Chuck Wagner has spent his life in the vineyards of Rutherford, near the center of Napa Valley, steering his family’s business from its earliest beginnings to the present day. Through the years, he has lived through many changes and has been recognized for his winemaking and industry leadership – but he still holds onto a deep humility as well as appreciation for great wine, family and the connections between the two.
Chuck was just 19 when he joined his parents in 1972 to create Caymus Vineyards, taking them up on their proposal to sell the home wines they had been making from grapes they grew on their property. He and his father, Charlie, worked long days side by side, managing every part of the business. His mother, Lorna, took on many jobs including work on the bottling line. Lunches eaten together each day remain one of Chuck’s favorite memories, a tradition he has carried on with his own home-cooked breakfasts for his kids.
Both father and son believed in making wines with character, complexity and consistency. They embraced Napa’s unique climate and soil, helping to establish the region’s singular style and reputation for cabernet sauvignon. One of the family’s most exciting moments came in 1989, when Wine Spectator awarded them the “Top Wine of the Year Award” for their 1984 Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon. Five years later, the magazine conferred the award again for their 1990 vintage, the only time a wine has received this honor twice.
For Chuck, an even greater reward has come as two of his four children are now part of the family business. Today, son Charlie and daughter Jenny work alongside him to produce a broad portfolio of wines. In addition to Caymus, these include Mer Soleil Chardonnays, Emmolo Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot, Red Schooner Malbec, and four Conundrums – a white, red, sparkling and rosé. While everyone has a unique point of view, all three Wagners share common family traits – namely, a passion for hard work and trying out new ideas, as they balance tradition with pushing the boundaries to make even better wines.
They also get their hands dirty. Along with the rest of the family, Chuck can still be found in the vineyard and continues to experiment with farming techniques and other aspects of winemaking. He was honored in 2007 to be recognized with Wine Spectator’s Distinguished Service Award, presented to individuals who have made significant and long-lasting contributions to the wine industry. Yet despite his business success, Chuck remains a farmer at heart. He still believes that at the end of the day, wine is meant to be shared with family and friends. And he marvels at his good fortune to be living in Napa and working in the wine business.