If there is one winery in Napa Valley that matches the philosophies of The Wine Company like a hand fits a glove, it’s Frog’s Leap.
Founded in 1982 by Larry Turley and John Williams, Frog’s Leap’s first vintage consisted of Sauvignon Blanc (ferments fast, no oak needed, quick to market) and a small amount of Zinfandel. The Sauvignon Blanc got noticed by none other than the New York Times, instantly sold out, and Frog’s Leap was off and running (or hopping, as it were).
A number of years later Larry left the partnership to open Turley Wine Cellars, and John Williams moved the winery off the old frog farm (which used to supply the delicacy to the elite of San Francisco in the early 20th century) to a historic property on the eastern side of Rutherford Valley, where it continues today.
Frog’s Leap has been well known in Napa Valley for marching to their own drum and for holding steadfast to their principles. At times these principles have gotten in the way of business success, but the goal has always been to make the best possible wines in the style of John William’s vision regardless of what the market asks for. For instance, Williams has always believed in lower alcohol wines to keep balance and as he says “Allows you to enjoy more than one damn glass!” He has never produced a wine over 14.5% alcohol, and most of his wines fall into the 12.5% range. This, of course, was not the fashion for Napa Valley wines throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s. William took a lot of flack, and lost some market presence, because of this. Well, what goes around comes around and today, in the quest for ‘balance’ Frog’s Leap is held up as a standard bearer.
The list of principles and firsts is long with this winery, including:
Organic and biodynamic farming. Frog’s Leap was the first winery in Napa Valley to be certified organic, and have slowly converted all of their vineyards to Biodynamic farming. On the property, expansive gardens and a collection of interesting livestock help keep the biodiversity alive.
Dry farming. Still a topic of great controversy in the wine industry but as Williams loves to point out “the entire damn Napa Valley was dry farmed for over a century. Some of the most legendary wines to come out of California came from dry farmed vineyards. Running irrigation lines is a new thing and a bad thing.” Frog’s Leap doesn’t use any water in their vineyards save for one five gallon bucket when a new vine is planted. “We dump the water on it, and the water will show the plant where to send its roots. Simple as that.” In water-starved California, Frog’s Leap is a pioneer.
- True sustainability. We’re not talking just about sustainable farming practices here. We’re talking caring for employees and corporate structure. Frog’s Leap provides medical care and great wages to all of its workers, and ensures year-round work. They have also structured the company to keep it family owned in perpetuity, assuring that it will not be gobbled up by some larger corporate entity. “Sustainability is an easy word to define,” says Williams, “it means to last, and that’s what Frog’s Leap will do.”