BY MARK GUDGEL | PHOTO COURTESY OF DEARDEN WINES

“There are five hundred places to go in Napa Valley. So we feel privileged when people choose us,” said Sam Dearden, son of Chris Dearden, who after years of toil and honing his craft at last realized his dream of opening his own winery, Sleeping Giant, this past spring in the Los Carneros AVA of Napa Valley.

“I did it the whole wrong way,” joked Chris, a Sleeping Giant baseball cap on his head, a glass of Cabernet in his hand. “They say if you want to make a small fortune in the wine industry, start with a large one. Well, I didn’t have a fortune. I’ve just been saving and working for others since 1986.” That was the year that Dearden graduated from UC Davis. Among those Dearden has worked for is Zinfandel-enthusiast Bob Biale, who calls Chris a “true Renaissance Man.”

Chris first purchased a run-down property in Carneros with a livable house and a dilapidated water tower that caught his creative eye. “They’re unique to Napa,” said Chris, who offered tastings in the water tower while his winery was being built.

Sleeping Giant recently celebrated its opening with a harvest party, and fans of Chris’s wine flew in from all over the country. Chris maintains a personal, familiar relationship with every one of them, each of whom is eager to congratulate him on this long-awaited accomplishment.

The Deardens are proud of their new winery, and rightfully so. Not only because they worked so hard for so long to save up the money to buy the property and build the facility, but also because Chris designed it himself. “I’ve designed a few of these for other people,” he smiled.

“I wanted this open-air feel with a crush pad, morning sun but not afternoon sun.” The solar panels render Sleeping Giant net zero in their use of electricity. Bugs are taken care of by the ubiquitous western bluebirds. The drip irrigation systems use reclaimed water while fresh water is recycled in their Bio-Filtro worm digester and used for landscaping and vineyard use. The accordion doors in the tasting room face west, opening onto the vineyards of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and affording visitors incredible views of the setting sun.

The harvest party and the grand opening of Sleeping Giant Winery mark neither the beginning nor the end for Chris Dearden and the realization of his Napa Valley dream. As his guests began to depart, Chris took the time to make sure each one knew just how much he appreciated them. “We couldn’t have done this without people like you,” Chris said to one. “Hope to see you again soon,” he told another.

Sleeping Giant Winery may seem to outsiders like “just another” new winery, but those who know Chris Dearden know that it’s a special place because of the man who envisioned it and the incredible wines he makes. Perhaps even more so, it’s special because it represents a renaissance man of a winemaker who, despite going about it “the whole wrong way,” made his dream come true.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:
707-944-2054 // www.deardenwines.com // 2258 Las Amigas Road, Napa