After reopening the long-abandoned Far Niente Winery in Oakville, Calif., in the early 1980s, Nickel had gone on to launch Dolce and Nickel & Nickel, both brands that added to the excellent reputation of Gil and Beth Nickel’s wines.
As part of his bequest, Gil Nickel left The Vineyard House to his son, Jeremy, a Tulsa businessman. The house was built in 1853, and today, it overlooks one of the most respected vineyards in Napa Valley: Martin Stelling, from which the Nickel & Nickel Martin Stelling Cabernet is sourced.
Jeremy Nickel admitted he wasn’t always interested in the wine business before his father died.
“When my uncle left the winery, my dad was looking for another Nickel to put on the Nickel & Nickel label,” he said. “He asked me about having my name on the label. I’m pretty sure I said, ‘Sure, Dad,’ and went right back to my toys.”
The passing of his father and subsequent bequest spurred an epiphany.
“I had been a screwup,” Jeremy Nickel said, “but my father was my hero, so I wanted to do something to begin to make things right.”
What he did was convert The Vineyard House to a stand-alone brand and hired respected California winemaker Bill Ballentine to craft what he hoped would be collectible, Napa wines that paid homage to his father’s legacy.
He had no idea how good the wines would be. Now on their third vintage, 2007, the wines have received critical acclaim when the recession was restructuring price points for Napa wines.
Jeremy Nickel spread the word through blind tastings that pitted his wine against 15 of Napa’s best-known brands, including Bond, Screaming Eagle, Harlan and Scarecrow.
In three such tastings with sommeliers, importers, professional critics and winemakers, The Vineyard House never finished lower than third against the competition, some of which were three to nine times the price.
“It was taking a huge risk, but I think of myself as the Willy Wonka of the wine business,” Jeremy Nickel said. “I’m living this dream, building this dream.”
Wine Enthusiast critic Steve Heimoff wrote, “In general, I’m not a fan of over-hyped, ultra-expensive wines that sell the sizzle, not the steak, but Jeremy Nickel has convinced me it’s possible to create a great Napa Valley Cabernet from scratch, and to do so with integrity and taste.”
The wines are available at Spirit Shop, 1117 Garver in Norman; Broadway Wine Merchants, 824 N. Broadway; Edmond Wine Shop, 1520 S. Boulevard in Edmond; North Oaks, 1283 W. Danforth in Edmond; Sam’s Warehouse Liquor, 933 N.W. 63rd; and The Cellar Wine and Spirits, 555 W, Main in Norman.