MacDonald Family

MacDonald Family Story

Richard and Hedwig Detert on Easter Peak, Guenoc Rancho, looking towards Detert Lake 1940

The MACDONALD winery story officially starts in 1954, but this historic vineyard, To Kalon, was Founded by H. W. Crabb, who purchased 240 acres in 1868 and started planting grapes. Several years later he built a winery, called it Hermosa Vineyards and 10 years later it had become the third largest wine producer in Napa County. The vineyards and winery were renamed to To-Kalon in 1886.

In 1954, the great-grandparents of brothers Alex and Graeme MacDonald, Richard and Hedwig Detert, were looking for a full-time residence for retirement. Their plans were to purchase a home in the Napa Valley. They located a small home in Oakville, originally the caretaker’s home of the Doak Mansion (later becoming the Carmelite Monastery). The owner, Martin Stelling’s widow Caroline, insisted that to make the sale, they must purchase the additional 43 acres; though not a part of the original plan, both the land and the home were indeed purchased. This insistence by the former owners was a pivotal and crucial moment in ultimately what became the family business and eventually the inception of MACDONALD.

Robert Mondavi played a pivotal role here: hisfamily was initially in a 3-year contract with MacDonalds’ for a set price of $165/ton, but a drought hit during the first part of that contract and vineyard production dropped sharply. That vintage there was a shortage of grapes in the valley and the average price rose to $200/ton.  Rather than honor the agreed upon price, Robert Mondavi sent a check - equivalent to market value during that year. The following year it increased again and so did the compensation, regardless of the contract. The MacDonald’s great-uncle, Gunther Detert, went into Robert Mondavi’s office, ripped up the contract and for over fifty years their agreement with Mondavi was based simply on a handshake. Robert once told the family, “Your family grows the best grapes in the Napa Valley!”

Because of their age, the girth of the vine trunks is rather large – often with sizable holes in the middle

Today the oldest vines on their property are Cabernet Sauvignon – approximately 65 years old. Mondavi designated these vineyards as the only private grower to be part of his To Kalon wines. These gnarly looking vines are probably some of the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines in Napa County still producing commercially.

The MacDonald’s manage 15 acres – all planted to Cabernet Sauvignon. This block of Cabernet Sauvignon was originally dry farmed until more recently, and honoring heritage and sound historical viticultural practices for these vines, Graeme has returned this block to being dry farmed.

Farming these vines is old school – how it was done in Napa decades ago. Because of their age, the girth of the vine trunks is rather large – often with sizable holes in the middle. Squirrels and woodpeckers deposit their acorns inside these later in the Fall.

Graeme and Alex MacDonald
Grandmother Gabriele

Graeme and Alex MacDonald came to love this valley early, having spent weekends here while growing up in Marin: considering all the outdoor adventures and antics of curious young boys, the place really is in their veins, (and hair and pockets and in trouser cuffs…) so it was no surprise that they would one day come to live here and become caretakers of the land. In the 1920s, their grandmother, Gabriele grew up at the Guenoc Rancho, just south of Middleton, CA, so her connection to the area goes back almost 100 years, likely adding to the lure of the area.

Graeme attended UC Davis and earned his degree in Viticulture and Enology. Today he is both the vineyard manager, winemaker and the family historian.

As children, they had no idea of this vineyard’s place in Napa’s viticultural history, but Alex and Graeme started digging into the history and discovered it was part of the original To Kalon Vineyard.  Graeme has scoured the internet, libraries and other sources of historical records and has amassed an impressive collection relating to the unique history of this vineyard and surrounding area. He has collected some of H.W. Crabb’s original letters, old photographs, and postcards.

Today, the property is owned by their mother, Caroline MacDonald and her sisters Gabriela Hopf and Pamela Horton.

We hope you will enjoy meeting Graeme, Alex and other members of their family, hearing their stories, and seeing some of their treasures at our event!