Monica Stevens’ Studio 1299A fuses luxury wine with social good
By Tim Carl
NAPA VALLEY, Calif. — Monica Stevens is poised to alter how consumers interact with the Napa Valley wine sector. Again. Although her husband and business partner, David Stevens, cannot join her in this latest project due to his battle with rapidly progressing Alzheimer's disease, his enduring influence is unmistakable in the new venture.
"David is the foundation of all our initiatives, from our newly launched Studio 1299A to Jameson Humane and all points before and in between," Stevens said.
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Located off St. Helena's best-known alleyway, Money Way, and housed in a beautiful stone building at 1269 Main St., the new venture aims to interact with wine enthusiasts on a more intimate level. It matches customers' specific preferences with vintners with whom the Stevenses have cultivated relationships over decades.
A brief history
In 2003 Napa Valley's high-end wine retail scene underwent a significant transformation with the founding of ACME Fine Wines by David Stevens and Karen Williams. Initially located in the historic Pritchard Building in St. Helena, ACME distinguished itself by offering a selection of California's rarest wines, often from smaller, lesser-known producers. This approach was in stark contrast to many traditional wine shops at that time that generally featured well-established brands.
The pair's previous experience at Tra Vigne, a St. Helena restaurant closely tied to the wine industry, informed their understanding of market demands. They noted consistent interest among customers — ranging from collectors to passionate enthusiasts — for a retail source of the exclusive wines featured on Tra Vigne's list. Operating quietly from St. Helena, the new shop transformed an old tool shed into a wine storage room and primarily relied on word-of-mouth advertising. During an era before the widespread use of email and social media, they maintained strong relationships through weekly lunches with winemakers and winery owners. ACME also became an early champion of what later would be known as cult wines, featuring bottles such as Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate and Hourglass. These wines, famous for their quality and scarcity, attracted a devoted following among collectors.
In a parallel development, Chicago-area native Monica Stevens was forging her own path in the wine world. As a marketing specialist at Robert Mondavi Winery, she became captivated by the narrative that Napa Valley wines were among the world's finest and that the region deserved responsible and active stewardship.
By 2008, David and Monica had met and married. They decided to combine their mutual passions by establishing 750 Wines. Building on the ACME model, 750 Wines specialized in offering private tastings and exclusive access to sought-after labels. The couple’s insider industry connections earned acclaim from renowned critics that included Robert Parker Jr.
Animal welfare and wine
In 2014 the couple broadened their focus to include animal welfare, launching Jameson Humane with the objective of rescuing and caring for abandoned animals in Napa County. This organization has evolved into a multifaceted community asset, featuring an animal sanctuary and dedicated rescue and veterinary mobile units as well as regional neuter-and-spay programs. Beyond animal welfare, Jameson Humane has also engaged in climate-change advocacy, mental health initiatives and other philanthropic efforts.
"To fund these activities we heavily rely on our annual event, WineaPAWlooza," Stevens said. "It's not merely a nexus for philanthropy and fine wine; it also covers about 80% of our yearly operating expenses."
Everything was going smoothly for Monica and David until February 2020, when David’s memory began to fail. Doctors eventually diagnosed him with Alzheimer's disease. Second, the COVID-19 pandemic started, and that meant lockdowns and a lot of changes for everyone.
Businesses, including their wine store, had to figure out how to work with new rules and fewer customers. Hospitals and doctors were busy, too, which made it harder to get help for David's condition.
"For everyone life changed at that point, but for us EVERYTHING changed," she said.
In 2021 this new reality led them to sell 750 Wines to Wine Access, a venture-backed online company.
“But since I’ve found myself increasingly drawn back [to the wine industry],” Stevens said. "Animal rescue is hard every day, and I was surprised to discover how much the wine business recharged my batteries."
On Sept. 1, Stevens launched Studio 1299A in St. Helena, a space designed to facilitate intimate interactions between vintners and consumers through personalized wine experiences. In addition to supporting Jameson Humane with a portion of each transaction, the new venture builds on another of Stevens’ existing businesses, All Access — “a bespoke concierge service that connects wine collectors with California's renowned vintners, particularly in Napa and Sonoma Valley.” Studio 1299A aims to advance this model by offering a dedicated space for these curated relationships.
"As part of the process, every guest receives a questionnaire before they arrive to find out exactly what they like and don't like," Stevens said. "Based on that and our understanding of our vintner collaborators, we assemble detailed and entirely unique itineraries and tasting plans."
In an innovative twist on traditional business models, tastings at Studio 1299A are conducted by Stevens or one of her team members, but all financial transactions occur directly between the consumer and the wine producer. This arrangement fosters a more intimate relationship between wine aficionados and vintners and circumvents complications from a non-compete agreement with 750 Wines' venture-capital backers that prohibits Stevens from direct wine sales until January 2026.
Reflecting the architectural influences of local talent Richard VonSaal, Studio 1299A adopts a minimalist modern aesthetic, contrasting with the often luxurious wines being tasted. The venue taps into a burgeoning Napa Valley trend by transforming into a retail space where nearly all elements, from furniture and wall art to glassware, are available for purchase.
Already a boundary-pushing influencer in Napa Valley's wine retail and philanthropic sectors, Stevens continues to break new ground. With Studio 1299A and her involvement in Jameson Humane she is pioneering a business model that blends personalized, curated wine experiences with a robust sense of social responsibility.
"I visit David every single day, and I am always reminded that our shared love for each other and the community provides both joy and comfort," she said. "There is still much work to do, and I am just grateful that I can introduce more people to all that Napa Valley has to offer."
For those seeking further information, Stevens can be reached at email@example.com via email or at (707) 815-8153 by telephone.
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Tim Carl is a Napa Valley-based photojournalist.