Tenz (Tom Eddy New Zealand).
Eddy is an unreconstructed traditionalist, seeking full-flavored wines, preferably from mountain vineyards, that have perfect balance and moderate alcohol levels. His style is typically for age-worthy wines and he releases his Cabernets a year or more later than most wineries in Napa do, to give his wines some bottle bouquet.
His cabernet sauvignons are typically well structured and call for at least a decade of aging. His second label wines, called Elodian, are from younger vines and may be consumed earlier.
Even though his winery is located in Napa Valley, he has no favorite area of California and is eager to try grapes from widely differing regions.
“I’m an itinerant,” he says. “I’ll go anywhere to make an interesting wine.” He said he has been negotiating to get some Grenache fruit from an ancient vineyard that he suspects will make an excellent wine. His current pinot noir is from Manchester Ridge in the Mendocino Ridge appellation.
“I want to make cool, fun things,” he said.
Out in front of the property, sitting right adjacent to Highway 29, Eddy planted nearly an acre of cabernet sauvignon carefully selected clones of the variety that will allow him to make about 250 cases of estate cabernet.
Until all permits are signed, Eddy cannot invite anyone onto the property, but tours and tastings by appointment will be a feature of Tom Eddy Wines.
Now white-haired and 63, Eddy says the last 15 years, of one heartache after another, hasn’t dampened his dream.
“I’ve always loved this game,” he says with a wide grin.
And now he has a place to call home.
Wine of the Week: 2011 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG ($29) — Those who love traditional Tuscan red wines with their racy rustic-ness will love this Sangiovese with small amounts of local blending grapes. The aroma is of fresh plums, black cherries, and tar. A light hint of earth in the taste gives way to huge fruit and pasta-friendliness. The tannins are firm, but the wine has a load of fruit to compensate.