Richard Arrowood is an iconic winemaster who has been making wine exclusively in Sonoma County for more than for 45 years. From 1974 through 1990, he created the wines for Chateau St. Jean, where he developed some of the first vineyard-designate Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon produced in Sonoma County.
He and his wife, Alis, founded Arrowood Winery with the 1985 vintage. Each year, they made extraordinary small-lot varietals and vineyard designates. Richard was the winemaster at Arrowood Winery until June 2010, when he resigned his position to devote himself full-time to making wines for his estate winery, Amapola Creek Vineyards and Winery.
Richard Lee Arrowood was born in San Francisco and raised in Santa Rosa, California, in the heart of Sonoma County. He began his winemaking career in 1965, working at Korbel Champagne Cellars while attending college. He earned a B.A. in organic chemistry at California State University, Sacramento, and completed graduate work in enology at California State University, Fresno.
From Korbel, he moved first to United Vintners and then to Sonoma Vineyards, where he worked for Rodney Strong and further developed his appreciation for the potential of single vineyard sites. In 1974 the founders of Chateau St. Jean chose Richard as their first employee and winemaster.
Within a few years, Richard had gained critical acclaim and a worldwide reputation for his wines. He produced vineyard-designate Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Fumé Blanc, Johannisberg Riesling, and Gewürztraminer bottlings in unprecedented numbers: from the 1980 vintage, the winery marketed nine single-vineyard Chardonnays from within Sonoma County.
By producing numerous small-lot, single-vineyard wines, Richard successfully demonstrated the significance of site—of terroir. Using virtually identical winemaking techniques for a given varietal, he showed that the differences in the resulting wines came from the vineyard, not the cellar. It was a revolutionary accomplishment. Richard received perhaps his greatest accolades for botrytis-affected late harvest wines, which rivaled even the great Trockenbeerenauslesen in richness and intensity.
In 1981 Richard met Alis Demers at the first California Wine Experience in San Francisco. They started dating and were married in 1985. In the same year, they created another partnership and began the plans for building Arrowood Vineyards & Winery.
Richard remained at Chateau St. Jean as executive vice president/winemaster until joining Alis at Arrowood full-time in 1990. Together they created a highly acclaimed prestige brand, which Robert Mondavi Corp. purchased in 2000. Richard and Alis stayed on, but after Constellation Brands purchased Mondavi in 2004 and subsequently sold Arrowood in 2005 to the (now bankrupt) Legacy Estate Group, Richard and Alis began Amapola Creek Winery.
Jackson Family Wines acquired Arrowood Vineyards & Winery through the bankruptcy court in September 2006. Richard continued as winemaster there until June 2010, when he left to devote his energies full-time to Amapola Creek Vineyards and Winery.