An Evening with Robert Craig. part 1

Robert Craig Winery is one of the producers I highlighted in a Corkd.com series titled “5 affordable California cult wines”.

Robert Craig wine bottles

Robert Craig Wines

In combing through the internet literature I put together in my mind an idea of the man Robert Craig and his wines.  Shortly after the article posted Claudia Chittim, the Executive Director of the Howell Mountain Vintners and Growers association was able to introduce me through email to Robert and Lynn Craig.  I noticed Mr. Craig was going to be in Phoenix in September and so we made plans to meet up.

What transpired far exceeded my expectations, not that my expectations were low but here’s what happened.  Instead of doing just a quick flipcam video interview, I was invited as a guest of the Craig’s to attend the Winemaker dinner at BLT restaurant.  BLT is located at the Camelback Inn which recently underwent a 50 million dollar renovation.

I met with Mr Craig before the reception and we sat on a couch near the bar.  We chatted a while learning a little about each others backgrounds.  I learned that Robert Craig was actually born in  Bisbee, Arizona.  He lightheartedly referred to his age and said that in fact he was born after Arizona received statehood.  His family had been coal miners back east and decided to move to Bisbee to mine copper.  But eventually moved to South Texas and became electricians.  This led to Robert Craig becoming an electrical engineer,  he joined the coast in the mid 1950’s and was transferred to the coast guard base at San Fransisco International Airport.  San Fransisco was where he met Lynn, his wife, and where they both developed an affinity for wine.  After he got out of the Coast Guard Mr Craig became involved in real estate.  In the mid to late 1960’s when Haight Ashbury, Monterey Pops and the summer of Love were happening, the Craigs were heading up into the hills of Napa Valley.  San Fransisco was the epicenter of a huge cultural shift towards the future and progressiveness. The Craigs ventured up into the hills and back into the Old World.  It was around this time that Robert Mondavi started out as well.  Mr Craig’s job involved assessing the value of land and real estate and by the mid 1970’s he had come across some interesting opportunities.  However, the company he worked for didn’t seem to be too interested in Mr Craig’s ideas about vineyards on the tops of mountains at the north end of Napa Valley.  One opportunity presented itself that Mr Craig couldn’t pass up, and he put together a few investors and together they bought some land atop Mt Veeder.

Fast forward 32 years.  Robert Craig has been instrumental in getting Mt. Veeder and Spring Mountain A.V.A status.  He sold the original vineyard to the Hess Collection and helped develop that brand before acquiring some land on Howell Mountain to start the Robert Craig Winery.  These days the Winery produces about 10,000 cases of premium and super premium wines, almost exclusively mountain grown Cabernet Sauvignon.  In 2006 Robert Craig was included in Wine Spectators Top 50 Napa Valley Cabernets ranking based on the past 15 years of ratings.  So he’s obviously achieved virtually everything a struggling wine maker dreams of and I asked him “What’s next?”

“People always ask me what’s next, and I say, well I’m 72 so I don’t know.  You know here in America the culture is that if you are not doing better and bigger and producing more than the year before and bigger than the year before then you’re not a success.  In Europe they don’t tend to have that as much. ”

Mr Craig went on to say that 10,000 cases is the maximum that he will produce.  10,000 cases is still quite a lot of wine if you think about it, but with Robert Craig’s name he could easily sell double.  But his focus is not about quantity, it is now singularly focused on quality.  All he wants to do is make better and better wine each year, not more and more wine.  I asked him about his prices.  Why are they so low compared to other Napa wines, considering the reviews and demand.

“I come from humble beginnings and I just don’t feel that its right to charge too much”

We are very fortunate that Mr Craig feels that way because it allows many of us the opportunity to try a 96 point Bordeaux blend from one of the most famous A.V.A’s for about $45 retail.

Here a quick video of Robert Craig, I will post part 2- the part about the actual dinner soon, cheers!  Read part 2 here

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