…And Sourcing the Best at Antinori Family Vineyard in Atlas Peak

Mike and Kathy Stonum, sibling vintners, know first-hand about managing risk. Ask how they built a winery from scratch, squeezing in all the hard work on top of day jobs, in the span of just one generation, and without a fortune in the bank to support them. Kathy explains that it boils down to one thing. “If you have a dream, you’ll figure out a way to make it happen.”

And they did. Sadly, Kathy has now had to say goodbye to her partner and brother, Mike Stonum, who recently passed away. As he was a natural dreamer and planner rolled into one, she did the research, and together they budgeted and made educated guesses. Beginning in 1979, they planted 17 acres in Lodi to Zinfandel grapes and developed rapidly as self-taught winemakers.

“Did we have the money to hire a wine- maker? No. We’re regular people,” said Kathy. So they went through their paces, beginning with passion, followed by learning, making, experimenting, tasting, perfecting. “It’s important to love the experimentation when you’re the ones doing it. Just forget vacations.”

stonum vineyards

After even more experimentation and a newly built facility, the first release of Estate Stonum Zinfandel was in 2011 (“That’s all we had the money for…”). Kathy and Mike still intended to tackle their ambition to make world-class wines. After a highly successful foray into Sauvignon Blanc sourced from The Towne Vineyard in Calistoga, extensive research led to the high elevation Chardonnay and Cabernet “pristine grapes” growing at the Antinori Family Vineyard in Atlas Peak, Napa.

Knowing that high altitude makes for flavors that are more intense, concentrated, and longer-lasting, they knew this was the spot to match their goal  of always sourcing the best. Because it’s about quality over quantity, they purchased three tons, a good fit for this small producer. “The key is starting with the best grapes we can possibly afford,” said Kathy. “Wherever we go, it’s always single vineyard, and we always pay tribute on the label to the grower.”

“Our mission is to capture the intense flavors and complexity while preserving the balance and integrity of the fruit. Our wines will always faithfully represent the terroir from where they originated.”

The Stonums rented a 40-foot refrigerated trailer. “Never an open-top truck,” Kathy added, due to the importance of keeping red grapes at 45º Fahrenheit prior to a cold soak to maximize color and flavor from the skin. They made two separate trips at dawn within a month— first for three tons of Chardonnay, returning to the winery to crush, press, and send straight to barrels to ferment and age. The next trip was for three tons of Cabernet which was cold-soaked, fermented, pressed and barrel-aged.

Back in Lodi, talking about the “huge amount of attention to details” and educating tasting room visitors is in Kathy’s DNA as a lifelong educator. The Stonum’s brand philosophy is best reflected as, “We specialize in single vineyard wines hand-crafted in an old-world, minimalistic style which allows the character of the fruit and the terroir to emerge.”




Article By: Laurie Jo Miller Farr