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Napa Valley Garden and Vineyard

Tour the beautiful grounds at the Staglin Family Vineyard

Written by Rebecca Christian
  • John Granen

    "Warm," and "balanced" are sometimes used to describe wine. They also apply to philanthropist Shari Staglin. Not only are the organic wines produced at Staglin Family Vineyard award-winning, but Shari and husband Garen, an investor, have also donated or raised $720 million for mental-health research, educational institutions, and children's charities since 1990. That was the year their then-18-year-old son, Brandon, a Dartmouth student, suffered a sudden, terrifying break from reality and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Shari, who had at one time been a leader in health care management, recalls that it was shocking when she and Garen were summoned home from a business trip to France. "Brandon was a brilliant student, but he couldn't get his thoughts in order. We just couldn't take it in."

    Today Brandon's illness is well-managed, and he is communications manager for the family's picturesque Rutherford, California, vineyard. The 64 acres that encompass the Staglin home, vineyard, winery, orchard, and gardens are situated on Napa Valley's storied Rutherford Bench, which produces some of the best Cabernet grapes in the world. It's known for what Shari describes as "beautiful alluvial soil that eroded over eons and cascaded down the mountains."

    Set on a terraced hillside, the vineyard and winery--open by appointment for tastings and tours--has a setting designed under the leadership of noted landscape architect William Callaway to complement the Tuscan villa style of the Staglins' home. (It was a location in the 1998 version of The Parent Trap, in which you can glimpse the Staglins' wine in several scenes.)

    "It's a magical property," Shari says. "It's been a hospitable place for hundreds of years. In back of what is now our visitors center we found an old grinding stone left from the Wappo Indians, who used it as their campsite. We consider ourselves not owners of the land, but stewards of it."

    Midwestern-raised Shari and Italian-American Garen met on a blind date at UCLA. When Garen took Shari to a family dinner, she was smitten with the way wine heightens the pleasures of hospitality, and the couple began to dream about owning a vineyard. Shari remembers picnicking in Napa Valley in the '60s, gazing wistfully across the valley at land that became theirs two decades later. Now the operation's CEO, Shari went back to school to study viticulture and enology. Daughter Shannon is following in her footsteps; after earning an MBA, she is working in finance and plans to return to the family business.

    Shaded by citrus, fig, and stately cypress trees, the grounds are fragrant with rosemary hedges and quilted with a patchwork of cover crops that are themselves mini gardens. Lavender blooms beside gates on the road leading to the property, which boasts some 460 olive trees, from which the Staglins harvest olive oil. A 165-kilowatt solar system that powers the entire operation shows the Staglins' commitment to the environment.

    The landscape design was mothered by necessity: A mountain behind the property was prone to landslides, so they installed drainage systems and created terraces to stabilize it. This led to steps for the terraces, which led to the need for something at the top of the steps, which led to--bellissimo!--the bocce court.

    Shari is fond of the vintage roses and plate-sized dahlias in her cutting garden. A Mediterranean-style vegetable garden features heirloom tomatoes, eggplants, and melons, as well as traditional herbs. Each of the columns of the loggia, where the Staglins often eat dinner, has a mini garden of herbs at the base, easily accessible from the kitchen door. "We grow flowers that make us happy and food we like to eat," Shari says.

    The grounds are dotted with outdoor artwork, one piece showing musical notes to represent their annual music festival to benefit mental health. "Our dream is to cure or prevent mental illness," says Shari. She loves the song "The Impossible Dream" from the musical Man of La Mancha and gave Garen a statue of Don Quixote on their wedding day 42 years ago. "We believe it will happen in our lifetime."

    How to Get There: 
    Staglin Family Vineyard is located at 1570 Bella Oaks Lane, Rutherford, California. Tastings and tours are by appointment. For more information, call 707/963-3994 or go to staglinfamily.com.

    Photography: John Granen
    Produced by Andrea Caughey

    Landscape architect: William B. Callaway, FASLA, SWA Group, P.O. Box 5904, 2200 Bridgeway Blvd., Sausalito, CA 94966; 415/332-5100, swagroup.com.

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    Shari Staglin, enjoying a glass of wine.

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    Framed by olive trees, the courtyard lawn above the pool has a pleasing symmetry.

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    The Staglin Family Vineyard is located in the Rutherford Bench, a California growing area known for producing some of the world's best Cabernet grapes; the Staglins also grow Sangiovese and Chardonnay grapes.

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    The arched loggia in front of the house serves as a lovely gathering spot.

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    Royal purple petunias and bright orange marigolds provide a riot of color.

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    A hint of formality comes from the Italian cypress trees on the terraced lawn.

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    Red Hot Poker brightens the cutting garden.

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    The grillwork of the chairs echoes the arbor, creating an open, airy feeling.

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    Penstemon, also known as beardtongue, is one of the many old-fashioned flowers Shari loves.

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    A water feature promotes a sense of calm.

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    Distinguishing the rusty cut-steel arch over the entrance to the flower and vegetable gardens are "The Staglin Panels" by sculptor Mark Bulwinkle; one of the panels depicts what Shari calls "happy" bugs to show the family's commitment to the organic approach. The Staglins share the vegetables they grow with their employees and local restaurants. They also keep bees and harvest honey.

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    The Visitor Center can be glimpsed in back of the vineyard.

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    Container plants add a dash of color to this pleasant sitting area on the patio.

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    Guests enjoy tastings and tours at the ivy-covered winery.

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    Shari loves beautiful, old-fashioned roses.

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    The bocce court.

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    Shari with guests at a wine tasting.

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