Who we are
With four generations of farming and over 100 years of history in the Napa Valley, there is no wine in Stags Leap that comes with more tradition than Ilsley Vineyards.
Ilsley Vineyards is helmed by third generation siblings Ernie, David and Janice, and their spouses Ginette, Lorrie and Al.
The First Generation – Ernest & June Ilsley
Ernie and June Ilsley began the family legacy of grape growing in the 1950’s, purchasing their first 40 acres as a retirement project; expanding their holdings in 1963 by 114 acres with the addition of the Downey Ranch property. Named for the gentleman who sold them the land and whose family had been growing grapes there since the late 1800’s, Downey Ranch is now the heart of the Ilsley Family’s vineyards, and the estate fruit source for the wines produced today.
An avid enthusiast who immersed himself in the winemaking community, Ernie sold grapes to many of the Napa Valley’s “pioneer” brands, including Charles Krug and Mondavi. Most notably, he was instrumental in establishing the Stag’s Leap AVA.
The Second Generation – Ed & Sandy Ilsley
Ernie and June’s son Ed and his wife Sandy carried on the business of farming grapes in the Stag’s Leap District, with Ed pulling double duty between his career with Kaiser Steel Corporation and managing the family vineyards, and Sandy working for the Napa and St. Helena School Districts. Traditional farmers at heart, Ed and Sandy weren’t afraid to embrace new vineyard practices and conduct research in the vineyards in conjunction with other local growers.
Together they raised their three children on the Ilsley Family estate, ensuring that the love of the land would be deeply rooted in the next generation as well.
The Third Generation – Ernie & Ginette, David & Lorrie, Janice & Al
Siblings Ernie, David and Janice Ilsley changed the game by introducing a single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from the family estate, founding the Ilsley Vineyards brand beloved by collectors the world over.
Ernie is a rootstock and clone specialist with vast experience within the wine industry. Formerly the Director of Sales and Management for NovaVine, he now directs operations for Ilsley Vineyards and Ilsley Vineyard Management, which not only oversees the family vineyards, but also specializes in personalized farming plans for other premier estates in the Napa Valley. Ernie and his wife Ginette raised their three daughters Julia, Alyssa and Olivia on the Family Estate.
David has spent his illustrious career directing the operations at Shafer Vineyards, the Ilsley’s Stag’s Leap District neighbor. His responsibilities begin at the soil and end in the glass, and his expertise in all things winery and vineyard planning related combined with his practical nature lend perfectly to directing viticulture for Ilsley Vineyard Management. David and his wife Lorrie have raised their two daughters Analise and Kate on the family estate as well.
Janice is a teacher for a private Montessori School in the Napa Valley, with a seemingly endless knowledge of the history and fabric of the Napa Valley. Jan has the ability to make everyone she meets feel like a treasured friend, and that coupled with her welcoming, gregarious personality and vivacious nature makes her the perfect person to lead direct sales and hospitality for Ilsley Vineyards. Jan and her husband Al live in Napa. She has a daughter, Kimberly, who (together with her husband Rea) is also in the wine industry, and her grandson Lev, was born in 2021.
The Fourth Generation – Seis Primas
Kimberly, Julia, Alyssa, Analise, Kate and Olivia are the fourth generation of Ilsleys in Stag’s Leap. Raised in the family vineyards, these six girl cousins (or Seis Primas in Spanish) are the future of the family’s farming legacy, and in 2004 Ilsley Vineyards released the Seis Primas blend in their honor. While the blend differs from year to year, Seis Primas is one of Ilsley Vineyards’ most beloved wines, sourced from 6 estate vineyard blocks on the Downey Ranch Estate.
A Legacy Begins
Ernest and June Ilsley begin growing grapes in the Stags Leap region.
The Second Generation
Ed and Sandy Ilsley purchase a home and vineyard in the Napa Valley and begin growing grapes.
Downey Ranch Purchase
Ernest and June Ilsley purchase an additional 114 acres in Napa’s Stags Leap District. John Downey sold the ranch to the Ilsley’s and contin- ued to live there. This property has always been known as “The Downey Ranch.”
After a discussion with Robert Mondavi, Ernest Ilsley planted Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in his vineyard.
Ilsley Vineyards had a contract to sell grapes to Charles Krug winery. Later, grapes go to Robert Mondavi Winery. The first Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon contained Ilsley Vineyards grapes.
Replanting Downey Ranch
Cabernet vines were planted to replace the Zinfandel vines on the Downey Ranch.
Transitioning to Metal Stakes
When Ernest Ilsley was at Kaiser Steel they made steel fence posts to be used in the Viet Nam war. A number of these fence posts were not used so rather than disposing of them they were repurposed as vineyard stakes replacing the traditional redwood stakes. Now only metal stakes are used in the vineyard.
Passing the Torch
The second generation of the Ilsley Family begins managing the grape growing operations in the vineyards.
Ilsley Vineyards has been growing grapes in the Stags Leap District for 25 years.
Carignan to Cab
Cabernet vines are planted to replace the old Carignan vines that were no longer a desirable grape for winemaking.
Founding Stags Leap District
Ernest Ilsley is involved in the effort to designate the Stags Leap District an American Viticultural Area (AVA), which is approved in 1989.
Cabernet vines are planted on the Downey Ranch hillside.
Malbec Vines are Planted
Blessing of the Grapes
Ilsley Vineyards Sangiovese grapes are chosen for the La Famiglia Di Robert Mondavi Winery “Bless the Grapes” ceremony.
La Famiglia di Robert Mondavi
Ilsley Vineyards Sangiovese grapes are chosen once again for the La Famiglia Di Robert Mondavi Winery “Bless the Harvest.”
La Famiglia Di Robert Mondavi Winery chooses Ilsley Vineyards Sangiovese for the Napa Valley Premiere (barrel) Auction.
The Third Generation
The third generation of the Ilsley Family begins managing the grape growing operation in the vineyards and they start a new wine making venture. Ernie Ilsley heads up the winery operations, David handles vineyard management and Janice defines customer service.
Ilsley Vineyards begins producing a Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is introduced to the public in 2003.
Downey Ranch Hillside Planting Grows.
Cabernet vines replace the Sangiovese vines. Petit Verdot vines are planted.
The inaugural release, Ilsley Vineyards, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon. A limited production of 489 cases was made available to customers.
The Ilsley Family celebrates 50 years of grape growing in the Stags Leap District
New Partnership with Shafer Vineyards
For 47 years, Ilsley Vineyards grew grapes for the Robert Mondavi Winery. In 2004, Ilsley Vineyards began a new relationship. They are now growing Cabernet Sauvignon for Shafer Vineyards.
A new wine is created, Seis Primas, the six girl cousins. This wine celebrates the forth generation of winemakers in the Ilsley family: Kimberly, Julia, Alyssa, Analise, Kate and Olivia.
Inaugural Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Ilsley Vineyards prepares its first Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. For the first time, Cabernet Franc vines are planted.
Replanting is Necessary
In order to maintain a quality crop with good yields, older vine- yard blocks are removed and new Cabernet Sauvignon vines are planted.
A Century of the American Dream
Living in Napa Valley for the past 100 years, the Ilsley family is celebrating an American dream.
Vineyard changes began on the Ranch, with the goal of optimizing growing conditions for each varietal. The Petit Verdot and Sangiovese were removed and replaced with Cabernet Sauvignon.
Cabernet Franc is Planted
Bringing in Malbec
The first harvest of the new Malbec makes its way into the cellar.
When the Ilsley women go rogue, great things happen! The Rogue Rosé was first introduced to the lineup. At the Ranch, the hillside terraces were replanted to Cabernet Sauvignon.
Sauvignon Blanc is Sourced
Sourcing fruit from one of the neighboring
vineyards managed by Ilsley Vineyards Management, Sauvignon Blanc was added to the Ilsley Vineyards family of wines.
Ilsley Vineyards has celebrated over twenty
years of winemaking and more than six decades of farming. Historically, the Ilsleys have provided grapes for some of the most iconic wines in Napa Valley, and the family remains committed to elevating their vineyards and farming practices, while simultaneously crafting their own world-class small-lot wines from those same vines.