Napa's first Vietnamese-owned winery offers new way to experience wine

A walk through the RD Winery honors the past while breaking new barriers for the future.

In the 1980s and 90s, the spot was known for Japanese sake in Napa. Today, under new owners, it is all about a first in wine.

"We are the first Vietnamese-owned winery in Napa," explains Mailynh Phan, the winery's CEO.

She says the chairman of the board "came here and then felt the way that everyone who comes to Napa feels, which is that it's beautiful and amazing and he wanted something here for his family. And then it is kind of been a way to share Vietnamese culture."

RD, which signifies sunrise or morning time in Vietnamese, aims to create a space of its own rather than fitting into a Napa mold.

"If we look at the Napa wine world from the outside," said Phan, "It still feels very exclusive. It still feels like it's pretentious. And it's just I mean, it's beautiful, it's a wonderful place. But that is a feeling that I think a lot of people have."

She said however, wine has "been a part of many cultures for a very long time, and it can be a part of anyone's household."

Phan says Vietnam doesn't have a history with wine, so originally the company intended to export what they created to Vietnam. But now they've shifted their focus to the U.S. and opened their tasting room right as the pandemic hit, a hard process.

"We opened in July of 2020, and that's after we had finished renovating the space. And then suddenly it was only outdoor," Phan said. "Then we also had massive wildfires that year. So, it wasn't safe to be inside because of COVID, but it wasn't necessarily safe to be outside because of smoke."

Hoping the toughest part of the road is behind them, they are now expanding their offerings with cultural events and Pan-Asian food pairings.

Hospitality director Kandace Markovich Wilson says the wines are paired with chocolate made in San Francisco and inspired by the diverse flavors of Vietnam, including one flavor described as "savory pho with a side of Sriracha."

It is new territory not just for RD but also for Napa and the industry as a whole. Pioneers don't enjoy the luxury of road maps to success.

"For us, being the first, carries a lot of responsibility and weight," said Phan.