The year was 1999. President Bill Clinton defended himself against impeachment charges, “Shakespeare in Love” won the best movie Oscar, John F. Kennedy Jr. died in a plane crash off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, and Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France for the first time.
Meanwhile, along an off-the-beaten-path road in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley, the husband-and-wife team of Scott and Lynn Adams were establishing Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves, and crafting their first three limited-production, vineyard-designate wines.
The founding of Bella Vineyards was the culmination of a process that began in 1995 when Scott and Lynn, in partnership with Scott’s family, acquired the prized Lily Hill Estate. Featuring hillside Zinfandel vines planted in 1915, as well as a small winery, this spectacular property became the cornerstone of the Bella vineyard program.
Over the next two years, the program grew to include the mature Upper Weiss clone vines of Belle Canyon Vineyard, also in Dry Creek Valley, and the Syrah and heritage Zinfandel vines (planted in 1905) of Big River Ranch in the Alexander Valley.
While selecting this exceptional trio of properties, Scott and Lynn immersed themselves in the world of viticulture. With Scott overseeing the vineyards, the Adamses sold their house in San Francisco and moved to Belle Canyon. There, they tended the vines and learned the art of winegrowing from their renowned vineyard manager, John Clendenen. The couple also took classes in winemaking, viticulture and marketing.
In 1999, Scott and Lynn invited acclaimed winemaker Mike Dashe to their home at Belle Canyon, where they laid out their small-lot, vineyard-focused vision for Bella Vineyards. Impressed by their passion and commitment, Dashe joined the Bella team as consulting winemaker, with Lynn and Scott working at his side to produce Bella’s premier vintage.
With a young daughter, Julia Belle (after whom the winery was named), and another on the way (Lilia Rose, the namesake for the estate vineyard), a baby pouch quickly became one of the most essential pieces of winery equipment for Scott and Lynn.
As their daughters have grown up, so has Bella Vineyards. Over the past decade, Bella has earned a reputation for creating wines of exceptional quality that balance rich, vineyard-inspired character with poise and elegance.
Building on the success of its Vineyard Series, which spotlights small-lot Zinfandel and Rhone-varietal bottlings from exceptional, single vineyards, Bella unveiled its Dry Creek Zinfandel — the flagship wine for the appellation-focused blends of the Hillside Series — in 2001. That same vintage, the Bella team crafted the first wine in its Special Varietals series: a late harvest Zinfandel.
All three series of wines share the same labor-intensive, layer-by-layer approach that is integral to achieving Bella’s signature complexity and texture elements.
Throughout the evolution of the winery’s portfolio, the Bella team has remained dedicated to enhancing quality at every stage of the process. In the vineyards, of which Scott and Lynn acquired sole ownership in 2001, they have nurtured the cherished old-vine blocks, while meticulously replanting other sections to more ideally suited varietals.
As part of these replanting efforts, the Bella team placed great emphasis on diversity and excellence through their choice of clonal material, which included such notable selections as the Alban and two Tablas Creek (A and C) clones for Grenache, the Florence (of Rockpile fame) clone of Zinfandel, as well as Bella’s own old-vine heirloom clones. In total, Bella’s estate properties offer seven different Zinfandel clones, five Syrah selections and four Grenache, with numerous combinations of vineyard block, clonal material, vine age and soil type.
In keeping with their focus on Zinfandel and Rhone grapes, Scott and Lynn sold Belle Canyon (a vineyard primarily planted to Cabernet Sauvignon) in 2002, though they still work with a special two-acre block of the vineyard, which continues to be farmed for Bella by Clendenen.
In the winery, which in 2002 was expanded to include Bella’s spectacular wine caves, Scott, Lynn and Mike were joined by Bella’s gifted full-time winemaker, Joe Healy, who oversees all day-to-day winemaker operations.
Together, this talented team has helped earn the small-production, family-operated winery a cult-like following of Zinfandel and Rhone-varietal enthusiasts, who seek out Bella’s limited wines and flock to its special events. More than 95 percent of Bella’s wines are sold direct to consumer.
As a result of this thoughtful, personal approach, Bella has achieved quiet success and a passionate word-of-mouth following, even though its wines can be difficult to find in the general market.