Our Family History
Jake Stephens III
My name is Jacob S. Stephens III, but everyone calls me Jake. I represent the third generation in our family to embrace the life of a farmer, following in the footsteps of my grandfather Jacob, and my father Jake II.
Jacob began farming cotton and small grains around the turn of the 20th century near Blyth, California, before relocating the family to the small community of Arlington Arizona, where he had purchased the AK Ranch. Farming was a family affair, my dad and his three older brothers worked on the farm every day, when not in school.
Dad had planned to become an engineer and was in his second year of college, when the US entered WWII. Like most young men of the day he enlisted in the service, Army Air Corps, and became a fighter pilot, plying the skies over Germany. When he returned home he began farming once again, and married my mom. Things hadn't changed much when my brother Russell and I came along. Like dad, we began working the farm when we were young boys, and have carried on the tradition to this day. Our largest combined effort included a leasehold encompassing some seventy-two thousand acres.
In early 1990, an old family friend suggested that we look into the California vineyard business, specifically high-end wine grapes. Thinking this would be an exciting departure, we began looking for properties north of Stockton, California. After considerable time and investigation we settled on our first property, just south of Sacramento near the then small town of Elk Grove. Through hard work and good fortune, these vineyards proved to be of excellent character, with our grapes being purchased by a number of well known wineries in the Sonoma Valley.
In 1998, one of our neighbors came to us with a proposal to buy the ranch, an offer we couldn't refuse. Having developed a passion for the business, we applied what we'd learned about the business and went looking for a great undiscovered site, finding it at last in the mountains of the North Coast. Lake County, to be exact, where we planted Diamond Ridge Vineyards.
'In as much as we would love to be considered noble men, the truth is, idealistic farmers have difficulty surviving. Farmers play the hand they are dealt, exploit their advantages and try to minimize their risks. Economics compel us to focus on efficient productivity.
However, in the stern, rocky soils at Diamond Ridge Vineyards, high yields are not an option. Therefore the mantra of Diamond Ridge can be summed up in one word ~ quality. We grow top quality grapes because we have to. Distinctive wines reflect perfectly the environment in which they are grown, because grapes are delicate vessels which drink in the vineyard site's attributes and carry the stamp of that place. Our ace in the hole is that our site allows us to grow fruit of comparable and sometimes superior attributes compared to our downhill neighbor Napa County, at a fraction of the cost of land, the principle driver of grape price.
Our unique combination of sought-after characteristics and reasonable prices results in tremendous value which is the key to our success. Our winery customers have come to rely on us to provide intense fruit aromas, color, minerality and tremendous palate energy, and these qualities have become our stock and trade.
Our Winery Clientele
Winemaking is a small community, and of course wine folks talk amongst themselves. Invariably a new client will tell us that they are not seeking our grapes because they are increasing their winery output, but have heard of our reputation and are interested in improving their quality.
Our winery clients include The Hess Collection since 2002, Ledson Winery since 2003, BR Cohn Winery since 2004, RH Phillips Winery since 2004, Zina Hyde Cunningham Winery since 2005, Trinchero Family Estates/Sutter Home Winery since 2006, and WineSmith since 2007. Each of these winemakers has found that we will do whatever it takes to deliver the finest quality fruit available.
Like a great ghost writer, we seldom receive credit for the contribution our grapes make to the award-winning wines they support. Today the majority of our grapes are sold to wineries in Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties, as blending components.
Nevertheless, BR Cohn, Ledson, Zina Hyde Cunningham, and WineSmith have each chosen to make stand alone wines from our grapes. These wines have received a Double Gold, Best of Sweepstakes Winner, and a Wine Enthusiast Editors Choice Award score of 94 Points and Rank 71 of its TOP 100 WINES FOR 2009, to say nothing of many Gold and Silver medals in prestigious competitions.
Our balanced, ageworthy winemaking style reflects the philosophy of winemaker Clark Smith, one of California’s most widely respected winemaking experts. An MIT dropout who got interested in wine while retailing in the Bay Area in the ‘70’s, he graduated UC Davis in 1982 and became founding winemaker for The R.H. Phillips Vineyard for its first seven years. In 1990, when he started WineSmith Consulting and later the innovative wine technology firm Vinovation, consulting for over 1,000 wineries on five continents.
Smith is a leading authority on the enhancement of wine structure and a vocal proponent of living soil. He teaches winemaking in six universities, exploring new technologies and a postmodern view wine as fundamentally mysterious, encouraging students to move beyond the scientific approach and to apply an artistic aesthetic. He judges wines at several competitions, directs the Best of Appellation wine evaluations for AppellationAmerica.com, and writes a monthly column, The Postmodern Winemaker, in Wines and Vines magazine.