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Handley Cellars - Anderson Valley


Balanced, distinctive wines from the Anderson and Dry Creek Valleys

From basement winemaking to raking up a collection of Gold Medals that few Dry Creek Valley winemakers can rival, Milla Handley has come quite a long way in 26 years. Born in the rarefied air of Los Altos Hills, near Sunnyvale in northern California, Milla’s father, Raymond Handley, found his fortune early on when he submerged himself into commercial real estate construction during the Silicon Valley’s boon town years. Surrounded by beautiful, expansive scenery, Milla grew up with a love for animals and the country and enjoyed riding horses in her free time, a passion she continues to pursue today.

Milla enrolled at U.C. Davis and changed her area of focus quite a bit, initially thinking of animal science, and then moving on to pursue a future in art. Neither seemed to click just right and she ultimately transferred into enology. The decision was made on the bases that her dad’s best friend had owned a wine shop close by and she’d always been surrounded by wine, so the transition seemed both natural and destined. After graduating in 1975, Milla worked for a number of winemakers in California and made her way into Anderson Valley which was then largely uncharted viticultural territory.

“I was captivated by the valley’s possibilities,” Milla explained. “The people here posses an independent spirit, and I felt I could follow my own path.” Her own independent spirit fit right in with the area, and she began to follow her vision of building an all-sparkling-wine winery from Anderson Valley grapes. It seemed like a great solution for the valley’s cool climate and the grapes being produced in the area were brimming with bright fruit flavors.

In 1982, Milla and her husband, Rex McClellen, established Handley Cellars and as it turned out, her first wine was not a sparkling wine, but rather a Chardonnay. Because she had made Chardonnay many times before in her previous jobs at various California wineries, Milla was comfortable with the varietal and felt that Mendocino County had an ideal climate for growing Chardonnay. She also had access to good fruit. Milla’s father Raymond had recently purchased a 20-acre vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley, which was divided between Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Syrah, and Milla became his exclusive customer.

Handley Cellars’ first release, a 1982 North Coast Chardonnay, won a Gold Medal at the prestigious Orange County Fair Wine Competition and it is Chardonnay that became the root of the winery’s success. During the first four years, Milla endured the cramped quarters of her 600 square foot basement, also spilling operations out into the garage and yard. Due to the size restriction, she was only able to grow from 250 cases to about 1,000 cases per year.

In1986, Milla and husband Rex bought 32 acres of land they had been eyeing for years, just up the road in Mendocino County, north of Philo. The following year they built a new winery and immediately kicked production up to 7,000 cases. Milla’s father Raymond also lent a helping hand, bringing his background in construction and working with his daughter to oversee the design and building of the 18,000 square-foot winery facility. During the winery’s first years, Milla built a strong grass roots following for her wines. She recalls how she literally went from wine shop to wine shop trying to convince wine shop owners to buy her wine.

“Of course no one at the time had heard of Handley Cellars,” recalls Milla. “Everyone would ask, ‘Why should I buy your wines?’ Or ‘What makes your wines so different?’ – until they actually tried them!”

Milla admitted those early days were difficult, but she soon found that the real problem was not going to be selling her wines, but making enough wine. Throughout the winery’s history, Milla has had to allocate her wines to thirsty distributors and retailers who are anxious to sell her product. Handley Cellars did eventually release three versions of sparkling wine – Brut, Brut Rose and Blanc de Blancs, but the focus has remained on still wines, to follow the market demand. In 2002, Milla began pursuing organic certification for Handley Cellars’ estate vineyard, a 3-year process that was completed in August 2005 and requires the vines to undergo strict sustainable growing practices.

Handley Cellars has now reached an annual production level of 18,000 cases, and continues to receive award-winning recognition and top industry reviews, including being named ‘Value Brand of the Year’ by Wine & Spirits magazine this past year.


  1. Handley
    2006 Pinot Noir
    Handley
    Russian River Valley
    Mendocino County

    $22.00

    $30.00
    8 Gold Medals
    id: 566
    Special
    Gold
  2. Handley
    2007 Chardonnay
    Handley
    Russian River Valley
    Sonoma County

    $17.00

    $20.00
    6 Silver Medals
    id: 567
    Special
    Gold

Pioneer winemaker Milla Handley

Pioneer winemaker Milla Handley has emerged as a champion of Anderson Valley’s grape growing region over the past two decades. Along with her co-winemaker Kristen Barnhisel, she is committed to producing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, sparkling wines, and other varietals that are elegant depictions of her valley and her art.

Milla Handley

Milla Handley has never been a city-girl. Although she grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, ever since she can remember she has wanted to live in the country. Perhaps it was because she loved animals so much and that’s why as a young girl, she thought a career in animal science would be fun and rewarding. That is until she had to dissect a frog. She simultaneously decided to turn loose the frog as well as the idea of a career in that field!

Her focus instead turned toward art, which has long been a part of her life due to her father. The owner of two folk art shops in San Francisco, he raised Milla both to understand and appreciate art, and when she went to college, it was to become an art major at U.C. Davis. However, she was soon disillusioned by the caliber of art professors at Davis and decided to change direction. Going back to her roots, another idea was brewing — both literally and figuratively. Her mother’s great-great grandfather was Henry Weinhard of beer brewing fame. But she had also acquired an interest in wine over the years, and had always enjoyed it at the family dinner table.

These connective interests led Milla toward both enology and brewing courses at U.C. Davis, but it didn’t take her long to narrow it down to enology.

‘The differences were like night and day,” Milla remembers. Not only was brewing was done nearly exclusively in a city surrounding, but she felt there was little or no art in the brewing process. After all, one of the keys to a successful brew house is producing the same consistent brew each and every batch — boring, she thought. Winemaking, on the other hand, was primarily a country thing. And each winemaker was encouraged to find his own art, so to speak. Also, each batch of wine is different and new — much more exciting, she thought!

Out of U.C. Davis in 1975, Milla landed a job as a quality control lab technician at Chateau St. Jean in southern Sonoma County. Three years later, her husband Rex, then also in the wine business, took a job at Navarro Vineyards in Mendocino. There, Milla found a job working at now-defunct Edmeades Winery. She gained valuable experience at Edmeades, working with Jed Steele (of Kendall-Jackson fame), as an assistant winemaker. After a few years, Milla decided to strike out on her own.

Deeply taken with California’s Anderson Valley, Milla saw a future there and wanted to make wines that captured the essence of the land. Now, more than 25 years later, Handley Cellars’ wines do just that.

Milla also found a way to tie in her love of nature and art into Handley Cellars’ wine labels. Since her parents had been collectors of tribal art, Milla had always been drawn to artifacts, textiles, and jewelry that were inspired by the beauty of the natural world. The ancient tribal textiles of the African Kuba tribes had been one of her favorites over the years, and are now the inspiration for the beautifully woven designs pictured on the wines’ labels.

Joined in 2004 by co-winemaker Kristen Barnhisel, an active winemaker who was actually the first American and the first woman to work harvest for Ruffino/Nozzole winery in Tuscany, Italy, Milla works closely with her to incorporate a number of techniques and specialized programs to meet the particulars of each vintage, varietal, and vineyard source.

Milla carefully balances the roles of proprietor and winemaker at Handley Cellars. She is involved in every aspect of the winery operation, from vineyards and wines to her unique tasting room.

Looking back at the last 27 years, Milla claims there is little she would change. ‘We’re happy with the progression of the winery,” she says. ‘I think we’ve been successful at making our wines both memorable and affordable,” she adds. Considering the slew of medals that Handley Cellars has earned over the years and the fact that their wines are always quick sell-outs, we’d say Milla is right on track.

About The Region

The fruit for Handley Cellars is drawn from two different appellations, offering an interesting and varied collection of expressive wines. The estate vineyard lies within the Anderson Valley, which is located in the rolling hills of the coastal region of Mendocino County, about two hours north of San Francisco. Only fifteen miles long, this beautiful valley is home to a unique group of wineries producing a broad range of excellent wines. The cool foggy nights and bright sunny days allow a great climate for the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Gewurztraminer that dominate the Handley varietals planted there.

Handley also sources from their Dry Creek Valley vineyard, found in a rural setting of Sonoma County near the Russian River. The deep sandy loam soil and warmer overall temperatures give the winery’s Dry Creek wines a much different character than the Anderson Valley wines, allowing Handley to offer an interesting and varied collection of site-driven wines.


Marinated Olives with Herbs and Spices


Ingredients

2 cups brine-cured olives, rinsed and drained
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 fresh thyme sprigs
6 whole star anise
4 large garlic cloves, peeled & sliced
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
1½ tablespoon coriander seeds, roasted and ground in a spice grinder
1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
¼ teaspoon dried allspice
Fresh ground pepper


Instructions

Place olives in a medium bowl. Combine oil and all remaining ingredients in a heavy saucepan; bring to simmer over medium-high, until garlic is cooked, about 3 minutes. Pour mixture over olives. Cover and chill from 3 days to a week before serving.
To serve: bring olives and oil to room temperature.




Blue Cheese Pistachio Torta


Ingredients

1 pound blue cheese, crumbled
½ pound unsalted butter at room temperature
½ pound cream cheese at room temperature
3 tablespoons Marsala
¼ cup minced parsley
½ cup minced green onion
4 ounces chopped pistachio meats


Instructions

Reserve half of the crumbled blue cheese. Using a paddle, combine half of the blue cheese with the butter, cream cheese and Marsala in a mixer (a food processor will work). Mix until well combined. Add parsley and green onion, mix until evenly combined. Layer in a 4 or 5 cup bowl, 3 times. Spread one third of the cheese mixture, then one third of the reserved crumbled blue cheese, then one third of the pistachios. Repeat 2 more times. Chill until firm. Serve with crackers or toasted baguette slices



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