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The Role of History on the Present Day Anderson Valley Wine Industry

Two of Anderson’s sons were involved in the Bear Flag Revolt in June of 1846. The Andersons initially settled in the Sacramento Valley, but felt crowded by the never ending influx of new people after the Gold Rush.

The family continued moving west in 1851. On the move, the sons often hunted to provide food for the family. They discovered the beautiful valley that would bear their name on one of these hunting trips.

Several Swiss families moved to the valley in 1856. John Gschwend was one of these pioneers and is noted for building a sawmill. Andrew Guntley built a distillery and began making brandy. The first vineyards were planted during the 1860s. A small wine industry developed and catered to the local market.

There is no evidence that wine was shipped outside of the area. The road to Ukiah was completed in 1868 and alleviated the isolation of the region to some degree. Apples were the most important agricultural product during these years. Many early efforts to plant Vitis vinifera varietals failed due to severe Spring frosts.

Political events in Italy caused a significant number of Italians to immigrate to the United States during the 1890s. Some of these immigrants moved to the Anderson Valley. They brought their winemaking knowledge with them. Jon Pinoli built the first commercial winery in the valley during the early 1910s. The area remained so isolated that its own dialect actually developed. “Boontling” has over 1300 distinct words and is still spoken by many of the locals residing in the town of Boonville.

Prohibition hit the region particularly hard and many wineries shut down forever. The few remaining growers that survived Prohibition typically sold their grapes to non-resident wineries outside of the region. The Post Word Ware II construction boom was a windfall for the heavily-timbered Mendocino County. Very little viticultural expansion occurred during these years.

Hard times continued as the Italian Swiss Company launched a misguided endeavor to grow warm-weather varietals for their jug wines in the 1950s and 1960s. Its headquarters were in the town of Asti in the nearby Alexander Valley. The Italian Swiss Colony was interested in making the dessert wines that were so popular in America at the time. The grapes that they grew in the Anderson Valley were too high in acidity and had too little sugar for this type of production. Annual Spring frosts and Phylloxera also ravaged these vines.

Dr. Edmeades ushered in the modern era of viticulture in the Anderson Valley. In 1964, he planted 24 acres of vitis vinifera varietals including Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer and Cabernet Sauvignon. He made his decision to plant grapes in the Anderson Valley based on the information from UC Davis that certain cool-weather varietals would thrive in the region. The institution classifies the valley’s climate as ranging between Region I and Region II.

Ted Bennett of Navarro Vineyards and Tony Husch of Husch Vineyards arrived in the valley in the late 1960s and early 1970s. These two men and several of their peers began making wines reminiscent of Alsace. They brought Gewurztraminer to a level never before seen in the New World. Largely because of their efforts, the Anderson Valley began to gain deserved distinction. It was granted AVA status in 1983.

Handley Cellars and Pepperwood Springs were 2 of the several wineries established during the 1980s. Larry and Nick Parsons purchased the vineyards for Pepperwood Springs in 1980.

By the early 1990s, the legendary Roederer and Pommery Champagne Houses both had a major presence in the viticultural area. It is becoming clear that the cool climate is well-suited for sparkling wine production. While the jury is still out, it is my opinion that the AVA could become THE place for American sparkling wine in the coming generation.

> Anderson Valley Wineries

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