James MacPhail grew up just north of San Francisco in Marin County where, since the 1880s, members of his family have been pillars of the local business community. Between the dairy farm in western Sonoma County and the building materials, electronics and propane businesses in Marin County, James was raised with a strong work ethic and instilled with interests and life skills that lead him to where he is today. At the center of his personal and professional lives is a passion for entrepreneurial business and a love for the land.
Well-rounded and self-disciplined, James went on to become an accomplished classical pianist, bagpiper and dedicated sportsman. He excelled at competitive swimming and water polo, and is an active nationally-ranked Masters Swimmer to this day. In 1983, he was the youngest person to swim the Golden Gate crossing.
With a lively interest in both business and hospitality, James attended the University of Redlands in the 1980s. After his parents' passing, he enrolled in the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and earned dual B.S. degrees in Business and Hotel Administration. Remembering that his father encouraged him to blaze his own trail, James designed his own work/study program to pursue what fascinated him most: wine.
In the mid 1990s, James began working with wineries and growers in Sonoma County, focusing on the craft of winemaking - Pinot Noir in particular. He developed a fascination with Pinot Noir grown in the cooler regions, and at the time, the new frontier in CA grape growing: the far reaches of the “true” Sonoma Coast, and the Anderson Valley appellation, in Mendocino County.
The wine business satisfies James’ penchant for art – accepting the challenge and responsibility of crafting interesting wines at a world-class level. He selects and works with growers who share his commitment to sustainable farming and understand the significance of terroir-based, vineyard-designate wine. James makes wine – naturally, in small batches, by hand. He is a believer in traditional, old world techniques and minimal intervention – as well as trusting his gut and acting on intuition.
In 2002, James launched his own brand: MacPhail Family Wines and, in 2007, he was asked by The Hess Collection to start Sequana, an exclusive Pinot Noir program focused on Pinot from the Russian River and Santa Lucia appellations. The following year, he brought the idea of owning his own winery to life - the brick and mortar building sits in his backyard just 50 feet from his house. In 2011, it was mutually agreed that The Hess Collection would acquire MacPhail Family Wines, so that James could focus on his love of winemaking. Several years later, James decided not to renew his contract with The Hess Collection so that he could enter the next step in his career - taking his knowledge of and expertise in crafting Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and doing it for others.
James is excited about this new chapter; being a contributing liaison between family, friends and the land. Asked by the Sangiacomo Family to join their project in 2016, he felt “It was an honor and a privilege to be chosen as their winemaker. I have the utmost respect for this family and their goals.” Over the past 4 years, using grapes grown on the Sangiacomo Family’s 100% sustainable vineyards, James has crafted multiple award-winning vintages under the Sangiacomo Wines label.
James is a panelist for the What's Altitude Got To Do With It? Seminar & Luncheon on Friday, March 6, 2020.