Past, Present and Future
Originally distinguished as the first winery on Westside Road in Healdsburg, California, Davis Bynum was first to produce a single vineyard Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley. The vintage was 1973 and the grapes were from Joe Rochioli's now prized vineyard. Today, more than forty years later, the heritage of Davis Bynum lives on through the hand crafted creation of single vineyard wines grown exclusively in Russian River Valley.
When Davis Bynum started making wine in the Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir was not commonly produced in the region -- in fact, this delicate and often fickle varietal was largely ignored in favor of the more robust Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. But in 1973, Davis Bynum became enamored with the Pinot Noir grapes from Joe Rochioli vineyards. The wine produced from that year’s grapes was, as Davis says, “really good, surprisingly good.” Spurred by that early success, Davis Bynum continued making Pinot Noir, experimenting with techniques including whole-berry fermentation, cold soaking, dry ice and extended maceration.
Davis Bynum first flirted with winemaking at his home in Berkeley in 1951. Then, he was a young reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle, first working as a copyboy and then as a special editions reporter for This World Magazine. Spurred by his father’s love for wine -- Lindley Bynum was an esteemed wine judge at the Los Angeles County Fair and then at the California State Fair -- Davis Bynum bought a single box of Petite Sirah from Robert Mondavi for all of $1.80.
Astoundingly, the three and a half gallons of wine yielded from that first box of grapes -- made using the most rudimentary home-fermenting methods -- turned out well. Bynum tried again a month later, with five boxes of cabernet sauvignon. “It just turned out lovely, a lovely wine,” Bynum recalls. “We were still drinking it 10 years later.”
After several years making wine for family and friends, Bynum left the newspaper business for good to strike out formally in winemaking. He transformed a warehouse in Albany, California into a small winery, where he made wine with knowledge gained from the extensive library at the University of California, Berkeley. Then, Bynum’s wine went mostly to university personnel -- professors, graduate students, teaching assistants -- who were charmed by the high quality and affordable price -- then, $4.00 a gallon -- of Bynum’s wine.
In 1971 Bynum purchased a 26-acre vineyard in Napa Valley with the intention to build a winery. Restrictions on construction in the area led him away from that venture and into Sonoma County in 1973, where he found an 84-acre piece of land that quickly became Davis Bynum Winery.
Davis established a quality reputation for the winery, in large part due to his relationships with the local community of growers. Grapes from great vineyards with contracts that were often simple handshake agreements, along with “intuitive winemaking,” as he refers to it, led the winery to become synonymous with distinctive Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. Eventually, acclaim for Bynum wines, along with other area producers, won Russian River Valley recognition as one of the worlds’ very best.
Years In The Making
In August 2007, ready to retire from the day-to-day activities of running a winery, Davis sold the winery to Tom Klein and the Klein family, a fourth generation California farming family. The focus on Russian River Valley remains the same and the goal to produce excellent single vineyard wines is unchanged. Bynum agreed to stay on to provide insight and support so the winery could maintain the soul that he has come to embody.