A winemaker can spend a lifetime searching for the perfect vineyard. In Ralf Holdenried’s case, the vineyard found him.
With an eclectic mix of winemaking experience that spans two continents, Ralf is right at home at William Hill’s benchland estate along the Silverado Trail in southern Napa Valley. From childhood chores on his family’s vineyard in Germany to crafting small lot wines in Napa Valley, Ralf is perfectly poised to bring his wines from the Silverado Bench onto the world stage.
Building on a Winemaking Heritage
Growing up on his family’s vineyard in Reinhessen, Germany, Ralf gained a profound appreciation for cultivating the land. “Winemaking was part of my everyday life,” Ralf explains. “My upbringing helped me understand the importance of the vineyard in the finished wine.”
After an internship at a boutique winery in Germany, Ralf realized that winemaking was more than just a family duty:
“Going through crush there – seeing the dynamics in the cellar, working with the grapes and the land, melding equipment and technology to create something people care about and enjoy – that really inspired me to pursue wine as a career.”
Ralf studied winemaking and viticulture at Germany’s prestigious University of Geisenheim and worked at several wineries in Reinhessen and Nahe, gaining exposure to the full spectrum of winemaking techniques.
Discovering Napa Valley
Ralf later studied fermentation science, viticulture, and enology at the University of California at Davis, where he became fascinated with California’s wine culture. “California offers the freedom to move beyond some of the traditional laws of Old World winemaking,” Ralf explains. “Here, I have the flexibility to go in new directions without being confined by conventional customs.”
Ralf joined E. & J. Gallo Winery’s Sonoma County winemaking team in 1998. He earned his MBA at UC Davis and later became winemaking director of Louis M. Martini’s small lot wines.
“At Martini’s artisan winery, Cellar 254, I had the incredible opportunity to work with grapes from some of California’s most coveted sites,” says Ralf. “I was involved in the artistry of winemaking in a very hands-on way.”
Finding a Home at William Hill
Today, Ralf applies his breadth of experience to crafting William Hill’s sophisticated, contemporary wines from the Silverado Bench. “We have only begun to tap into the enormous potential of this region,” says Ralf. “Our 140-acre estate vineyard epitomizes the Silverado Bench–concentrated, flavorful grapes that make soft wines. I hope to express the quality of this region with every vintage.”
This incredible vineyard, tucked away in the hills of Napa Valley, has found itself the ideal winemaker.
A Contemporary Winery
It is no coincidence that William Hill Estate Winery was designed with the winemaker in mind. The vineyard is just outside the winery door, giving Ralf the freedom to be involved in every aspect of the winemaking process. “During harvest, I want to be out in the vineyard where all the flavors are developing, but I also want to be in the winery for the next steps,” says Ralf. “At William Hill, I have the great luxury of seeing what we’ve picked in a given day and then tasting from the fermentation tanks, almost instantaneously.”
Ingenuity converges with artistry at William Hill, a midsize artisanal winery. Designed for optimal flexibility, the winery supports Ralf’s approach of carving out vineyard blocks and letting their flavors develop individually. “The number of tanks and barrels we have in relation to the grapes on the land means I can make decisions about blending, once the individual lots have had a chance to show their true potential,” explains Ralf. “This winery facilitates an artistic influence over the wine.”
The winemaker, Ralf Holdenried, takes full advantage of the winery’s exceptional location, using the finest grapes from specific vineyard blocks on its estate property and in nearby vineyards. He ferments each lot separately before assembling his elegant, balanced blends. The result is a collection of expressive Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and other red Bordeaux varietal wines that speak to the unique terroir of each vineyard.
“I want to open people’s eyes to what makes the Silverado Bench and this area of Napa so unique,” explains Ralf. “I think each glass of William Hill shows the world a different kind of Napa Valley.”
Some of the world’s finest Chardonnay vineyards lie just minutes from William Hill. Ralf hand-selects rich, ripe fruit from distinctive vineyard blocks in Carneros and other acclaimed regions of Napa, to create an expressive blend with great depth, layers of nuance, and a balanced acidity.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot
The estate vineyard is home to superior Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes. Set on a benchland – off the valley floor, but below the steeper slopes of the hills – with a southwestern exposure, the vineyard basks in abundant sunlight. This translates into fruit-driven red wines with well-structured, elegant tannins.
Other Red Bordeaux Varietals
The estate vineyard provides an ideal combination of soil, climate, and sun exposure to yield exceptional wines from other classic red Bordeaux varietals. At the Napa Valley Tasting Room, William Hill offers its signature Meritage blend, along with limited-production Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.