PlumpJack Squaw Valley

Spend time in Tahoe and you’re sure to run into PlumpJack Squaw Valley. Be it the casually elegant inn steps from the village with breath-taking views of the Sierra Nevada mountains, the fashion-forward boutique offering the latest in designer skiwear, street togs, techie gear, and mountain-chic accessories, or the hopping après hangout where those in the know – notably, ski legends Jonny Moseley and Julia Mancuso – head for haute cuisine and Napa wines.

Including PlumpJack, of course, which has been wowing the world with its loveable, full-bodied, award-winning offerings. Founded in 1992 by California Governor (and expert skier) Gavin Newsom, what started as a neighborhood wine store, inspired by Shakespeare’s eponymous character – the legendary bon vivant and corpulent royal sidekick Sir John “Plump Jack” Falstaff has since evolved into an impressive collection of hospitality and lifestyle brands. All of which have come to be associated as much with the Northern California ski town as the town itself is with the Newsom family. “There’s a long family history in Squaw Valley,” says Hilary Newsom Callan, Co-President of the PlumpJack Group and the Governor’s sister. A modest reference to the clan’s role in the town’s development, which started with Hilary’s grandfather after the 1960 Olympic Games when he got the master lease for all of the Olympic Village. He would go on to operate the Olympic Village Inn where Hilary’s parents met and, later, where she and her brother spent summers learning to play tennis and soccer. “It was an important part of our lives.”

Today’s PlumpJack Inn was born from the bone structure of the original Squaw Valley Inn, which had been used to house aspirational athletes and delegations during the Olympics, and later was bought by the Newsom’s close family friend Gordon Getty. When the opportunity came up to take it over in 1995, Governor Newsom approached Getty and, after securing his blessing to rebrand it PlumpJack, gutted it to its studs, rebuilt it, and opened the PlumpJack Inn and Cafe. “That put us on the map,” says Hilary. “We re-designed the property rather than tear it down, and focused our energy on the culinary experience, and creating a wine list with brands that were memorable and unique.”

By 1997, PlumpJack wines were also on the map, being harvested at the PlumpJack Estate Winery. It has since grown into four distinct wineries – PlumpJack, Odette, CADE, and 13th Vineyard by CADE Estate, which in addition to supporting CADE’s production, produces its own single-vineyard estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. In recent years, PlumpJack’s wines have garnered rave reviews, with both PlumpJack and Odette Reserve Cabernets scoring a perfect 100 points from Robert Parker. Not too shabby for an industry disruptor that had been best-known as the first in the US to bottle a premium wine with a screw-top.

“PlumpJack has always strived to innovate,” says Hilary. “The idea of bottling half of our 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon with a screw cap was a calculated decision that we did not take lightly,working closely with professionals from UC Davis to determine what was best to avoid cork-taint.” It was a decision that paid off. While wines from the group’s vineyards are priced from $36 (for the CADE Sauvignon Blanc), a bottle of today’s Reserve from any of the PlumpJack wineries will set you back $300 or more – that is, if you’re lucky enough to get hold of one.

When not stewarding PlumpJack’s portfolio of vineyards and restaurants that span from Carmel to San Francisco, up through Napa Valley and into the Sierra Mountains, you might spot Hilary sourcing fashion-forward togs for PlumpJackSport, which she and GM /Lead Buyer Meg Millar have parlayed into one of the region’s most exclusive retailers; or heading up the PlumpJack Foundation, launched in 2016 to provide support to local communities; or even overseeing plans for a new eco-friendly facility – CADE is entirely Gold LEED certified.

Plumpjack Sports Squaw Valley
Plumpjack Sports Squaw Valley


“Sense of place is everything to us,” Hilary tells me. “And means we have to be good citizens in the communities we’re part of.”

This coming March, Hilary will get even busier as the group prepares to break ground on PlumpJack’s latest project – a total redevelopment of its Squaw Valley Inn. Ten years in the planning, the lodge is set to undergo a facelift that will transform it into a complex of luxury ski-in-ski-out condos – most of which will be for rent – as well as a small number of hotel rooms. As for the Cafe, I’m assured plans are afoot to relocate the iconic fave to a temporary location nearby for the duration.

If all this leaves you feeling PlumpJack FOMO, the award-winning wines are now sold worldwide. I saw one recently at the 48 Wine Bar on South Carolina’s Kiawah Island. Though for full immersion in PlumpJack Inn-ovations, best head to Squaw Valley and follow Jonny Moseley’s lead. “Had some friends come into town yesterday afternoon and so far we are sticking the line. Wildflour to Chammy to PlumpJack for the fondue bacon burger (win) followed by some passionate karaoke at the Dub. Time to ski.”