About

ABOUT

Larkmead is one of the oldest, family-owned grape-growing estates in the Napa Valley. Originally established in 1895, the estate is now under the stewardship of proprietors Cam Baker and Kate Solari Baker.

This historic site offers tremendous diversity in its soils. Due to centuries of alluvial flow with a concentration of over 300 feet of well-drained, ancient riverbed gravel, the vineyard possesses a rare character usually found at unique hillside sites. Winemaker Dan Petroski captures nuance and complexity by vinifying small lots according to clonal selection and soil type.

Our 150 acre vineyard estate is under the masterful care of Vineyard Manager Nabor Camerena and Viticulturist Kelly Maher.

“Kate and I wanted to recapture the historic place Larkmead Vineyards has held in the Napa Valley and to make wines for a new generation that truly reflects the stature, personality, and history of this world class site.”

- Cam Baker, Proprietor

1992 - Present

Solari-Baker

Cam Baker and Kate Solari Baker have been the dynamic force behind Larkmead’s transformation from a historic vineyard site into a world renowned wine estate. The first 10 years of their ownership involved a complete replanting of the 150 acre vineyard, encompassing new varieties more appropriate to the soil, and clones and rootstock which speak to each individual block’s special needs.

In 2006, they built a state of the art winery on the property. Designed by architect Howard Backen, an old family friend, the farmhouse and production facility expresses a modest and modern attitude in a very complex and competitive world of 21st century Napa Valley.

Solari Baker

With the completion of the new hospitality Lark Room and the production Barrel Hall in 2014, Cam and Kate began a new era in Larkmead’s storied history. Now, each parcel from the 110 acre vineyard is harvested and vinified separately, producing wine with the most true and pure expression of the vineyard. The goal has been to regain Larkmead’s former glory and to earn high praise from its visitors, collectors and press.

Kate’s parents, Larry and Polly Solari, purchased Larkmead in 1948. She spent her childhood in the valley, remembering a different Napa with prune and walnut orchards, hayfields, cattle ranches and acres of empty fields. She rode horses and swam in what was then called Paradise Park (now Bothe State Park) and played kick the can on Main Street in St. Helena. The towns were very small, catering to local farmers and ranchers. Her parents were aware of Larkmead’s past and were anxious to be good stewards of the land, a philosophy they passed down to Kate and her husband, Cam. Cam and Kate have three children and three grandchildren who visit the estate often, continuing the family tradition at Larkmead into its fourth generation.

“I can’t say enough good things about what proprietor Cam Baker and the entire team at Larkmead are doing at this historic property.”

- Antonio Galloni

As an adult, Kate has achieved recognition for her pastel landscapes and multimedia art. She has a studio in Sausalito and in the renovated Larkmead Historic Barn. In 1995 and 2010, she was asked to create the Napa Vintner’s Auction Napa Valley posters. Our website features several of Kate’s pieces. Cam has been the manager of Larkmead’s operations and wine program, using his many business and legal skills and expertise to bring Larkmead back to the stature it enjoyed years ago. For many years he worked with his father-in-law, the late Larry Solari, whom he remembers as a giant in the California and U.S. wine industry. Cam has a deep passion and respect for the Estate and his goal has been to enhance Larkmead’s status as one of the finest vineyards in the Napa Valley.

1948 - 1992

Solari

Larry Solari was a terrific storyteller. He spoke of the early days as a wine salesman trying to convince people across the USA that wine was a great beverage to accompany one’s meals.

Larry was born in Tuscany, Italy, and immigrated to the US at the age of nine, traveling across the US by train to Geyserville in Sonoma County in 1920. He was told as a child that here he could be whatever he wished to be - with the exception of becoming the President of the United States - great words for a person new to our country. In 1933, he was the first in his family to earn a college degree, graduating from UC Berkeley at the height of the Great Depression. He then married Polly Kavanaugh, a third generation Californian, born in Napa.

Solari

“My father, Larry (Bruno) Solari, is recognized as one of the early pioneers of the California Wine Industry. He always expressed his belief that the wine business is one that is uniquely built on personal relationships, person to person, one at a time.”

- Kate Solari Baker, Proprietor

After early struggles finding a job that utilized his talents, in 1940 he found work at the Wine Growers Guild in Lodi, connecting to a grape growing and winemaking community in California and finding an outlet for his lifelong appreciation for making and drinking wine. In 1948, he and Polly purchased Larkmead and he accepted a job as a Sales Manager for Italian Swiss Colony with the goal to convince Americans that wine had a place at the family dinner table. For Larry, wine was customary at each meal – a natural part of Italian culture. This unpretentious – yet impassioned – goal drove Larry’s success in the wine industry and made him a beloved and respected compatriot for other small winery owners in Napa Valley.

While he commuted to San Francisco during the week, Polly ran the winery and supervised daily operations from 1948 to 1952. It was by far a less onerous task in those days than it is now, but nonetheless very unusual for a woman. It was a time of resurgence for the wine business in Napa after the doldrums of Prohibition and World War II. Larkmead and Larry’s connections to Italian Swiss Colony in Asti provided many local grape growers with a home for their grapes and welcome income. And, for the Solaris, the first harvest at Larkmead was so bountiful that they were able to retire their mortgage and begin investing back in the property.

Larry became President and CEO of United Vintners, the 1,500 member grape grower cooperative that owned Italian Swiss Colony, Inglenook and Beaulieu Vineyard. In that capacity, and then as Executive Director of Heublein (which acquired United Vintners) and one time Chairman of the Wine Institute, Larry had a distinguished career. Regarded as one of the “giants” of the Wine Industry, his good friend Robert Mondavi referred to him as his “Mentor.”

1895 - 1942

Salmina

The Salmina family arrived in the Napa Valley from Switzerland in the 1860s. Felix Salmina had learned to make wine in Switzerland and set about converting the old wooden winery on Larkmead Lane into a grand business. The Salmina family leased the Larkmead winery in 1895 and eventually purchased it in 1903. By 1906, their plans for expansion were complete and the new Larkmead winery stood strong; built of stone quarried from the nearby hills.

Salmina

In the early days at Larkmead, wine grapes sold for $14 a ton and wine for a penny a bottle. Prohibition hit hard, but Larkmead was able to survive by selling grapes and making sacramental wine. By the late 1930s, releasing wine under its own label again, Larkmead had built an impressive reputation, and was regarded by Andre Tchelistcheff, the legendary enologist in Napa at the time, as one of the four "outstanding wine processing plants,” alongside Inglenook, Beaulieu and Beringer.

“The quality of the wines appealed to those who were seeking the best…the large trade has been won by honest treatment of customers and by the shipment of only the very choicest California wines.”

-St. Helena Star, February 15, 1907

The Salmina family arrived in the Napa Valley from Switzerland in the 1860s. Felix Salmina had learned to make wine in Switzerland and set about converting the old wooden winery on Larkmead Lane into a grand business. The Salmina family leased the Larkmead winery in 1895 and eventually purchased it in 1903. By 1906, their plans for expansion were complete and the new Larkmead winery stood strong, built of stone quarried from the nearby hills.

Industry leaders of their time, the Salminas chaired many local wine organizations and contributed much to the development and promotion of Napa Valley wine. After Felix's death in 1940, the family sold Larkmead Vineyards in 1943 to a Chicago based bottler and distributor, Bragno & Co. The property was later resold to National Distillers and, in 1948, to the Solaris.

1873 - 1895

Coit

In 1851, Charles Hitchcock, an army surgeon, moved from North Carolina to San Francisco with his wife, Martha, and their spirited daughter, Lillie. Lillie immediately took to the city full of “all fire and action”. This was a prophetic description because she was later dramatically rescued from a fire by one of the volunteers from Knickerbocker No. 5 Fire Company. Through this experience she became a lifelong and passionate supporter of the San Francisco fire department and even paid homage to her heroes by signing her name with the number ‘5’ after it for the rest of her life. She was the only woman in America to be a member of a fire company, hence her nickname ‘Firebelle Lil’. Later, in recognition of her unwavering enthusiasm and support of the fire stations, Lillie was named the patroness of all San Francisco firemen.

Coit

Lillie was a force of nature whose wit, poise and charm in San Francisco society ensured a loyal following of admirers while at the same time she would challenge all the conventions of the day by drinking bourbon, smoking cigars, playing poker and driving a team of six horses. She was without doubt one of the most famous women in America at that time. For many, she represented the independent pioneer spirit of the early Californians.

However, this personality was not proper of most young women of the time and in an effort to get her “to learn to quiet down,” Lillie was sent to the family’s country estate in Napa Valley. Lillie built a home between St. Helena and Calistoga which she called ‘Larkmead’ after the meadowlarks in the area (pictured above). Lillie planted vines on her property at Larkmead and was well connected to the local winegrowers of the time like Schram, Tubbs, Krug, and Beringer. She planted numerous varietals including Zinfandel and Riesling and harvested around 200 tons annually.

“Mabel Gray and I are busy with the wine half the day. We have sealed nearly all the Centennial white wine of the ‘Lillie’ brand, which was made in 1876 and was our first vintage.”

-Martha Hitchcock, Drew Sparks & Sally Kellman, A Salon at Larkmead

After her death in 1929 at age 86, Lillie left a third of her fortune to the city of San Francisco. Named in her honor as a benefactor, Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill is a tribute to Lillie and to the brave firemen of her city.

This is only a glimpse of her true character but her strength of spirit and connection to Larkmead led us to pay homage to Lillie in most all of what we do. As she named her Estate, and now ours, Larkmead, we name three of our wines after her enduring influence – ‘Lillie’ Sauvignon Blanc, and our blends, ‘Firebelle’ and ‘LMV Salon’.