The Owners - William Westover Smyth & Jill Ramie Smyth
When Ione Westover was born in the Castro Valley in 1906, she would have never guessed that eventually her grandson would found a successful winery just mile from that very spot. William Westover Smyth never would have thought of it either until he had the opportunity to purchase land in the Castro Valley in 1986. He planted vineyards to improve the beauty and value of the land. Eventually he started selling the grapes to local winemakers. He sold grapes for years before trying his hand at producing wine.
William Westover (Bill) Smyth is the Presdient & Winemaker of Westover & Palomares Vineyards. Bill's winemaking heritage reaches back to 1881 when his great, great aunt Josephine Tychson became the first woman winemaker and winery founder in California (as documented by the Napa Valley Historical Association).
When he decided to pursue his passion for wine, Bill attended winemaking classes at U.C. Davis, California, but found the class of 50 other novice students to be more tedious than helpful. He sought the assistance of local winemakers Bob Burger, Kent Rosenbloom and Thomas Coyne to learn the art and craft of winemaking. Together they built up a skill set for producing highly palatable small lot wines. In 1994, Bill decided to try to make it on his own, but maintained his old contacts within the winemaking community.
It can be difficult to find experienced individuals willing to help out in this industry. However, Bill engaged exchange students from various wine growing regions around the world to assist him in learning his craft. Students came from South Africa, France, Hungary and Germany to help learn the trade. They would volunteer their services at other wineries as well. When his students returned, they formed a learning circle along with Bill to share the secrets of creating a great vintage. He slowly built his winery up on direct hands-on experience and the wisdom of those willing to learn with him and from him.
Westover still uses the ideas of other winemakers in the Valley to craft superb wines. Bill says his best ideas come from friends, customers and other winemakers. Crafting the perfect wine is an art as much as a science. Each varietal is an individual palette, and each vintage a masterpiece. He aims to create wines that he would drink himself. After all, if it’s not good enough for the winemaker, how could it possibly be good enough for his customers?
Currently Bill works on wines that are interesting to him and present a challenge to work with. Avoiding the corporate environment of a large winery allows him as much creative freedom as he wants when working with a varietal or developing a new flavored port. The perpetual student has also once again become the teacher, teaching wine appreciation courses. Winemaking is a social industry, and as long as there are customers and growers’ associations, Bill is in it for the long haul, creating works of art with a touch of whimsy.
Jill Ramie Smyth is the Vice President of Westover & Palomares Vineyards as well as the Director of the winery's COW Club (Connoisseurs of Westover wine club) and PLOW Club (Port Lovers of Westover). Jill learned the industry from the ground up working with her father Bob Berger: harvesting, crushing, racking and bottling. There was no intention of making the wine business into her life's work until, through Bob, she met Bill Smyth. The two hit it off in more ways than one, and they began to build both a winery and a life together. With years of hands-on experience and almost a lifetime of expertise, she gets the final say on which vintages bear the Palomares label.
Westover is a fully functioning family farm and the care of the customers, animals and facilities falls on Jill's shoulders. She takes everything in stride. Her philosophy is "Work hard; play hard." The winemaking business is as much a social industry as an agricultural one, and she takes it all in stride. She makes sure that every visitor's experience at Westover is a great one and that Westover can keep making the best wines and ports in the Livermore Valley.