*As seen in Salut!
Valerie Boyd likes to tell the story about the time P!nk, the pop superstar, visited Gargiulo Vineyards—which Boyd owns with her husband, Jeff Gargiulo, and daughter April—and asked for a tour.
“So, of course, Jeff goes, and they do a tasting, and he tells her about his music studio,” says Valerie. (Jeff is passionate about music and plays lead guitar in a popular local band.) “P!nk wants to see the studio, which is on the other side of our property. They start walking there, and suddenly P!nk grabs his hand, and they walk like that the whole way, like kids,” she remembers. “It was just so cute.”
Cute, yes, but also indicative of the relaxed atmosphere Valerie and Jeff have cultivated at their 60-acre property, a picturesque spot atop a knoll in Napa Valley that, besides the music studio, includes two Oakville vineyards (Money Road Ranch and 575 OVX), a winery, a tasting room decorated with handmade guitars, and a restored 1960s farmhouse where they live.
Jeff, a lifelong farmer whose Naples, Florida-based family owned a successful produce business, and Valerie, who worked in real estate and banking, now spend their days walking the vineyards, tasting the grapes, and enjoying the idyllic views of the vines and the valley steps from their back door.
Life is good for the long-married couple, and they work hard to show their appreciation: Each week they entertain dozens of vineyard guests, whether rock goddesses, film stars, politicians, loyal customers, charity benefactors, or good friends, often 20 to 30 people at a time. The lunches and dinners, usually prepared by a private chef but occasionally by cooking enthusiast Jeff, are known for their warm, friendly vibe and signature touches such as a fresh mozzarella-making demonstration.
On a recent autumn day on a terrace behind their farmhouse overlooking the vineyards and cooled by San Francisco Bay breezes, the two vintners prepared a seasonal meal for four friends visiting from Nashville. Well, actually, Jeff did the cooking—locally sourced grilled sausages, and lamb, spinach and peach salad, an eggplant and tomato dish, figs and prosciutto, and strawberries with whipped cream—and Valerie set the table.
“I try to make it look interesting and include ‘treasures,’” she explains, “things that represent our history and the past, significant to Jeff and me, our journey, our being here in the Valley.” For this lunch, the treasure was a pair of faux orange birds that Margrit Mondavi, the widow of renowned Napa Valley winemaker Robert Mondavi, brought them the last time she came for lunch. [Margrit passed away in 2016.]
Valerie and Jeff’s journey into the world of wine began when they were in their mid-20s and developed a passion for vintages from all over the world. Before long, they’d amassed a 5,000-bottle collection, some of which they served at the frequent dinner parties they threw for family and friends at their Naples home. They became interested in owning a vineyard, and in the early 1990s purchased land in Napa Valley and planted it with Barney Rhodes’s help. Barney and his wife, Belle, were wine pioneers in the Valley who also happened to be Valerie’s cousins. The Rhodes provided the fledging winemakers with much-needed advice and introduced them to the established vintner community.
“It gave us credibility,” says Valerie, of their relationship to the Rhodes. “Everyone knew we weren’t just wealthy people who showed up in town and wanted to buy a winery.”
Back in Florida, they’d expanded the family business to grow strawberries, grapes, plums and other produce. In the late 1990s, they sold it to the global agricultural company Monsanto, and Jeff made a career move that brought the couple and their three children nearer to the grapes.
“We packed up and moved to L.A. [in 2001] so I could become the CEO of Sunkist,” he says. “It meant we were a lot closer to Napa Valley.”
Their interest in the wine business grew.
“We originally thought we were just going to be growers,” says Jeff, “and then we bought our second property and started harvesting our grapes and making our own wine. From then on, it’s progressed to what it is today.” Gargiulo Vineyards produces about 5,000 cases of wine annually, primarily Cabernet Sauvignon; it also produces smaller quantities of Sangiovese, Merlot, Pinot Grigio and Rosé.
With a thriving business and passion for their work, Jeff and Valerie are living the Napa Valley lifestyle. But what exactly is that?
“It’s when you are really connected to the land,” says Valerie. “We feel the soul of this property. The outdoors becomes such a part of your lives. In January you’re pruning. In May you’re bud-breaking. You live your life and the season by what’s happening in the vineyards.”
Jeff adds, “It’s a bit of how people live in France and Italy. We have our own version of it—respect for the land, high-quality food and wine, and sharing with our many visitors. We throw music into the mix, and it’s something organic and special.”
The couple, who often bypass working at their big partner’s desk in favor of working together at the kitchen table, say they feel blessed by their success and devote much time, effort, and money to giving back.
Eighteen years ago, they were founding trustees of the Naples Winter Wine Festival, which raises money for the Naples Children & Education Foundation, an organization that supports the physical, emotional and educational lives of underprivileged and at-risk children in Collier County, Florida; more than $176 million has been raised. Another of their favorite charities, Notes for Kids, provides musical instruments for children in Napa and Nashville whose families wouldn’t be able to afford them.
“We do the event here,” says Valerie. “We have a beautiful stage—it’s more like an amphitheater—near a big oak tree that looks out over the vineyards.” Jeff and his band, the Silverado Pickups, a group comprised of winery owners and associates, play the fundraiser, along with such country and folk-music favorites like Brandi Carlile and Billy Dean.
Music, in fact, holds a prominent place at Gargiulo Vineyards.
Besides the studio, there’s the tasting room’s impressive guitar collection, each instrument handcrafted by a luthier. Though valuable, the instruments aren’t meant to be looked at from afar. “We encourage guests to pick them up and play them,” says Jeff.
His professional musician buddies are especially fond of the collection. After spending time on the road, they like to relax at the farmhouse, sitting around the kitchen table while Jeff cooks and playing his guitars.
“It’s part of what happens here,” says Valerie.
So is that part of the Napa Valley lifestyle too?
With a laugh, Valerie says, “It’s a part of the Gargiulo lifestyle!”