Larkmead Vineyards is one of the oldest family-owned establishments in Napa Valley. Originally founded in 1895, the 115-acre Larkmead estate is now under the stewardship of the Solari-Baker family.
The broad patch of Calistoga that Larkmead Vineyards calls home has been under vine since the mid-1800s and has witnessed the turning of two centuries. In that time, Napa Valley has transformed from a vinous vestige of the Wild West to one of the most preeminent wine regions of the world. Larkmead played an active role in that swell, as their grapes have contributed to countless, celebrated Napa Valley wines across the decades. Critical to Larkmead’s success, the estate has been in the hands of the Solari family since 1948. This steadiness has allowed for the type of careful study that is necessary to truly unlock a vineyard’s potential. Since the beginning of their modern winemaking history in 1997, the family has relentlessly fine-tuned their viticultural and cellar techniques to express the vineyard’s voice most accurately.
Larkmead’s legendary vineyard features a remarkable diversity of soils that are more typical of a hillside than the valley floor. Centuries of alluvial flow have resulted in the accumulation of ancient riverbed gravel, clay, and loam. Winemaker Avery Heelan captures the nuance and complexity of this site by vinifying small lots according to clonal selection and soil type. The expansive vineyard is farmed organically by vineyard manager Nabor Camerena and viticulturist Kelly Maher.
"The Larkmead business represents my family's roots in the Napa Valley, dating back to 1948. Over the years, my parents commitment to Larkmead, and their dreams for its future success, were common conversations within the family. I am now doing my best to continue their legacy by passing Larkmead on to our three children."
- Kate Solari Baker, Proprietor & President
1992 - Present
Proprietor Kate Solari Baker and her late husband, Cam Baker, have been the dynamic force behind Larkmead’s transformation from a historic vineyard into a world-renowned wine estate. During the first ten years of their ownership, they directed a complete replanting of the property, tailoring the selection of varieties, clones, and rootstock to suit the special characteristics of each individual block.
1948 - 1992
Larry Solari was, above all, a captivating storyteller. He spoke often of his early days as a wine salesman trying to convince people across the country that wine deserved a place on every dinner table.
Larry’s California journey began in 1920 when, after immigrating to the US from Tuscany at the age of nine, he traveled by train to Sonoma’s Geyserville. He was told as a child, that in America he could be whatever he wished to be and he took those words to heart. 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. Shortly thereafter, he married Polly Kavanaugh, a third generation Californian, in a humble courthouse ceremony.
1895 - 1942
The Salmina family arrived in the Napa Valley from Switzerland in the 1860s, leased the Larkmead winery in 1895 and purchased it outright in 1903. Felix Salmina had a background in winemaking and quickly set about converting the old wooden winery into a grand business. By 1906, their plans for expansion were complete and the new Larkmead winery stood strong, built of stone quarried from the nearby hills.
1873 - 1895
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, describing it as full of “all fire and action.” This proved prophetic as she was later dramatically rescued from a fire in San Francisco by the 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. They made her an honorary member of the fire company—the only woman in America at that time‚which earned her the 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.
From The Archive
The Larkmead Station and the Napa Valley Railroad
The Napa Valley Railroad was founded in 1864 by Sam Brannan, California’s first millionaire and owner of Calistoga’s earliest resort. Brannan built the railroad from Vallejo to Calistoga as a way to entice San Francisco residents to make the journey up valley to his hotel and hot springs resort. One of the few stops north of St. Helena was at Larkmead, near Lillie Hitchcock Coit’s home. Today, many of the historic railway stations are marked by cross streets between Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail that still bear the original station name.
From The Archive
Awards received by Larkmead Wines
Following the repeal of Prohibition, the Salmina family marketed their accomplishments at local and state fairs. A pamphlet from the early 1940s features awards for over 20 different Larkmead bottlings spanning from the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition to the 1938 California State Fair.
From The Archive
Larry and Polly Solari
“My parents, Larry and Polly Solari, married in Oakland, California in 1933. They were 22 and 21 years old, respectively, and, like many during the Great Depression, lived on meager resources. They had $50 to their name and had to borrow a car from a friend in order to go on a short honeymoon. After their civil ceremony at the courthouse, the City of Oakland bestowed the happy couple five silver teaspoons and a cookbook. This photo is from their wedding.”
- Kate Solari Baker, Proprietor