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In 1978 Winecrafter Jeff Sowells decided to move to the Napa Valley to see what he could learn about premium winemaking. In 1985, after a few years of work experience and classes at both UC Davis and Napa Valley College, he decided to branch out on his own. Calling his new business "Zymurgy," Jeff hit the road in a newly modified mail truck that now served as a mobile lab and winery service vehicle.

Zymurgy T-Shirt_edited
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Zymurgy T-Shirt

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A year later, Jeff and his Zymurgy wagon met Ann Macauley, a St. Helena vintner, with the vision of producing a Sauterne style wine. In mid-October 1986 they harvested her St. Helena estate Sauvignon Blanc and blended it with purchased Semillion from Yountville. Tragically, Ann lost her life in an auto accident shortly before the wine was bottled in 1988.


Determined to avoid losing Ann's dream and his past two years of work to the bulk market, Jeff bought the wine from the estate and created the Topaz label named after both his birth stone and the color of the yellow-gold wine. Jeff had no intention to continue making Topaz but fate would lead him down a different path.


During the fall of 1989 a tropical storm delivered almost two inches of rain at the beginning of harvest. It was a disaster for making dry wines as the vineyards were ravaged by botrytis. The enormous success of the '86 vintage and the glut of botrytis grapes was a sign of divine intervention to Jeff and he went to work reviving his Topaz vision. The resulting wine was recieved with even greater fanfare. It recieved a Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco National Wine Competition, was served at Chez Panisse, Masa's, The Four Seasons, Domaine Chandon, Auberge Du Soleil, and the White House. Then things really started to shake!

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