Story By: Laurie Jo Miller Farr // Photos Courtesy of Knights Bridge Winery

Meet Knights Bridge Winemaker DEREK BALJEU

An 1877 lithograph beautifully illustrates the point—the vineyards of Knights Bridge Winery occupy a special place at the foot of Mount St. Helena, Sonoma’s warmest appellation, planted to grapes for 160 years. The narrow Knights Valley between Napa and Sonoma is rich in cobbled volcanic soil that produces high quality Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sauvignon Blanc grapes.

Founded in 2006 by brothers Jim and Essel Bailey and friend Tom Costin, Knights Bridge Vineyard rises to an elevation of 900 feet on the rocky slopes of the Mayacamas. Organically farmed at the perfect intersection of climate and location, Knights Bridge seeks to make wines of energy and purpose—unmistakable expressions of the estate’s terroir.


In a state-of-the-art production facility, the team is equipped with all the tools a winemaker could ask for. Winemaking technology includes an optical sorting table, five tulip-shaped custom concrete eggs, and separate climate-controlled rooms for vinification and aging. Remotely operated fermentation tanks with automatic pump-overs are sized to match the production of each individual block. With the 2021 harvest, fruit entered this facility for the first time, fulfilling a vision more than a decade in the making.


This is where winemaker Derek Baljeu practices his farming and his craft—and it does sound like love at first sight. He says, “Knights Valley is one of the most versatile growing regions. The strong coastal influence and ample sun preserve flavors and create conditions ideal for wine growing. I thought the vineyard was absolutely stunning. I knew the topography and microclimate were things that could not be replicated and that they would support personality-driven wines with their own unique characteristics.”

Before being bitten by the winemaking bug (he attributes the “aha” moment to a dinner of tomahawk ribeye paired with ’96 Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon), Baljeu was enrolled on a football scholarship at U.C. Davis. While keeping up with the demands of playing Aggie football as tight end, he earned both his BS and MS in Viticulture and Enology and was also named a Big Sky Conference Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2018. The following year, Baljeu came to Knights Bridge after several roles in Napa including researching phenolic development in the To Kalon Vineyard, as assistant viticulturist at Silverado Farming, and as enologist for the luxury portfolio at Trinchero.


Now welcoming guests by appointment, Knights Bridge is the second winery ever built in Knights Valley. Taking inspiration from the natural beauty and grandeur of the setting, the remarkable space designed by Backen Gillam Architects is almost entirely underground.

Upon being greeted at the entrance gate, guests appreciate the thoughtful execution of an exclusive and highly personalized two-hour tasting experience. There’s a guided walk in the vineyards, a tour of the fermentation barn and caves, and at an intimate, seated tasting, local bites are paired with wine in the newly opened tasting salon that’s flooded with light through dramatic floor-to-ceiling windows perfectly framing the mountain’s highest peak.

707-341-3391 //