Join us this season as we explore California’s celebrated wine country: the rustic ingredients, world-class destinations and passionate artisans, chef and producers who bring it to life.
Brother-sister team Ryan and Miles MacDonnell sit at the head of Round Pond Winery, a family-owned winery in Napa Valley’s Rutherford region. In addition to world-class wines, they also produce gourmet olive oils, vinegars and syrups from ingredients grown on their property (which includes a culinary garden and chickens!) Here, we ask them all about how their parents started Round Pond, what’s special about their wines, and why wine is really all about the experience.
What led your parents to Rutherford and to enter the wine business?
Miles: Our parents first came to the Valley in the 70s looking for a beautiful place to get away, and then they came for the olive oil. In ’78 they found a small property up on Pritchard Hill, where we would spend our summers camping and exploring. After a large fire in ’81 my parents sold the property on Pritchard Hill and bought about 25 acres in Rutherford. We sold the fruit that year to Grgich Hills and we’ve been growing fruit in that location ever since. Still, this place was only a retreat for my family, and we were based out of San Francisco.
In 1986 we were presented with the opportunity to buy a 250-acre piece of property that would become Round Pond, and that is when we really got in to the wine business. My parents realized that this place could be the core of their family going forward, and so they bought the property in ’86. That is how we got in to the business, and we’ve never looked back.
Miles: First, we are in Rutherford, which is Cab country. You can plant Cabernet in Rutherford and almost never be wrong. Second, we have this amazing river of gravel that runs through our property, deposited over thousands of years by floods. It creates this sort of “marble cake” effect on our property. We are able to grow really interesting and intense Cabernets by understanding the ebbs and floods of our gravel streak. One of the reasons that we love Cabernet here so much is that it is something that this property was really born to do – and there is nothing quite as satisfying as enjoying a great wine that you’ve grown from the very beginning with a great group of friends.
Tell us about your grape growing and winemaking philosophies. What’s special about the wines you make?
Miles: This property produces beautiful, intense, and complex wines with good structure and finesse, that show the Rutherford terroir. In the vineyard, we work to achieve balance in all of our blocks. We use a very gentle hand with any applications that we will use, and all of our vineyards are certified sustainable. Every vineyard block on the estate is managed individually and receives attention on an almost vine-by-vine basis. We only use about 20% of the fruit that we grow for our Cabernets, with the rest of the fruit being sold to other wineries. In the cellar we use a minimum intervention philosophy as we look to create a wine that truly speaks of place and vintage.
When did you start the gardens on your property? Why?
Ryan: Mom has always had a love of gardens — going back as far as I can remember. I think that goes back all the way to her childhood, growing up on a large property not too dissimilar from Round Pond, with vineyards, cattle, gardens, and a dad with a green thumb. Our Round Pond garden was always a focus and love from the beginning, although it has grown and evolved over the years. (Mom says all gardens are an evolution and never static). As our wine program grew, along with our olive oils and other food projects, the garden took on a new life as the source of education and sustenance for visitors, as well as inspiration for us to dream up new products, like our recently created pomegranate syrup.
Ryan: Mom and Dad first started coming to the Valley in the ’70s and happened upon an olive oil company in St. Helena where they could fill up their own bottles and take the oil home by the gallon. When they finally bought what would become Round Pond, they had the idea to recreate what they had so loved many years before. And thus, our olive mill and passion for making the freshest oil was born. We even have a “fresh olive oil day” several times a year where people can come and fill up a container with varietal olive oils and take it home, in homage to mom and dad’s first experience with olive oil.
Our vinegar was a natural pairing for our oils, and at the time we were excited to develop the idea of a truly artisan varietal vinegar (and not many were doing it at the time in the Valley). The syrups grew out of our desire to use everything we make: the juice from the citrus olive oils was perfect for making citrus syrups, and thus that project was born. Like the garden, our foods are an evolution and inspiration too.
What do you love about the whole wine experience and what does it mean to you? How have you made it a focus at Round Pond?
Miles: There are few things that can bring people together better than food and wine. Many of my fondest memories are celebrating with family and friends around a great meal with great wine. My favorite Round Pond wine moment was sitting around a table with some of my closest friends, enjoying our ’07 Rutherford Cabernet. We were having an amazing time, and the wine was the best I had ever tasted it. I’ll never know if the wine was that good or if the company made it even better. I suspect a little of both, but that is what makes wine so special.
We’ve made that a focus here at Round Pond, in that our hospitality experience is essentially an extension of our living room. We want our guests to experience our food and wine the way we would, and to see if we can help them build some fantastic memories together as well.
What are some of your go-to food and wine pairings? Any favorites?
Ryan: In the summer, our Nebbiolo, Prop White or Rose are some on my favorites, especially with wild copper river salmon glazed with our blood orange olive oil. I love our Sauvignon Blanc with our olive oil cake. The Rutherford Cab is a favorite with overnight marinated flank steak (in our oil, vinegars and herbs)… This always makes me think of my dad; it’s one of his favorites!
What do you love about living and working in wine country?
Ryan: A lot of things. Mostly maybe that there is a strong sense of community, whether that is because it is a small town or a one-industry town or both — I’m not sure. I love the sense that we are all in it together. I also love that we are totally surrounded by and dependent upon agriculture; I am so thankful for the agricultural preserve! I really can’t imagine a place I would be more happy raising our kids.
If you weren’t making wine, what would you be doing?
Ryan: I can’t imagine anything else, but if I had to guess… digging in the garden with the kids.