With a rich Irish history and a world-renowned wine, the Kelly Family Vineyards brings the green to California’s Napa Valley.
The Kelly Family Vineyards is a unique American business with a proud Irish heritage.
Owner Gene Kelly recently researched those roots.
“The first Kelly in our family emigrated over from outside Dublin in the mid 1930s for political reasons, settling in upstate New York,” he shares via email. “The first born Kelly in North America was Henry Allen Kelly, who migrated to Minnesota to settle with his family. In 1968, our branch of the Kelly Family expanded westward from Minnesota, settling into the world-famous Napa Valley.”
Gene’s father, Harold Kelly, was a driving force behind the preservation of the area’s agricultural community.
“My father was part of the agricultural conservation movement back in the 1970s,” continues Gene. “At that time there were people who wanted to demolish Napa and turn it into condos. He simply wouldn’t hear of it.”
As a former city councilman, and founding member of the Land Trust of Napa County, Harold was recognized for his life-long contribution to the conservation movement; along with being honoured with the Earl Thollander Award from the Napa faction of the Sierra Club, he also received the 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award from Land Trust of Napa County. As well, he was profiled in James Conaway’s book Napa: The Story of an American Eden.
Perhaps Harold’s greatest honour, however, was that his passion for preservation was passed along to his son.
“I always had a desire to own a vineyard,” says Gene. “When the property came up for sale in 2012, my wife Paula and I jumped at the opportunity.”
Today, the Kelly Family Vineyards is a small-scale winery nestled in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley. The Oak Knoll District is an American Viticultural Area (AVA), which means it’s designated specifically for wine grape-growing. According to Gene, the area is planted largely for Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
“My own personal favourite is our 2012 Merlot. It is our flagship wine and it is excellent. It is an extremely unique Merlot with a more floral nose than most.”
To get your hands on the Merlot – or any other Kelly family wine, for that matter – wine lovers have to place an order for delivery. There is also the option of three different levels of Kelly Family wine club membership.
“We only brew 100-500 cases of wine per type,” explains Amanda Carpenter, coordinator of the Kelly Family wine club. “And everything is done by hand.”
She adds that the wine club gives the Kelly Family some idea of who is enjoying their produce. “We market to a lot to Kellys, obviously. We also set up shop at a number of Irish gatherings and music festivals, where we can meet our customers face to face. That is the best way for us to do business.”
“We really value the family relationship and connection,” he says, “and we wouldn’t have that if we sold through traditional retail outlets. That personal, hands-on approach also highlights how our wine is different from others in the storefront; most wines on the market now are primarily made on a large scale through machine processing.”
The Kelly Family wine is also noted for its eye-catching label.
“The logo is our Kelly Family Crest,” explains Gene. “The center shield, motto, and knight are derivative of the original O Ceallaigh Clan crest. We added antique rifles to represent my work as an international firearms dealer and professional gunsmith, with my own professional gun-smithing school. We rounded out the logo with grapes to represent the family’s long standing connection to the wine community in Napa, creating a family crest that is truly representative of who we are.”
Currently, the business is looking for wineries in Ireland to partner with.
“The idea is still very much in its infancy,” explains Carpenter. “Our hope is to connect with folks back home and share our unique Celtic heritage and product with them.”