“Gravity-flow” technology has been all the rage in late 20th century and early 21st century winery construction. Such a design eliminates the need for pumping newly fermented wine into barrels, a harsh process that most quality-focused vintners prefer to avoid if at all possible. Using a multi-tier system that moves the wine gently is preferred, and letting gravity do the work accommodates that preference.
Many decades before “gravity-flow” wineries became the norm, Ed Haus had embraced the concept at his winery in the Pope Valley area of the Napa Valley. Haus built the main building over the creek that meanders through the property, to conserve the available land, and utilized an adjacent hillside to make the structure three stories tall.
During harvest season, the just-picked grapes would be taken to the top level to be sorted and destemmed, then dropped to the second level for crushing, with the juice then flowing to the lower level where barrels awaited.
The year was 1897.
And Pope Valley Winery, as it is known today, is still going strong, annually producing around 5,000 cases of hand-crafted wines from estate vineyards that date back as far as 1940. Selections include an “Estate Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Chenin Blanc and Zinfandel Port.
How did the winery survive Prohibition, a time when so many estates were forced to close their doors and abandon their vineyards? Enough time has passed that the story can now be told.
Haus’ son, Ed, was in the military, where he befriended a young man from Chicago. Like many Chicagoans of the time, the friend had connections. So, the Haus family would load wine onto a horse cart and deliver it to the town of Napa, where it was placed on a train bound for the Windy City.
It turned out that the wine was being purchased by a rather notorious Chicagoan named Al Capone, who used it to stock his speakeasies and brothels around the city.
Eventually, times became tough even for Capone, who owed a lot of people a lot of money. Rather than finding a way to pay off his debts, Capone began “offing” his creditors. When that news reached Pope Valley, Sam Haus decided it might be wise to stop selling wine to America’s No. 1 wise guy.
The arrangement lasted long enough to keep the winery going, even though, to the outside world, it appeared that the winery was closed.
The estate remained in the Haus family until 1959, and later was purchased by the Devitt family. In the mid-1990s, long-time Pope Valley residents Rodney Young, Manny Gomes, Ralf Gerdes, and Jim, Sam and Henry Eakle pooled their resources to purchase the property. In 2012, Sam Eakle and his two children became the majority owners, and continued the process of pumping new life into the old estate—of course, without the use of pumps.
On the 40 acres, adjoining the still-standing three-story winery, are six structures. Among them are a blacksmith shop, a wagon shed and the original farmhouse. Many of the original tools—dating back to the last years of the 19th century—remain, giving the property the feel of a working museum.
And the Eakle family loves showing it off, providing no-appointment-necessary tours daily for groups of six or fewer. Tasting of the estate’s “heritage wines” is complimentary; a reserve tasting costs $15 per person.
Other, even more exclusive, tastings also are offered:
- Brunch and Bubbles—Includes fresh pastries, fruit, brie, crackers, a glass of sparkling Blanc de Blancs, a custom wine flight and a tour of the winery and grounds. Cost: $30 per person.
- Group Lunch and Reserve Tasting—Includes a gourmet boxed lunch, a private reserve wine tasting and a tour. Requires a minimum of four people. Cost: $50 per person.
- Private Lunch at the Winery—A number of options are available, and this option requires a minimum of 10 people and a reservation at least two weeks in advance. Cost: $75 per person.
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No matter how you decide to experience Pope Valley Winery, you’re in for a unique experience, and a rare glimpse of how the Napa Valley used to be. Our advice: Opt for one of the tour-and-tasting packages, and then just kick back and go with the flow.