Elyse Winery, a steadfast figure in a small, but notable, corner of Napa wine, has traded hands.
In a sale that closed last week, longtime owners and founders Nancy and Ray Coursen handed off the winery to Cheryl Foil and Josh Peeples of Yountville.
The sale includes the Elyse label and inventory, as well as the winery and adjacent acre and a half of Cabernet Sauvignon on Hoffman Lane, just south of Yountville. The sale price was not disclosed.
“The reason we’re selling is because Nancy and I got old somehow,” Ray Coursen said last week.
In the more than 30 years since its first vintage – just a few hundred cases of Zinfandel from Marisoli Vineyard in the Rutherford Bench – the Coursens built a national following for Elyse wines around an approach atypical of a Napa producer. Opting for Rhone-style blends and lesser-grown varietals like Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, the winery has offered less spotlight to the more lucrative Cabernet Sauvignon, though it also makes and grows its fair share of the valley’s better-known grape.
“I think it’s a great niche in here because it’s hard to find a lot of Zinfandel anymore and Petite Sirah,” Coursen said. “We’ve been very fortunate; we’ve had some incredible growers over the years.”
Foil and Peeples said they plan to preserve that identity.
“It’s got a great history and it’s got a great reputation, so there’s no reason for us to come in and shake things up too much,” Peeples said. The year’s fruit will all go to Peeples and Foil, making 2018 Elyse’s first vintage under its new owners.
“The biggest challenge,” Foil said, “is it’s going to be hard to be as loved as Ray and Nancy are. They’re such a cornerstone of Yountville, and frankly, I think that’s our biggest issue … But we’re going to give it our best shot.”
With a background in computer programming and venture capital, Foil did the fundraising for the purchase and structured the deal. She’ll now oversee the winery’s online marketing and finances, while Peeples, who’s had his hand in Napa wine since 1999, will steer the winemaking and production.
By Coursen’s estimate, the winery produces roughly 8,000 cases of Elyse a year. But with a permit allowing it to churn out up to 25,000 cases a year, the site is ripe for expansion under the new ownership.
Instead of ramping up production of Elyse, however, the space is set to become the new home of Addax, the brand Peeples founded in 2009 with Brian Kearney and winemaker Russell Bevan. A forthcoming brand dubbed Institution will also have its base at the winery.
With Addax and Institution each weighing in at about 2,500 cases yearly, “we definitely have a lot of room to play with,” Peeples said.
And while both of those brands will follow the traditionally Cab-heavy path of most Napa Valley labels, Elyse’s wines will offer a respite of sorts from the usual.
“They kind of work in concert and really don’t compete with each other at all,” Peeples said.
Foil also pointed out the boon of winemaker Russell Bevan’s work with Chase Cellars, another of the valley’s few wineries built around Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. Bevans will be the director of winemaking for all of the projects at the winery.
The winery on Hoffman Lane also includes a tasting room for Elyse, open by appointment, though whether or not it will eventually host visitors for Addax and the space’s other brands is unclear. For the time being, the brands will continue to host tastings at Brasswood, where they are currently produced.
In the months following this year’s harvest, Foil and Peeples plan to file with the county for remodeling at the winery that will allow them to tap into its permitted potential.
But, Peeples stressed, “We’re not trying to build some massive palace to ourselves. It’s going to fit the neighborhood and just make sure we work well with the neighbors … It’s not our intention to try and push the envelope and do things that I think would upset the look and feel of that Yountville corridor at all.”