Don Long - Founder
David Arthur Vineyards
In his National Bestselling work, The Ghost Map, author Steven Johnson observed:
“A hundred disparate historical trends converge on a single, modest act –
some unknown person unscrews the handle of a pump on a side street in
a bustling city – and in the years and decades to follow, a thousand
changes ripple out from that simple act.”
In 1955, Donald Long, a WWII Veteran of the South Pacific Theater, lived a comfortable life as a popular butcher in Palo Alto, California with his wife and three sons. Despite humble beginnings, Long’s ambitious nature was only surpassed by his curious and inquisitive character.
To improve his shop, he wanted to have his own cattle. To have his own cattle, he needed land. His life savings couldn’t garner the area he wanted. A local realtor offhandedly suggested a tract of property nestled in the eastern mountain range of Napa Valley. It was a frivolous offer. The land was not connected to any roads or water sources. The terrain was rocky, practically inhabitable. But flying over the terra firma in a friend’s plane, Long did not see risk, but rather an opportunity.
Most likely getting an earful from the missus, Long started with an initial 40 acres. Over the next decade, the Butcher of Palo Alto would purchase parcel after parcel, until his land holdings stretched nearly 1,000 acres strong. The exact spot he chose for his future cattle would – nearly six decades later – emerge as one of the crown jewels of the Napa Valley. This terroir would eventually be whispered in undertones by Master Somms, eclectic collectors and brought to the glass by some of the most celebrated winemakers in the region’s history. It is known today as Pritchard Hill.
Back then, in 1965, no one really knew the area’s potential. The Judgement of Paris was still over ten years away. But in that same year, two infamous events would shape the history of Napa forever. Robert Mondavi, for better or worse The Father of Napa, would pummel his younger brother Peter and be banished from the family business forever. Not long after, another Napa legend, Don Chappellet, would bank his family’s future on the assurance of Mondavi and legendary winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff that grapes could not only grow in the irregular volcanic slopes of Pritchard Hill, they would produce some of the finest wine in the western hemisphere.
Long himself never imagined a career as a Viticulturalist. He did have buffalo up there at one point. That’s right, buffalo, in Napa. Imagine tasting Pritchard Hill Buffalo Mozzarella down at the Model Bakery. Nice feeling, right?
Before the Judgment of Paris, before the trailblazing families of Davies, Barrett, Cakebread, Heitz and Phelps got Napa off the ground, Don Long would put together a picnic basket and – along with his wife – ascend the eastern slopes of the valley to his land where they rested and drank under their favorite oak tree, telling each other what this land’s future lay in store for them, their sons, and future generations.
I’m flying north up the Silverado Trail, taking the hard right turn onto Highway 128. Winding and weaving along the south shoreline of Hennessey Lake my girlfriend, Becca, looks amazing in a light green cotton dress and designer sunglasses as Chris Stapleton’s “Nobody to Blame,” oozes from the speakers. It’s been a wet and cold winter with record rainfall. Every local in the county is silently praying to Our Lord and Savior Dionysus for the sunny days and short nights of Spring. On this day, however, the weather fortuitously breaks in our favor from the gray monotony as we climb Long Ranch Road into the cloudless sky, offering us without a doubt the best bird’s eye view of Napa Valley, save, maybe, a hot air balloon ride.
We arrive at the front gates of David Arthur Vineyards, smiling into the sun and receiving a chilled glass of Quattro Bianco, a dry fermented white blend of four exceptionally rare Italian varietals, hence the name. Our host is Tanner, a veteran ambassador of the winery for nearly a decade. He’s well known and liked in Napa for his affability and at times zealous behavior.
A couple from Texas with no clue as to what they’re doing gatecrash our appointment but Becca and I are too happy to be wine tasting on a rare day off to give much a care and we good naturedly invite them to join in. Tanner leads us to the same oak tree Don and his wife enjoyed so many years ago, a waist high stone wall lines the twenty-acre vineyard block of the winery’s estate. We sit at one of the picnic tables as Tanner pours us a bright and light Rosé, and the world just seems perfect.
Tanner tells us of David Long, third and youngest son of Don Long, who didn’t want to become a lawyer like his brothers and was astounded when his father mentioned he owned hundreds of acres of land in Pritchard Hill. In the late 1970s, David would plant his vineyards, build a barn and over many years of hard work, luck and lessons learned, would create his first vintage in 1985, the same year his daughter Laura was born. Like himself, his winery’s name honors the two grandfathers he was named after.
For the next couple hours, I’m in heaven. Tanner pours wine after wine of delicious mountain fruit teaching us the story of the Long Family, and their continued passion for this special place.
We try the Cabernet Sauvignon next. This being Pritchard Hill, I’m not in the least surprised it’s as perfect as Cab gets. What does knock me flat about David Arthur are the small hidden gems they offer. The Quattro Bianco is now officially my favorite white wine in Napa, (sorry Stony Hill you should have never sold out.) We crunch down on salted breadsticks as we sip Nebbiolo, a tough but delicate Piedmont varietal made famous through the villages of Barbaresco and Barolo. Drinking this stuff, I wish I had some Bruschetta drowning in balsamic vinegar, and a big ole fat Italian broad hitting me with a rolling pin.
The more I learn about this place, the more I like it. Heidi Barrett was their consulting winemaker in the 1980s. Their present winemaker, Nile Zacherle, is a homegrown wine guru who cut his teeth in the Margaret River of Western Australia and the Left Bank of Bordeaux before returning to his home, and earning a degree at UC Davis. His resume is impressive. Winemaker under Beau Barrett at Chateau Montelena, Vineyard Manager of Barnett Vineyards, a Spring Mountain favorite, before eventually becoming head winemaker at David Arthur in 2008.
I learn that David’s daughter Laura recently purchased the plot of land next to her father’s and that they work very closely together on his winery, and on her future. It’s amazing to think 4 generations of the Long Family have called Pritchard Hill home.
As we spy a lone coyote ambling across the vineyard, its bushy tail swishing the tops of the mustard flowers, Tanner pulls out a real treat. It’s the 2018 Elevation 1147, a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is the cream of the crop people. Only the best of the best goes into this bottle. It was crowned by Wine Spectator as “Wine of the Century” for it’s 1997 Vintage. It’s bold, rich and smooth, everything an award-winning Cab should be, and although Becca and I planned to visit another winery later in the afternoon, I don’t want to leave.
Alas, we don’t want to over stay our welcome, and other guests will soon arrive. We make our purchases, and although Tanner tries to relent and wiggle out of my grip, I tip him handsomely. Guy deserves it. We thank him, and promise the now tipsy and fun-loving Texans to be best friends forever.
As we make our way down the hill, I think back to all the wineries I have visited in Napa Valley. I try to think of a better experience, a more engaging host, a more beautiful setting laced with idiosyncratic varietals and crowd pleasing blockbusters.
Becca, knowing my love of everything 1985 since it’s the year I was born, asks playfully if I’m going to try and finagle my way into a bottle of David Arthur’s inaugural wine.
I shrug and squeeze her hand.
“Anything is possible babe. Now be a doll and turn up the Stapleton.”
The Crew of David Arthur Vineyards
David and his daughter Laura
2018 Elevation 1147