New Clairvaux Vineyard is a unique winery destination. With one of the world’s most distinguished winemaking histories, the land now serves as home to Trappist-Cistercian monks. This Roman Catholic order’s rich viticultural history dates back nearly a thousand years. Together in partnership with fifth-generation California winemaker Aimée Sunseri and her family, they strive to revitalize this remarkable place.
For more than 150 years, some of California's most innovative and industrious winemakers have cultivated Vina's soils. Geologists attribute the characteristics of "Vina Loam" to volcanic silt carried from Mt. Lassen to the mouth of Deer Creek at the Sacramento River. California pioneer Peter Lassen was the first to recognize these characteristics having established a one- acre wine grape vineyard by 1846. In 1852, businessman and winemaker Henry Gerke acquired the land and expanded the vineyards to 100 acres. He established the small town of Vina and shipped his wines worldwide. This caught the attention of railroad magnate and California Governor Leland Stanford. In 1881, Stanford purchased the land, expanding it to over 55,000 acres and began construction of what would become the world’s largest wine operation. "The Great Vina Ranch", as it was called, had an annual production of more than two million gallons and its vineyards would stretch to nearly 4,000 acres. Prior to the onset of prohibition, the land was sold off in 1919. In 1955, the heart of "The Great Vina Ranch", some six-hundred acres, was purchased by Trappist-Cistercian monks and became the Abbey of New Clairvaux.
In 1098, a group of Benedictine monks broke off and established a monastery in a swampland called Citeaux in Burgundy, France. With vows of poverty and labor, they prospered. Soon they constructed an Abbey, drained the swampland and planted what is now one of the most famous vineyards in the world-- Clos De Vougeot. This new order of monks became known as Cistercians, and their legacy of winemaking would become renowned. Cistercian vineyards were planted throughout Europe; the monks were responsible for propagating varietals common to this day such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Tempranillo and Riesling. They also developed the viticultural practices of trellising and leaf thinning, and they determined that certain locations gave different grape varities unique characteristics -- a term known to this day as "terroir."
Another monastic reformation occurred in 1664, this time at La Trappe Abbey in Normandy, France. Eventually these monks would become known as the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (O.C.S.O), or "Trappists."
Today, Trappist-Cistercians continue to dedicate their lives to personal prayer, communal prayer and manual labor. It is through these works and offerings of thanksgiving that they show their love and appreciation of God and their fellow human beings. They do this by striving to produce the highest-quality product attainable. This is expressed by the simple words "Trappist Made Product,” so that in all things God may be glorified.
Just as Leland Stanford was building "The Great Vina Ranch," Swiss-Italian immigrant Anton Nichelini was founding a legacy of his own. From a modest homestead tucked against the eastern foothills of California's Napa Valley, he began construction of a stone cellar and state of the art gravity-fed winery. With keeping European traditions while quickly adapting to the terrain and techniques of the New World, the Nichelini's prospered in the wine business. For generations they would continue to cultivate and innovate, standing today as Napa's oldest family-owned and operated winery.
Anton's descendants, the Sunseri family, began to explore the possibility of partnering with their long-time friends at the Abbey of New Clairvaux to revitalize Vina's rich viticultural past. It would begin in 2000 with two experimental vineyards -- the St. James block at the Abbey, and the Poor Souls block on the nearby Sunseri Ranch. Grapes would be sourced from the Nichelini Vineyards in Napa to express diversity of product and "terroir." Aimée Sunseri would earn a degree from UC Davis's renowned school of Viticulture and Enology, preparing her to be a fifth-generation Nichelini winemaker.
Many years and many vintages later, the land, the monks and Aimée are proving the Vina experiment to be more than just a dream. Our wines have won numerous national and international awards. And as grateful as we are for the recognition, we invite you to judge for yourself. Come taste the fruit of our labor.