Past towering redwoods, cascading creeks, and vineyards and orchards clinging to steep hillsides, Rob Jennings drove up and up Mount Veeder’s serpentine main road. The year was 1999 and he was scouring Northern California looking for a place to settle out in the country where he could grow things, where his wife, Christina, could hike at will, and a place where their children could enjoy the same innocent freedom he had known growing up on the rolling farmlands of Wisconsin, and she had known in her youth tramping around the rugged Alaska landscape. Winding up the mountain, he turned up a precipitous drive towards a property that was for sale, parked at the top, took a good, probing look around, and knew at once that he had found The Place.
A little more than a decade later, the Mount Veeder that immediately captivated Rob with its wild newness is home to the Jennings family and Paratus Vineyards, the source of a small and precious quantity of a Cabernet Sauvignon unlike any other. That the Jennings family took its time to launch Paratus is hardly standard operating procedure in Napa, where the road from purchasing a property to marketing a wine typically knows no speed limit. Rob is careful and deliberate in developing projects, a trait that served him well as a research and development executive in the media business for 20 years. In making wine, he found no reason to change his priorities, even as the vineyard’s fruit and early, unreleased wines were being received with great enthusiasm.
“My goal was to get to know the land, the vineyards and the grapes, and to absorb the essence of the terroir, while developing a truly great wine for the continuum,” he said. “We were in no rush.”
In Rob’s opinion, what makes Paratus a standout wine are its vineyards, carved into a steep hillside 1,400 feet above sea level and surrounded by redwood and oak forest. From the start, Rob sensed that the property’s high elevation above the fogline, steep terraces, eastern exposure and thin volcanic soils added up to a terroir perfectly suited for the king of wine grapes, so early on he budded the vines over to cabernet sauvignon and — in another departure from the contemporary Napa way — decided to dry-farm the grapes. Without irrigation there would be less fruit, but the berries would be more intensely flavored.
By 2006, Jennings, together with fraternal winemakers Massimo and Mario Monticelli, were producing 50 cases of Paratus a season. It was at his point that the three of them became convinced this was a singular, delicious wine ready to be shared with the public. At last, they would have an answer for the friends and neighbors who, struck by the wine’s deep, swirling flavors, velvety textures, and mountain character, had asked time and time again, “Where can we buy this for ourselves?”
With 100 cases bottled of the 2007 vintage, Paratus, true to its name, was ready. Paratus made its limited release available to fine restaurants and wine shops in New York, New Jersey, and Northern and Southern California. Response was immediate and enthusiastic with distributors, retailers, and wine enthusiasts discovering a new rare gem of a wine. Each year we have increased our production to the current level of 500 cases per vintage.
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