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How Napa Valley winery Faust Haus opened its tasting room amid coronavirus, wildfires

Eighteen years after its first release, Faust Wines still lacked one thing — a tasting room.

The Napa winery seemed ready to change that by opening a restored 19th century mansion on Highway 29 in St. Helena to host visitors in March. But COVID-19 lockdowns that month followed by wildfires delayed that until Sept. 4.

Faust Haus’ delayed opening seems to be paying off.

“We are grateful that despite COVID-19 and closures from the Glass Fire we have seen close to 1,000 visitors since our opening,” said Jennifer Beloz, estate director. “Our goal was to bring the 142-year old Victorian to life, but no one dreamed that a virus and wildfires would intervene.”

When the shelter-in-place order closed most businesses, including tasting rooms, the company spent six months assessing its options and modifying its hospitality strategy in keeping with public health protocols, according to Beloz.

She said Faust’s marketing outreach today is focused on attracting those within driving distance, and more specifically, developing the appeal of its cabernet sauvignon with baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), the GenX generation (1964 to 1980) and millennials (1981 to 1996).

Millennials comprise a population larger than GenXers and comparable to boomers. As such, millennials are seen as the natural replacements for aging boomers. However, “millennials have not yet begun to embrace wine,” according to Rob McMillan, EVP of Silicon Valley Bank’s Wine Division in a January 2020 report. “They are still missing as fine wine core consumers, representing the largest growth challenge for the wine industry.”

He also said millennials are fickle in that they tend to move from wine to cocktails and craft brews rather than focus on a single category such as upscale wines.

According to Scarbourgh Research, SVB Analysts, current alcohol consumption by population cohort confirms that millennials consume more beer and liquor than all other categories, but less wine than Boomers (age 55-73), GenX (39-54) and Matures (74+).

“People are not flying here from across the country, but an increasing number are coming to Napa County to spend a day or weekend from the North Bay, San Francisco and the peninsula. A large percentage of Faust Wine is sold on premise,” Beloz said.

Faust markets and distributes its wine through wholesalers and retail partners — combined with restaurant sales and support from wine buyers.

“This year our production of Faust Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is approximately 25,000 cases and The Pact Cabernet from our Coombsville estate is produced in a very limited amount.”

“It’s been a challenging year and we were fortunate in that the fires were north of our vineyards in the Coombsville AVA. We’re still working through an assessment of potential smoke impact on this year’s harvest and believe we are okay. Early fermentation reports are promising,” she added. “In the high-end luxury wine market, buyers are attracted to brands known for quality.”

Built to last another 150 years

Faust Wines planted its first vintage in 1998 with an initial release in 2002. The two-story former Victorian farmhouse and prohibition-era cellar built in 1878, was purchased by Faust in 2016.

Beloz said the renovations to the Victorian mansion, including seismic upgrades, were conducted with the intent of having this edifice endure for at least another 150 years. Updates to preserve its historical legacy while adding some modern touches, were under the direction of David Darling, principal with Aidlin Darling Design of San Francisco, who reimagined and restored the structure.

Darling said, “We hoped to build a new kind of wine tasting experience while honoring and amplifying the historic beauty of the home.”

He said most windows were restored and the ceiling above the top floor was stripped exposing the inner roof lining to covey a feeling of openness and Shaker simplicity. The lower floors are painted in dark hues transitioning to lighter colors in the spacious upper story. This was intended to reflect the Faust brand characterized by seeking enlightenment, searching for knowledge and gaining inspiration evidenced by the creation of a great cabernet.

Summit Engineering consulted with Darling on structural design changes to upgrade seismic strength. The cellar’s walls were opened, and a steel infrastructure was installed along with a moment frame and concrete footings. The entire building is attached to this frame. Sheer walls were placed on upper flours to make them more rigid.

Maca Huneeus Design created interiors with brightly colored with unique pieces, such as a Jean Lurcat mid-century tapestry. There are antique-style photographs of the Faust Wines team by photographer Lindsay Ross, made using an emulsion-on-glass process similar to that used to create collotypes during the Civil War.

Other displays show artifacts of minerals, plants and animal life found in the vineyard. A large, hand-drawn mural behind the staircase was painted by artist Roberto Ruspoli of Paris, evoking the story and myth of Faust.

The “Faust” name is derived from a legend based on the historical German astrologer, Johann Georg Faust, who reportedly sold his soul to the devil in exchange for wisdom, power and sensual pleasure. Faust Wines uses the name from this Gothic fairy tale to describe the ambiance, look and feel of Faust Haus.

San Francisco-based landscape architecture and design firm Surfacedesign, was brought in to envision the property grounds by designing distinct, disconnected and memorable garden rooms linked together by shifting color gradients. This configuration offers multiple places to sit and taste wine rather than having all guests concentrated in a single room or area.

Since early September, Napa County has allowed restaurants and wineries to reopen for indoor dining and tastings up to a limit of 25 percent of capacity,” Beloz added. “People love to sit outside if conditions permit, but with shorter days, a shift to standard time and cooler outside temperatures, this policy change comes at just the right moment for us to continue serving our guests through fall and winter months.”

Faust Wines and Faust Haus are part the Napa-based Huneeus Vintners portfolio that includes Quintessa, Illumination, Flowers Vineyards & Winery, and Leviathan.

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