On a wooded hillside high above NAPA Valley, surrounded by her precious Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards, Los Angeles entrepreneur JAMIE McCOURT found her DREAM HOUSE—swimming pool included.
Los Angeles-based entrepreneur, angel investor and philanthropist Jamie McCourt knew it was time to stake a claim in Napa Valley when she realized that her visits up north for wine club events and other functions had become a regular habit.
Over the last 12 years, McCourt has immersed herself in the lively food and wine culture of Napa (she was an early member of the prestigious invite-only private wine club, The Napa Valley Reserve), and developed close ties with top vintners Ann Colgin, Bart and Daphne Araujo, Hi Sang Lee, Beth Novak Milliken of Spottswoode, and chef Thomas Keller. “I have a great affinity [for] Napa Valley, and love it throughout the seasons,” she says.
Now a devoted wine collector and burgeoning vintner, the mother of four grown sons made her name outside of the viticultural realm: Her investment company, Jamie Enterprises, deals in high-value real estate, biotechnology ventures and technology start-ups. And from 2004 to 2012, she was co-owner, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Dodgers, making her the highest-ranking woman in baseball and one of the few female executives in professional sports.
After deciding that it was time to plant roots up north two years ago, she found her idyll in an over 22-acre property atop one of the highest points on the eastern ridges of the valley. The Rutherford property includes four hillside acres of superbly landscaped cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot grapes, flourishing in rich volcanic soil.
Her light-filled house, open to the mossy oaks, madrones and vineyards, was designed in 2002 by California modernist architect Scott Johnson of Johnson Fain. (Johnson’s other notable local projects include the turreted Opus One winery, built in 1991 for Robert Mondavi and the Baroness Philippine de Rothschild.) “I’d given the Realtor my list of top requirements: vineyards, privacy, fantastic views, modern architecture. As soon as we drove onto the property, I knew this was the one,” McCourt says.
Clean-lined and mostly glass with elegant, slender steel columns, the structure seems to float among the trees. With a galvanized steel roof, exposed plywood ceilings supported by stripped Douglas fir joists, and polished concrete floors, it echoes the classic agricultural barn vernacular of the region, and also features a 75-foot lap pool, shimmering against the lush foliage.
McCourt enlisted Los Angeles interior designer Waldo Fernandez, who teamed with designer Tommy Clements, for an intensive redesign. “I feel great respect for [Fernandez’s] work, his eye, his collaboration. I called him the moment the house closed,” she says. She spent the next year updating the space, which was initially organized as a series of small rooms, by opening up the interiors and taking the kitchen down to its studs.
“For the color scheme, we took inspiration from the landscape, the rocks and trees,” says Fernandez. Working closely with Clements, he devised a relaxed mix of overscale custom sofas and chairs upholstered in moss, lichen and slate linen for the living room.
An array of Bernie de Le Cuona all-natural fabrics were artfully incorporated throughout the guest house and the two-bedroom main house, including ecru cashmere gauze for bedroom curtains, stone-colored linen jacquard for bedcovers, and drapey agate-colored cottons and linens in the guest suite.
A high-powered new kitchen design was also a priority, complete with a Bluestar range by Garland, a Traulsen freezer, a Sub-Zero refrigerator and a work island with a butcher-block counter. There’s also a breadmaker and extensive wine storage. “A professional-grade kitchen is essential,” says McCourt, who spent her early 20s studying the culinary arts in Paris, and is currently working on a lifestyle book centered around cooking.
In fall 2014, she celebrated the completion of the house and christened the estate with her first harvest. Working closely with legendary vineyard manager David Abreu and winemaker Nigel Kinsman (formerly of Araujo Estate Wines), McCourt produced a single estate cabernet sauvignon—with a splash of petit verdot—that is now in barrel. “Our first release, the 2014 vintage, is set for release in 2017,” she says. “I’m very hands-on: It’s a great adventure.”
Written by DIANE DORRANS SAEKS.
Photography by SAM FROST.