"The Legacy of Basement to Vineyard; How Did You Get Into the Wine Business?"

September 6, 2017




      My wife, Susan, and I grew up in the Chicago area, we have been married for almost 33 years.  My wife is a Physical Therapist and I am a Pharmacist by education and licensure. I am one of 8 children and my wife, (Susan's Syrah), is an only child. My mom, (Edith's Block Barbera), is one of 12 children! My father, (Vincent Henry's Vineyard Barbera), was an only child. There is some historical connection to wine making on my mother’s side of the family. Her parents immigrated from Italy to the U.S. in the early 1900’s, and brought with them the generational knowledge of Italian home-winemaking.


    Every September, at a bungalow in Chicago, a truck full of grapes would show up and be met by my maternal grandfather and his 7 sons. The eight of them and all of the grapes would then disappear into their basement for the next 2 days. Only the sounds of laughing, arguing, singing and winemaking would be heard. These sounds and activities would grow in intensity over the next 3-4 weeks as the grapes fermented. The youngest of the siblings, 3 little girls, always believed it to be true when their big brothers claimed that, “…the wine fumes in the basement…,” was the reason they were drunk when they came up each time over the next several months. The week before each Christmas, dozens of family and friends would appear at the bungalow's front door with empty one gallon jugs that my grandfather would happily fill with "Christmas Wine,” from the large wooden casks in the basement. He refused any payment, but the grateful visitors would always slip a $1 bill to one of the youngest sisters on the way out, which they dutifully handed over to their mother after the door closed. Those $1 bills bought Christmas presents for the dozen siblings each year.


    On a much smaller and much less tumultuous level, Sue’s father and aunt, (Bud’s Block Malbec and Gracie’s Grenache), were also home winemakers. There was one very old grape vine in Sue’s childhood backyard that her and her father planted in black dirt and BBQ ashes. It thrived for decades. Each year the family would harvest the grapes from this single, but very special family vine, and press the juice through a cheesecloth into an empty 1 gallon glass wine jug. A little solution of dissolved yeast and sugar was poured in and a balloon was fastened across the mouth of the jug. This was placed under the staircase in the basement for about the next 6 weeks and when the balloon was fully inflated, voila’! They had that year’s vintage to enjoy!


     When Susan and I were married, our big Italian wedding had about 275 attendees with 200 from my mom’s side of the family! Family has been a big part of our lives and this is why we pay homage to our loved ones and dear departed when we name parts of the vineyard and most of the wines with familial names.


    After careers in healthcare, our wine business is our next passion!


    We rarely enjoyed any alcoholic beverages until 2001 when we made our first trip to Napa Valley. We went with a passionate tour guide named Tom Delaney, (Tom owns “ The Vino Van Wine Tours” company), and he adapted the day to meet our naiveté toward fine wine. Our first stop was at Bell Winery where we met the owner, Anthony Bell, and he was gracious enough to bring us into his barrel room and take 2 wine glasses over to a very large stainless steel chilling tank filled with his 2000 vintage Chardonnay. He filled each glass from the tap on the tank and handed Sue and I our first glass of fine wine. We both sipped the Bell Napa Chardonnay, and looked at each other and said, “this is wonderful!” That is what started this!


    In our spare time over the next 8 years, we spent untold hours learning and exploring the wine world. It was very apparent that Napa and Sonoma were not affordable areas for working people to start a vineyard and winery business. We did know that Northern California had the best terroir to produce the kind of wines we wanted to produce. After many search trips to wine country, we ended up in the Sierra Foothills in 2009, in a town south of Placerville called, Somerset, on an 8 mile, circular road that contained 28 vineyards, and at the time 17 wineries. This road is known as the Fair Play Wine Loop.


    We loved the welcoming people. We loved the wines from this area. We loved that these wineries were all family run businesses. We loved that it was a community. We bought a 21+acre plot from, Marco Cappelli, the gentleman who is a well known 35+ year winemaker and we we also became one of his clients. We also met our Vineyard manager, Rick Wickham, who has 35+ years of high level vine success. This was raw land so in 2009 we cleared about 14 acres, cut roads, engineered the hillside to accommodate the future tasting room, (not open yet), and home site and vineyard. Utilities were buried, 7+ acres of vineyard fence constructed, an entire well/storage/irrigation system installed. Rick and Marco worked with U.C. Davis and chose the perfect vines to plant on this high elevation, well draining, granite soiled and steeply sloped property. In 2010 we planted 5,400 vines with American rootstock and French clone vines. And then we had to wait for the vines to grow!


     In 2009 I actually retired from my first career at Walgreens after almost 29 years. So in 2010 I started a second career at Walmart in Bentonville, AR. My wife retired after 30 years of hospital work and we moved to Arkansas. We still live here and love it! We produced our first barrel of wine, a Barbera, in 2012. Just one barrel. It is not for sale. We have begun selling our 2013 and 2014 wines exclusively here in Arkansas on May 20th, 2017.  (Update March 2019: Our wines have been wonderfully accepted across the states of Arkansas and Missouri and we are now selling our Estate Reds from 2015 and 2016! To meet our anticipated future sales we acquired an 11 acre neighboring vineyard that was also planted by our Vineyard Manager, Rick Wickham. We now have 18 acres of vines which will produce about 6,400 cases per year.) Cheers!


Thanks so much,


Jim & Sue Langman







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September 6, 2017

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