Napa’s Original Terriorists: Al and Boots Brounstein

Volcanic Hill | Courtesy Diamond Creek Vineyards

Most wine fans have heard of the concept of terroir, which in general describes a specific appellation’s — aka a vineyard area’s — location, geology and climate. The point is to identify the appellation’s vineyard sights as having specific characteristics that are capable of growing quality wine grapes. The first were mapped in France and were also meant to state which wine grapes would excel in the region — which many times required that only wines from those grapes could be labeled with that region’s name.

In the U.S., this concept started many years later and to this day does not limit the varietals that may be in wines labeled as from what American law calls an AVA or American Viticultural Area.

This leads us to the story of the exceptional wines of the recently departed Al and Boots Brounstein and their Diamond Creek Vineyards. Al was a highly successful pharmaceutical salesman; both he and Boots had a love of wine — specifically Napa Valley wines. Their winery journey began in the 1960s and it is important to note that then there was not consensus that Cabernet Sauvignon was going to be Napa’s shining star, nor was there a map of where Cabernet would shine.

Red Rock Terrace | Courtesy Diamond Creek Vineyards

The Brounsteins however were certain that they wanted to create exceptional Cabs that aged like Bordeaux. They chose Diamond Mountain where not only was the terrain steep, but it generally had thin soils covered with rocks and dense fauna.

This particular 40 acres was so difficult to cultivate that barely half of it could be cleared and cultivated. This struggle turned out to be a blessing; along the way the Brounsteins became intimate with every inch of soil, which led Al to the game-changing decision of creating three different vineyards each described by their geological characteristics. His advisors all agreed this was a terrible idea; not only would the yields from each be miniscule, but consumers of the day were not familiar with and bound to be confused by such distinctions.

Added to the equation was Al’s cartoonish choice of label design made to evoke an Old-West wanted poster — not exactly considered premium branding. Lastly, the Brounsteins were so proud of their wine that even their first releases were priced at the top of the Napa food chain competing with the accepted stars of the day.

Gravelly Meadow Vineyard | Lou Phillips

Fast forward 50 years and it turns out Al and Boots got the last laugh because their vineyard designate terroirs — Volcanic Hill, Gravelly Meadow, Red Rock Terrace and the later named Lake Vineyard, were a hit and have produced some of the most sought-after wines Napa ever produced.

These terroir designations also opened the door for the now-common practice of distinguishing winery’s best offerings by vineyard name.

The Diamond Creek legacy? Vision accomplished and life well played.