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The Story Of Frog’s Leap

Time’s Fun When You’re Having Flies

Early Days

The story of Frog’s Leap begins with John Williams. Born in Western New York, he attended Cornell University on a Scholarship. Intent upon studying dairy sciences, Williams was waylaid by a fortuitous work study program at the nearby Taylor Wine Company. John fell in love with wine, and on a spring break trip his senior year, he was seduced by California.

In 1975, the new graduate returned to Napa Valley on a Greyhound Bus and sought out the brother of a college friend. He pitched his tent on the ramshackle farm just north of Saint Helena and caught his next big break. Dr. Larry Turley (the brother) was an emergency room physician and an alumni of St. Johns College. Knowing his new friend needed work, Larry recommend Williams to fellow “Johnnie” Warren Winiarski, who had recently moved his family to the region and established Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in 1972. 

These were heady days in this part of the world. The first American wine to be served at a White House Dinner (ever!) was a bottle of Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc in 1972. In 1975, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars put the Napa Valley on the world wine map when a bottle of their 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon won the Paris Tasting — beating out numerous prestigious French entries and turning the wine world on it’s head. At the time (thanks to Larry) John Williams was the only employee of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, and, having helped to bottle the very wine in question, was also the only person available at the winery to sell it when the news broke. 

Fairly auspicious beginnings for a fledgling winemaker. 

John spent his days at Stag’s Leap and his nights in the lab at Robert Mondavi Winery working on his thesis in order to complete his Masters in Viticulture and Enology at U.C. Davis. Fellow classmates included Cathy Corison, Dan Lee, David Graves, Doug Nalle, Jack Stuart, John Kongsgaard, Carol Shelton, Marjorie Burns, Parke Hafner, Randall Grahm, Dave Ramey, Lee Hudson, Dick Ward and Steve Kistler. 

1980s – Taking the Leap

As the 80s dawned, John and Larry were determined to make their own wine and get in on the action. By this time, John was working full-time as the winemaker at Spring Mountain and had recently married. Having planted some Sauvignon Blanc at Larry’s place (known as the Frog Farm) in 1978, the aspiring partners pressed off their first harvest in 1981. Armed with a humorous name and an eye-catching label, John Williams, Julie (nee Johnson) Williams, and Larry Turley released the inaugural Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc in 1982. Their premier release was bolstered by a well-timed story in The New York Times, written by respected wine journalist Terry Robards. John and Julie nurtured the brand and their young family, which now included sons Rory (1984), Kylor (1986) and daughter Kelly (1988), and by the early 90s the fledgling company was on its way. 

1990s – A Rutherford Home

The 90s proved to be a time of growth for both the winery and the family. In 1994, the partners disbanded. The Turleys established Turley Wines and John and Julie sought a new home for Frog’s Leap. With the help of fellow vintner Chuck Carpy, they negotiated terms on 31 acres of bedraggled vineyard on the Rutherford Bench that included an old Red Barn — and Frog’s Leap Winery found its forever home. 

The Williams family took possession of the property early in 1994, and with the help of Architect Ned Forrest, managed to have the barn renovated and fitted out with tanks just in time to produce wine on site that very year. By 1995, additional landscaping and infrastructure was being added and the property was ready to welcome guests. Frog’s Leap was putting down roots. Julie oversaw development of the property and John joined forces with neighbors including Davie Pina and Andy Beckstoffer to get the Rutherford Dust Society off the ground. They both continued their work opening markets and making connections on behalf of not only their own winery but the Napa Valley as a whole. 

Frog’s Leap was now distributing wine in most states, had an international presence in the United Kingdom, and had its sights set on Japan. The winery acquired 39 acres at the end of Galleron Road and started construction on a second winemaking building at Red Barn — a handsome Barrel Chai; but the pressures of working so closely together in growing the business took its toll and John and Julie divorced in 1999. 

A New Millenium – Built to Last

In 2000, as the world rang in a new millennium, John Williams welcomed guests to the Fifth Annual Leap Year Party with a rousing Revival theme in the Red Barn, kicking off what was to become a new period of maturation and evolution for the company. 

The Barrel Chai construction was completed in 2000; and the winery released it’s first Rutherford, a red wine that embodied the very best of the storied appellation.  

Leeds coaxed a few productive years out of the existing Red Barn vineyards and began development of the Galleron Ranch overseeing farming efforts and continuing to implement organic practices and farming without irrigation (dry farming) as new land was acquired. In support of existing organic practices in the vineyards, the winery began to commit additional acreage to diversified farming, adding fruit trees, olives and a half acre of vegetable garden to the Red Barn ranch, earning organic certification for crops and livestock in 2002 with ongoing help from pioneering consultant Amigo Bob Cantisano. Ever evangelists for the cause, the winery enthusiastically supported the Ecological Farming Conference and played host to the first organic growers conference in the Napa Valley in 2002. 

In 2004, Frog’s Leap was certified Napa Green, and the work John had helped to spearhead in Rutherford on the River Restoration Project in the late 90s was formally recognized by the California State Legislature. Both the winery and its founder were developing a reputation for thoughtful stewardship and sustainable farming efforts. 

Frog’s Leap went solar in 2004, and in 2005, the winery broke ground on a new Vineyard House, which would be the first Leed Certified winery building in California and featured an innovative geothermal heating and cooling system. 

Frog’s Leap had been purchasing grapes from the Rossi Family since 1996 and began managing the farming of the property shortly thereafter. In 2007, the winery was offered an opportunity to purchase the Rossi Ranch, which included 50 acres of Rutherford vineyard and two small farmhouses. The Williams family, including Tori Wilder and her young son Owen, moved onto the property that winter. With the acquisition of this prime Rutherford ranch, John’s dream of an Estate winemaking program was within reach.  

In 2009, the vineyard team began to remove diseased vines and turn up fallow land — planting back Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a host of heritage varietals including Morvedre, Carignan, Charbono, Riesling, and Valdigué. The new plantings would ensure fruit for an Estate Cabernet program and lay the foundation for a unique Heritage Blend. Back at the winery, The Fellowship of the Frog was created to offer consumer enthusiasts new ways to order wine and engage with the winery. 

John and Tori married in the spring of 2010 and began to update and enhance the land around the historic farmhouse in earnest. In 2012, Rory Williams, John and Julie’s eldest son began working with Frank Leeds on the vineyard team; fittingly participating in the harvest of the winery’s first Estate Cabernet Sauvignon which was released in the Fall of 2014.  

The Williams family placed the Rossi Ranch in a conservation easement with the Land Trust of Napa County in the Spring of 2011 and completed a total renovation of the historic home in 2015. Shortly thereafter, work began on construction of a new Farm Center building at the Red Barn property, with dedicated space for farm equipment, a greenhouse and cold storage facilities to support newly planted fruit orchards on both the Rossi and Red Barn properties. Signature events including the Peach Festival and Frogtoberfest take root and the winery began offering educational seated tasting options for guests. 

With vineyards reaching full maturity, and Rory spending more time with John in the cellar, the winemaking program at Frog’s Leap was also evolving. Experimentation with a concrete “egg” in 2012 leads to a limited release of Rachel Rossi Reserve Sauvignon Blanc and fuels further investment in concrete tanks, including 10 square 250-gallon tanks to accommodate Zinfandel fermentations.  

By 2017, Rory and his wife Molly had taken up residence next door to John and Tori on the Rossi Ranch. In 2020, the release of the 2018 Williams Rossi Cabernet Sauvignon formally recognizes the joining of the two families on the land — and is, not incidentally, the first time in Frog’s Leap history that the Williams family name appears on the front label of the wine they have been producing for more than four decades. 

 In 2020, following an infamous Leap Year bash with a Burning Man theme the world temporarily shut down. Tori Williams officially joined the Frog’s Leap payroll in July of that year to take over management of the gardens and grounds. Rory Williams is named Vice President of Viticulture and Enology. 

At Red Barn, the old double wide trailer that had served for so many years as the Tasting Room is finally removed to make way for an outdoor tasting space which will become known as the Garden Bar. With expanded outdoor space, the entire winery sales team worked to pivot traditional programs and find new ways to keep loyal customers supplied through an unprecedented world health crisis. 

Deeply moved by massive local wildfires and drought conditions, and not one to rest on his laurels, John signs on to the Porto Protocols and begins to scrutinize the company’s commitment to sustainability in new ways.

In the fall of 2023, midway through a rather late harvest, Frog’s Leap introduced Flycatcher, a California Appellation red wine blend. The wine is housed in lightweight glass, has no capsule and sports a label that releases in water in hopes of supporting a reusable bottle program in the near future. 

PS: if you’re still reading this, then we’ve managed to launch an all-new website. We hope you’ll return to find out what happens next. We can’t wait.