A Wedding Gift
For Jim and JoAnna Sullivan, it began with a seemingly simple gift on their wedding day. An arbor of grape vine cuttings from JoAnna’s Uncle Charlie. Uncle Charlie couldn’t possibly have known what his gift would become.
Jim Sullivan’s passion for wine began in the 1950s. A successful graphic artist living and working in Los Angeles, he was part of a building wave of interest in high quality, high end wines. In his search to unearth his favorites - wines that appealed to his demanded aesthetic tastes - Jim was drawn to the quiet farming community of the Napa Valley. Soon he found himself making frequent trips to the region.
As the 1960s approached, Jim’s passion grew. No longer satisfied with relying on other people to tempt his palate, Jim began making wine himself. Now, this graphic artist known for his work with 60s icons such as The Monkees, Dick Clark Productions and Clymer Determined to apply his artistry to every step of the winemaking process, he began the search for the ideal soil to plant his vines. A search that would lead him to Rutherford. For JoAnna, Rutherford offered a different vision. Despite living in Los Angeles, many of the dominant images of JoAnna’s childhood were defined by more pastoral imagery. Her memories were a montage of idyllic days at her Uncle Charlie’s farm playing amongst his Almond and Plum trees. Inspired by her experiences, JoAnna dreamed of raising her family on a farm, far from the city. Her dream would soon come true.
Four Acres on Manley Lane
In 1972, the move to Rutherford began. In the beginning, Jim and their oldest son Sean stayed behind in Los Angeles to finish his schooling. In the meantime, JoAnna and the other children moved onto a modest four-acre plot on Manley Lane. While the Sullivan Wine story would open on this modest plot, Jim would continue his search for the perfect soil in which to put down his roots.
The contrast between Los Angeles and Rutherford couldn’t have been more stark. When the Sullivan’s arrived in 1972, the region was far from the wine epicenter it would become. At the time, more traditional agriculture was king. Tractor Supply Stores and Feed & Seeds outnumbered wineries.
The Family Estate
Jim’s search for the family farm paid off in 1978, when he found a 26-acre piece of earth offering the perfect intersection of soil, climate and atmosphere to achieve his vision. Here, Jim found the fertile ground that would host both his vines and the Sullivan family for generations. He and JoAnna soon moved their family into a small trailer on the property and the Sullivan Wine story began in earnest. That year, Jim and JoAnna would produce six barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon. It was just the beginning. Renowned Marin County architect John Marsh Davis was contract to design the winery and Sullivan family home.
As the 1980s dawned, the Sullivans continued to extend their roots and expand their operations. The timing was perfect. The decade saw an explosion of interest of the quality wines coming out of the Napa Valley, and the Sullivan Estate was in the heart of it all. Jim continued to focus on making his wine great, while JoAnna was busy making it beloved by taking charge of sales.
Among JoAnna’s many loves was that of cooking. In later years, she would be famous for her towering 20,000-plus volume library of cooking books and the young chefs that would pass through her kitchen. When JoAnna took up sales for their wines, this love led her naturally to the restaurant industry. This direction led quickly to Sullivan Wine’s welldeserved reputation as the favorite choice of restauranteurs, chefs, sommeliers and wait staff. Multiple occasions found JoAnna questioning her waiter why Sullivan wasn’t on their wine list only to discover the staff had hoarded the wines for themselves.
Artistry in the Blood
Today, Jim and JoAnna’s vision has manifest beyond even their prodigious creative visions. The dream of a family farm is in full bloom with each of their three oldest children playing key roles in the day-to-day operations. At any moment, on the Sullivan Estate, a visitor is likely to run into Sean, Ross and Kelleen Sullivan passionately carrying on their parents’ tradition of artistry and industry while their children play nearby.