Founded in 1974 by Joseph Phelps, Insignia has become one of the most revered Napa wines, winning Wine Spectator’s #1 Wine of the Year in 2005. In fact, it is held in such high esteem by critic Robert Parker that last year, to mark the winery’s 40th anniversary, he visited the estate for an historic tasting of each Insignia vintage from 1974-2012, awarding the 1991, 1997, and 2002 vintages each a perfect 100 points points – proving that the best California Cabernets can stand the test of time. On his website, Parker reported on the tasting, noting that the event was, ‘one of the most historical vertical tastings I have ever done… I had the privilege of tasting every vintage from 1974 to 2012. This has always been a remarkable wine and sadly I am old enough to remember the 1974, to which I gave a great rating, but then suggested it be drunk within 10-12 years. I never thought it would last. Of course, it turned out to be one of the great mature wines of the vertical tasting…’
The critical acclaim and accolades are beyond anything founder Joe Phelps could have expected, or even desired for himself or his winery. Shy and introspective, Joe Phelps moved from Colorado to Napa in the late 1960s to help construct the former Souverain winery. Falling under the spell of Napa’s beauty, he decided to switch careers, plant a vineyard and build his own winery. Phelps’s estate was completed in 1974 in time for harvest. Released in 1978, the first vintage of Insignia was ground breaking for Napa Valley as up until then wines had generally been released as single varietals – Chardonnay or Merlot – or as California brands of dubious titles, such as ‘California Hearty Burgundy,’ rather than simply with a proprietary label such as ‘Insignia.’
Since 1974, Insignia has been produced in every vintage; in the early years Phelps purchased fruit from other independent growers but since 2004 100% of the fruit has come from his own estate. Joe’s son, Bill, now runs the winery, with Ashley Hepworth – a talented young winemaker who earned her stripes at Ch. Angelus in St. Emilion before working at Joseph Phelps – continuing the legacy of producing world-class wines and earning praise from both Robert Parker and Antonio Galloni.
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