big white house

Where's the Big White House?

One of the first questions we generally get with new friends goes something along the lines of, "Where is the Big White House?"   Big White House is named after the 1897 Colonial where John Marion the Elder (our founder) and John Evan Marion (John the Elder's son and our head winemaker) first started producing wine. The house is located in downtown Livermore and is still called home by John Evan, his wife Christina and the newest addition to their family.


History of Big White House Winery and The Livermore Valley


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livermore wine history

A Little Background:

Originally formed by John 'The Elder' and a group of friends in the early 90's, Big White House was producing very small quantities of wine. With John's background in the sciences, you could think of it as an experiment - Friends who loved wine who shared the common vision that to learn more about wine, we would need to start making good wine in conditions where we could control the variables. It soon became apparent that if we were going to develop the quality that we were looking for, we would have to operate at a larger scale. For example, for barrel aging, 60 gallon barrels are an optimum size. That's roughly 25 cases. We wanted to explore the effects of different barrels, different yeasts and fermintation regimes along with exploring different and unusual varietals.

 

A Living Room Full of Barrels:

Lets do the math - To explore different barrels we would need to make wine in barrels made of the two most common types of oak, American and French. We would want to sample barrels made from the different forests of which there are five main ones in the US, five main oak forests in France and others in countries such as Hungary. Each barrel can be toasted differently, medium toast, medium plus and heavy toast are the common selections, but other aspects such as whether the staves are bent with water or with fire, whether the insides of the barrel heads are toasted or not, etc. makes this a multi-variable problem. Each cooperage, of which there are about 10 good ones in the US and at least 25 good ones in France (also some interesting Australian coopers) add to the variables. To do this right we would want to try at least one barrel of each type, per experiment, per varietal. Add to that our interest exploring different fermentation regimes, different yeasts, and numerous rare or unusual varietals meant we quickly reached the point where we wanted to make more wine, in more barrels than John's wife Diana was willing to tolerate in her living room.


livermore winery history

The original team circa 1998


livermore winery history

John the Elder and John Evan

 

livermore winery history livermore winery history livermore winery history

The Search for Our Own Facility

In addition to needing more space for production, we wanted to share what we were learning and needed more space for our guests. In 1998, Cedar Mountain agreed to incubate us within their facility. With their help we produced wines that won medals and developed a strong following. As our production grew, we sought to move our operation. The folks at Cedar Mountain were great, but we were simply outgrowing the space. Licensing difficulties put the operation in a three year limbo. We spent a little time at Tesla Vintners until finally getting through the licensing red tape and securing our own location at 6800 Greenville Rd.


Introducing John Evan

You could make the argument that John Evan is Livermore Valley's youngest elite winemaker. With the original Big White House operation taking place in his childhood living room, John Evan has been involved in one capicaty or another from the winery's earliest roots. He began making wine in a professional capacity in 1998. The following year he produced his first masterpiece - A Super-Tuscan-style Sangiovese from Richard Ripken's exclusive clone. After a couple of years in the barrel, this wine was released in 2001. Based on a single bottle, John Evan was offered the winemaker position at a well-known Paso Robles winery. John was transitioning from high school into a college education in the sciences at the time and hence, grudingly turned down the offer.

Launching a Second Label

In subsequent years to the Paso Robles offer, John Evan became more involved with Big White House and the family winery's own transition to their new facility. In 2004, John began work on his first two official releases: The Alchemist and The Cimmarion. Since these first two, John Evan wines have regularly been sold out on release and it was only natural to launch a seperate label for John Evan's individual labors of love.

Managing Production

Although John The Elder continues as a significant part of the winery, he's also continued within his original love and career as a chemist. John Evan was introduced as the head winemaker and partner for both labels in 2004. John Evan continues to produce super high quality releases under the Big White House label while reserving the John Evan as a premium label for small-lot releases that speak to his specific style - Generally gigantic, high tanin reds.