When Fred and Eleanor McCrea fell in love with and bought a 160-acre goat ranch on the northeast slope of Spring Mountain in 1943, little did they envision a “Stony Hill Vineyard…visitors by appointment only” sign at the bend in the road. Yet sixty years later, the sign hangs there as a testament to their passionate dedication to producing the quality wines that Stony Hill still proudly offers.
The property sits on the western slope of the Napa Valley between Richie Creek to the north and Lyman Creek to the south. Moderating climatic influences such as northeast-facing slopes and an elevation between 700 and 1200 feet above the valley floor make this mild microclimate an ideal location for growing premium Chardonnay grapes.
Vineyard planting began in 1947, when the McCreas located a used tractor to purchase and people to clear and cultivate the land. They wanted to plant Chardonnay exclusively, because they loved the white wine of Burgundy and believed that Stony Hill offered the potential for growing fine quality white Burgundy grapes. At least they wanted to experiment. But the University of California viticulturists encouraged them to diversify for several reasons. Only 200 acres of Chardonnay grapes were planted in California at that time. It was a shy-bearing grape, disease-prone, and not well-known to the wine-drinking public. They suggested planting Pinot Blanc and White Riesling. Instead, Eleanor and Fred followed their own intuition and planted most of their vineyards to Chardonnay. The makeup of the vineyards today reflects their determination, with twenty-five acres of Chardonnay, ten acres of White Riesling, three acres of Gewurztraminer, and one acre of Semillon.
1952 Fred and Eleanor completed a small winery on the property and produced their first vintage of Chardonnay. After allowing the wine to age for two years, they began marketing Stony Hill Chardonnay through a personal letter to Bay Area friends to an encouragingly positive response. Fifty-four years later this annual September mailer is still Stony Hill's primary mode of marketing, albeit less than half now are sent via the postal service as more and more customers opt for email newsletters. Stony Hill wines are also available at select restaurants in the Napa Valley, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other metropolitan areas across the United States.