The Robert Young Legacy:
Six Generations of Family Farming in Alexander Valley

A young boy and an older man

Robert Young (3rd Generation) and grandson Robert (Robbie) Young (5th Generation)

The Robert Young Legacy: Six Generations of Family Farming in Alexander Valley

The story of Robert Young begins with family and their deeply rooted connection to the land. Since 1858, six generations of the Young family have lived, loved, and farmed their ranch in Alexander Valley. More than just a business, it’s a way of life, a legacy that will continue to flourish for generations to come.

The Early Years: From Gold Rush Homestead to Prune Farming

The Young family’s journey in Alexander Valley began in 1858 when Peter Young, Robert Young’s grandfather, was drawn to California from New York during the Gold Rush. Settling on 206 acres in Alexander Valley, Peter and his wife Rachel raised wheat, cattle, and prunes, while also contributing to the community by establishing the local church and Sunday school.

By the 1900s, prune farming had become the family’s primary agricultural pursuit, with Healdsburg earning the title of the “Buckle of the prune belt” in California.

A photo from 1800's of the Young family: Peter & Rachel Young

Peter & Rachel Young

A New Generation: Silas and Robert Young

In 1914, Silas Young took over the family ranch following his father Peter’s death. Silas raised his children, Robert and Marion, on the ranch, instilling in them the values of hard work and community. Robert Young, inspired by his upbringing, aspired to become a “Big Farmer,” as his high school yearbook quote proudly declared.

However, the Great Depression brought significant challenges. In 1935, Silas passed away, leaving a $70,000 debt note on the ranch. At just 16 years old, Robert faced the looming threat of foreclosure. In a remarkable act of generosity, his Great Uncle Thomas Meek, a San Francisco businessman, stepped in to guarantee the debt, saving the family farm. Thomas offered Robert a choice: work for him or stay on the ranch. Robert chose to continue farming in Alexander Valley. This act of kindness inspired Robert to “pay it forward” many times over through his community involvement in Healdsburg and the surrounding county.

An early 1900's photo of two men

Thomas Meek and Robert Young

The Vineyard Pioneer: Robert Young

Over the next 28 years, Robert graduated from high school, married his childhood sweetheart Gertrude, and raised their four children—JoAnn, Susan, Jim, and Fred—on the family ranch. Gertrude was renowned for her cooking, gardening, and warm hospitality. Robert, a visionary farmer, began to experiment with grape cultivation. In 1963, he became the first person to plant Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in Alexander valley. The success of these first 14 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon compared to prunes convinced Robert to replant the entire ranch with vines by the early 1970s.

Vineyards

Robert Young Vineyards

Solidifying a Reputation: Robert Young Vineyards

By 1975, Robert Young Vineyards had earned a reputation for growing exceptional grapes for premium California wineries. Chateau St Jean introduced their Robert Young Vineyard Designated Chardonnay, which received national and international acclaim, marking the first Vineyard Designated wine in the US. In the 1980s, Robert and his son Jim collaborated with UC Davis to propagate the now-famous Clone 17 Chardonnay grape, highly sought after by premium wineries in California.

Three men standing in front of a vineyard

Fred Young, Robert Young, and Jim Young

A New Chapter: Robert Young Estate Winery

In 1997, inspired by the success of wineries using their grapes, the Young family ventured into wine-making, establishing the Robert Young Estate Winery. Led by Fred Young, with the support of his siblings JoAnn, Susan, and Jim, the family aimed to produce exceptional Estate Bordeaux Reds, powerful 100% Cabernets, and full-bodied Chardonnays. Renowned winemaker Dick Arrowood oversaw the production of the first vintages, and the historic ranch barn was rebuilt to accommodate the winery and a cozy tasting room.

People posing with wine glasses in hand

Jim, JoAnn, Susan and Fred

A Legacy Remembered

In 2009, Robert Young passed away at the age of 90. His funeral was attended by 1,000 people, honoring a pioneer and icon in California’s premium grape industry, as well as a man remembered for his generosity and dedication to the community.

Today, Robert Young Vineyards and Estate Winery remain a family business. Robert’s children, the Scions, manage the vineyard, oversee the winery, and welcome visitors with warm hospitality. They have passed on their strong work ethic to the fifth and sixth generations of Youngs, who are now actively involved in wine-making and hospitality, preparing to continue the family tradition.

In 2018, the Youngs opened the Scion House, offering an elevated hospitality experience that allows visitors to enjoy the sweeping views of the Alexander Valley that the family has cherished for generations. As Susan Young aptly puts it, “We like to share our way of life, because we know not everyone gets to experience this.”

A house on a hill

The Young family’s “Scion House” tasting room.

 

Conclusion

The story of Robert Young is not just a tale of a successful vineyard and winery; it is a story of family, resilience, innovation, and community. From the humble beginnings of prune farming to becoming pioneers in grape cultivation and wine-making, the Young family’s journey is a testament to the enduring values of hard work, dedication, and the deep-rooted connection to the land. As Robert Young once said, “Take care of the land, and the land will take care of you.” This philosophy continues to guide the Young family in their ongoing commitment to producing exceptional wines and sharing their unique way of life with the world.

A group of people sitting around a table with glasses on it

The Young Family. From left to right: Fred Young, Rachel Kelly, Joanne Young, Susan Young, Robert Young II, and Jim Young