When Jim Bailey started looking at vineyards back in 2006, he was initially interested in Napa Valley. That is until he was shown a vineyard off Highway 128, rising up the hillside on the west side of Knights Valley, the warmest appellation in Sonoma County. From the highest point, at 950 feet in elevation, he was “amazed by the potential of this stunning property,” he says.
The vineyard’s mineral-rich volcanic soil stretches along the Mayacamas Mountains, north and south of Calistoga, and features seven varietals—plus a wide range of elevation along the rocky slopes. Cool wind blows from the Pacific Ocean through Chalk Hill, making it ideal for producing chardonnay (longer hang time allows for richer flavors), while warmer days help create balanced cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc.
From the top of the vineyard, Jim could also see his friend Sir Peter Michael’s winery. “I was a big fan of [his] wines, and I knew we could make magic here on our side of the valley,” he says.
Along with his brother, Essel, and friend Tom Costin, they purchased the 100-acre parcel (half of which was planted with vines) before harvest, established Knights Bridge Winery, and produced their first vintage that same year. They’ve replanted portions of the estate in the 15 years since and bought an additional 30 acres of adjacent vines last year. The pièce de résistance—the winery itself—was a project 10 years in the making that wrapped up in July 2021. “When you buy a parcel of land and vineyards, that is just the beginning of the commitment of what you’re doing as a winery,” says Jim’s wife, Kelley Bailey, now one of the co-owners of Knights Bridge Winery.
Kelley’s background in wine spans more than three decades; she worked closely with Jackson Family Wines’ founders Jess Jackson and Barbara Banke on marketing strategy and brand development. “My initial vision was to create the best wines possible—and that has not changed over the last 15 years,” Jim says. “Unfortunately, I did not pay much attention to case quantity or what we really wanted to be as a winery; Kelley taught me the value of a solid business plan, and we worked together, turning the magic of the vineyard into what we are now.”
With the help of renowned California architect Howard Backen and his associate John Taft, Jim and Kelley designed the winery—the second built in Knights Valley—in a style that gives visitors the same journey as the grape (the winery is almost entirely underground). “Surrounded by vineyards, people get a sense of Knights Valley, of what makes this area special: the ridge line, the hills, the cool air coming from the north,” Kelley says, explaining how visitors start with a tour of the vines before heading in to see the production and tulip-shaped tanks. “As they walk into the winery, they’re part of that winemaking process.”
Knights Bridge Winery has had the same winemaker, Douglas Danielak, since the beginning; he’s now joined by Derek Baljeu. Kelley says that in the more recent vintages, they’ve been able to strike a balance, so there’s beautiful acidity, backbone, tannin and structure, while still having a more plush, velvety entry into the wine. “Every vintage is different—not one is the same,” she says. “They always throw you a challenge of some sort that you learn from.”
Jim and Kelley have been married for three years but met seven years ago at an event held by Naples Children & Education Foundation founding trustees Valerie Boyd and Jeff Gargiulo. Over time, Knights Bridge Winery shifted from a hobby to a full-time project they could work on and grow together. “When you build a winery and continue to invest in a vineyard, you have a responsibility for so many others, so many families—that is when it’s more than a hobby,” Jim explains. “We are both committed to the legacy that we are creating—a winery that can bring future generations back to the land and where we can continue to invest in the vineyard, our growing winery team and our communities.”
Kelley has been participating in NWWF for nearly 15 years; this year marks the couple’s first as trustees of NCEF. “We truly believe in what they are doing at NCEF—this is the way to get funding to those in need and make a monumental change in these kids’ lives,” she says. Jim has been involved in philanthropic work for more than 50 years, since graduating from Harvard and starting a company that provides investment and financial planning services to nonprofits and other institutions. “His business was dedicated to investing in universities and foundations that were doing wonderful things for students and charities, so he has been a giver for most of his life,” Kelley says. “Now, we can continue to do that as trustees with the foundation.”