Ernest Hemingway once wrote: “Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world.” The passionate people at Far Niente couldn’t agree more, though they also feel that some wines are more civilized than others.
Backed by over 130 years of history, knowledge, and expertise, Far Niente creates extraordinary wines to turn any evening into a special occasion. From their Napa Valley flagship to their extended family of vineyards, every bottle embodies the perfect fusion of art and craft.
Recently, we caught up with co-founder Beth Nickel and lead winemaker Nicole Marchesi to learn more about their journey and how Far Niente continues to get better with age.
01 Why did you start Far Niente Winery?
Beth: My late husband Gil and I moved to Napa Valley in 1979 with a dream of opening a winery. That’s when we came across the stone facade of an old pre-prohibition winery, along the base of the Oakville Grade. We just fell in love with it! Little did we know, the original building was the work of Hamden McIntyre, the designer behind many of the Valley’s legendary old-world structures.
The building sat empty for 60 years and time took its toll. Still, we saw the potential for something truly special. Back then, there were less than 100 bonded wineries in Napa — no resorts, restaurants, or traffic jams. At the time, we thought we would be the last to get in on this crazy idea of owning a Napa Valley winery. Turns out, there were many more to come!
Nicole: I joined the FN team as an Enologist in 2005. I previously worked a few harvests after graduating from UC Davis, but this was my first full-time wine job. I was really fortunate to find the place, the people, and the wine that would bring me such joy so early in my career.
I worked my way up from Enologist to Assistant Winemaker and then Winemaker in 2009. Although I never had the pleasure of working for Gil, our acclaimed and late vintner, I appreciate the culture of curiosity, respect, and pursuit of excellence that he and his wife Beth established here. I try to keep to those values with my team.
02 What obstacles did you face along the way?
Beth: It took over three years to restore the old winery. In the interim, we made our very first wines out of a rented garage in Sausalito. Gil and I had commercial nursery experience from our time in Oklahoma, so we knew a bit about farming. At the same time, we knew very little about growing grapes and making wines. Early on, we focused on just two wines — Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
In the long run, our goal was to produce nothing but world-class wines. Back then, France was considered the pinnacle of the wine world, so we learned from the best by traveling there and forging relationships with expert vintners. Those early experiences helped to build our “house style,” which still defines us over forty years later.
Nicole: Early on I think that the main obstacle was my youth and “greenness”. It can be hard to feel confident in your decisions and leadership in the cellar without the benefit of several harvests under your belt. I was very fortunate to have mentors and an incredible team I could rely on for advice and encouragement.
Looking back, I think my time as an enologist and assistant winemaker allowed me to build trust and mutual respect with my team. When I stepped into a leadership role, I knew I could count on their support as we made outstanding wines. My confidence grew with every vintage, but I still value the opinions and expertise of my team to this day.
03 What lessons do you have for other entrepreneurs?
Beth: Gil was a rocket scientist before we went into winemaking, so he was always super meticulous. During those early trips to France, he took copious notes on everything from wine styles, to blending, to harvesting techniques. Even today, our winemakers refer to the notes that Gil took decades ago!
His relentless pursuit of knowledge and willingness to travel for hands-on experience set us up for success. With that in mind, I would encourage new entrepreneurs to do their homework and learn from their peers. Then, once you craft your winning formula, be sure to stick to your guns as you make the best product possible.
Nicole: While I don’t consider myself an entrepreneur, I think this advice might be helpful for anyone facing challenges in their work. “Don’t trade in your authenticity for approval.” In other words, don’t change who you are based on how you think you are expected to act in your role. I also really love the expression “Your job is greater than your assignment.” It reminds me to always consider the big picture at Far Niente.
04 What’s on the horizon for Far Niente Winery?
Nicole: We’re taking a fresh look at our high-end Cabernet program. Our goal is to refine and elevate it even further for over the next five, ten, and even twenty years. We are also looking at strategic replanting, clonal selections, trellising, vine spacing — the myriad of nuances that go into a world-class Cabernet offering.
05 How do you keep work/life balance? What drives/inspires you?
Beth: I stay very busy between work and hosting community events. Ever since Gil died of melanoma in 2003, we’ve become the home of an annual fundraiser for the V Foundation and cancer research. We also support our local hospitals, schools, musicians, artists, and agricultural spaces. It’s very gratifying to be part of a business that is proactive in the betterment of the community, both locally and globally.
In my downtime, I enjoy all things outdoors, especially hiking. Even after four-plus decades of living in the middle of the vineyards, it’s still a treat to be able to see the wonderful evolution of the vines, year in and year out. Mother Nature puts on a great show for us here in Napa Valley!
Nicole: I don’t think there’s really such a thing as a work/home life balance. Both work and home together are my life. Sometimes, the scale is tipped towards home and sometimes towards work — especially at harvest!. Honestly, there is no way I could manage it all without my awesome husband. We’ve figured out how to support our kids and our careers by fully sharing the load. He’s the school drop-off and pick-up parent; I’m the bedtime and books parent. Also, we know when to ask friends and family for help. It really does take a village to raise a kid!
Regarding inspiration, I’m very driven by opportunities to flex my curiosity and contribute. Harvest season affords me those opportunities. It’s busy and the hours can be long, but it’s also exciting. I totally thrive on that energy. I do miss some stuff with my kids during those windows, but I bring them to the winery on weekends sometimes — they love tasting grape juice! I also think it’s a valuable experience, because they see how I work and stay committed to my responsibilities as a team leader.