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Message in a Bottle

A family winery works the land

“Every good bottle of wine tells a story,” says Scott Young ’06, head winemaker at Young Inglewood vineyards in Napa Valley, Calif. “It’s a story about where the wine came from but also about the people who made it.”

For Young Inglewood, the story started in the late 1800s, when grapevines were first planted on the property (then called Inglewood Village). In the Prohibition era, the vineyard survived by camouflaging the vines with fruit and nut trees.

Young entered the picture when his family purchased the land nine years ago. He had grown up learning about wine from his European parents, longtime lovers of French food and wine culture who had always dreamed of farming their own vineyard.

“I’d just graduated with a philosophy degree,” Young recalls. “Obviously, none of my classes had been about anything remotely related to wine or the wine business. But in a strange way I felt prepared for anything, since at Swarthmore it was, ‘Here are tools to think rigorously about whatever you want.’ And that turned out to be wine.”

The summer after graduation, Young made the journey to Puligny, a small town in the Burgundy region of eastern France, where he worked as a grape harvester at Domaine Leflaive, one of the world’s most renowned producers of white wine. The harvesters slept in a dorm together, rising before dawn to head out into the vines.

“What I liked most was how physical it was,” he says. “Out in the vineyard, it wasn’t an intellectual discussion. It wasn’t about pretentious ‘wine theory,’ or showing off what special terms you knew. It was farming: clipping grape clusters, very carefully, all day long—but in the context of this larger, romantic enterprise.”

In Puligny, Young also had his first real exposure to the notion of terroir, which refers to the vineyard’s specific environmental factors—the sun, the soil, the slope—and their cumulative impact on the way its grapes grow, taste, and age. 

“Terroir is what makes wine special,” says Young. “It’s the backbone of the story you’re trying to tell as a winemaker, the unique record of a time and place that can’t be repeated.”

After Puligny, Young worked in a wine shop and took classes to build up his wine knowledge. The following summer, he moved to St. Helena, in the heart of Napa Valley. At first, he lived alone in an old farmhouse, working the vineyard and helping out at neighboring wineries. In 2007, he produced his first wine, a practice run made in the garage with rented, hand-powered equipment.

“It was, in a lot of ways, like going right back to school,” he says. “So many people were so generous with their knowledge and perspectives, which really reminded me of Swarthmore.”

Together with his parents, Young worked to design a winery and, alongside it, a home.

“That’s the most amazing part,” he says. “Because we’re living here, working together, the wine captures something not just about our soil but about our family, about our philosophy, and about thousands and thousands of little decisions we’ve made together.”

This fall, Young and his parents—with help from his wife, Nandita Gupta, and his sister, Mary—will complete their 10th harvest at Young Inglewood, picking the grapes that will eventually produce about 800 cases of wine. 

They’ll also ship their fifth vintage, sending one chapter of the Young Inglewood story out into the world while a new chapter starts fermenting, another ages in barrels, and countless more sit in the vines and soil, waiting to be told.


+ Young Inglewood offers visiting alumni a complimentary tour and tasting for two: or 707-200-4572