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Husch Vineyards ,Anderson Valley, Mendocino county


Husch Vineyards - Mendocino county

Husch is the oldest winery in the rich grape growing region of Anderson Valley, in Mendocino County. Surprisingly, as late as 1968, it was the first winery to set up operations in the county after prohibition. Founded by Tony and Gretchen Husch, the former sheep ranch was gradually transformed into 21 acre vineyards of Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. Over a ten year span, the winery barely survived, struggling to reach a maximum production of 4,000 cases.

By 1979, Tony Husch had grown tired of the task. He called his friend and neighbor Hugo Oswald, and offered to sell him the operation. The Oswald family owned 53 acres of vineyards adjacent to the Husch property, as well as 123 acres near Ukiah. Having no wine production facilities, the Oswalds were selling their entire production to other producers. Hugo liked the Husch location, and the vineyards were in good shape, so he decided to try turning the fledging winery into a viable operation.

The Oswald family had little winery experience but were no strangers to farming. In the late 1950's, the Oswald family arrived in Mendocino County from Santa Clara County, just south of San Francisco. Population growth and the ensuing urbanization forced them to relocate their successful Bartlett pear growing business. They purchased a 200 acre parcel in the Russian River Valley, known then as the Dutton Ranch. The Dutton Ranch, renamed, La Ribera (the riverbank), was mostly bare except for a small pear orchard and 5 acres of grapes. From 1960 to present, that original 5-acre plot underwent a carefully planned expansion to reach today's total of 130 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Chenin Blanc.
During the mid-seventies, the Oswalds purchased the other piece of land just north of Philo, in the Anderson Valley referred to as, The Day Ranch. This was the ranch next to the Husch Winery. Originally, the Day Ranch was used to raise sheep and grow apples. In fact, the Day brothers owned an old apple dryer which can still be seen driving past the property on Highway 128. The Oswalds bought the ranch specifically to grow grapes and Bosc pears. One of the Oswald son's, Ken, took charge of the project, planting 53 acres of Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir, next to the apples and pears. The moderately warm days and cool nights throughout the long growing season in the coastal Anderson Valley provided the unique optimum climate particularly for Pinot Noir. By 1979, with well over one hundred acres of vineyards planted, the Oswald family operation was ripe for the next logical step. That is when Tony Husch called.
The Oswalds, headed by Hugo and wife Beatrice, invested in new winery equipment, and quickly improved the Husch facility. A decision was made to maintain the Husch name that had built a solid reputation during the past 10 years. Under the Oswald ownership, production has increased to today's level of 25,000 cases. Their philosophy of wine making, not surprisingly, is to keep the emphasis on the grape. "Don't over-manipulate the grape. Put the grape into the bottle!", says Hugo. "Quality grapes are needed to make quality wine," he adds.
Those in-the-know, are not surprised that Husch has found itself on top of the wine world. Nine wines currently available from Husch, have collectively earned 25 Gold Medals and 21 Silver Medals, during the last 12 months of wine competitions. Not too many wineries have ever been able to claim that same kind of success.
GMWC and it's members are indeed fortunate to have Husch participate as a featured winery. This month GMWC offers a departure from the usual selection of two different varietals. The featured Cabernet Sauvignons are two of Husch's best. The wines are two successive vintages, each grown in different soil conditions and in different locations of the same 130 acre La Ribera vineyard. It is an interesting taste test of how different conditions in the field and different vintages result in varying characteristics of wine even from the same vineyard.



Mark Theis - winemaker

Mark Theis is Husch's only third winemaker, joining them in 1984 after Hugo Oswald III left to run a Cherry orchard in Washington (winery founder Tony Husch was the first). His wines have helped catapult Husch Vineyards into one of the premier small wineries of California.

He has come a long way from the plains of Kansas were he was born. Raised in Reno, Nevada, he recalls his first winemaking attempt as a teenager. "I made dandelion wine," he recalls. "However, it would have been dandy just to leave it lyin'," he quips. "It's best attribute was the weed removal process!" he adds.

From this shaky start though, his interest of winemaking was sparked. The wine business caught Mark's eye in particular, because it employed science and agriculture--both interests of his. He was also attracted to the idea of the traditional wine maker putting the wine to bed during the winter months. So, he would have his winters free to pursue his other passion, snow skiing!

Mark received a degree in Fermentation Science at the University of California at Davis. His other major fields of study were, Enology, Viticulture, Food Science and Chemistry--all the ingredients for a great winemaker. He started his career in 1979, as Assistant Winemaker at Monterey Peninsula Winery, soon becoming winemaker in 1981.

Now at Husch, Mark works with Vineyard Manager, Al White, trying out new techniques in the field, and conferring with Assistant Winemaker, Fritz Meier.

Fritz Meier was born and raised in Buhl-Baden, West Germany. As he grew up, he worked on his parents farm, which included vineyards, orchards, and a distillery. The farm was located in the Rhine Valley, on the slopes of the Black Forest. This first hand experience during his childhood, carried with him through college, where, at Geisenhiem University, he earned undergraduate degrees in Enology and Beverage Technology, and then Master's Degrees in Enology and Business.

The potential opportunities he saw in the wine industry brought him to the United States after graduation. He worked for Oberhellman Vineyards in Texas initially, then Charles Krug Winery in Napa, and finally Fritz Cellars in Sonoma, before joining Husch Vineyards in 1987. "At the bigger wineries I learned about the technology of making wine," Fritz says. "At the smaller wineries I have learned the handcrafted approach to winemaking," he adds. Fritz oversees the La Ribera Vineyard, and produces the Husch Chardonnay and the impressive Husch Sauvignon Blanc.

The Oswald Family

Hugo Oswald had no idea he'd be a farmer. Born and raised in New Jersey, he had never been west until World War II. Before the war, Hugo studied finance at Williams College. As far as he was concerned, after the war he was going to finish his education and enter into the banking profession.

While stationed in California however, he met Beatrice Standish, daughter of a successful pear rancher, Alan Standish. (Interestingly, they are direct descendants of Miles Standish, the famous military leader of Plymouth Colony.) As fate would have it, in 1947, Hugo and Beatrice moved from the east coast to help Alan run the Standish Family pear orchard operation, located in Santa Clara County, California.

By the late 1950's the business was forced out of the area due to the growing urbanization. So, the family headed north to Mendocino County where they bought an existing pear orchard along the Russian River Valley. There, out of 200 acres, was a small 5-acre block of grapevines. It was from this tiny plot that the Oswalds started their highly successful grape growing business.

The Oswalds have seven children, 5 boys and 2 girls. All but two have at some time worked in the winery operation. Today, Hugo and Beatrice are still actively involved in the business. Son, Ken, runs the Day Ranch property across the Highway from the winery. It consists of 53 acres of grapes, 8 acres of pears and almost 600 acres of forest and mountain terrain. Son, Miles, works and oversees the pear orchard operation on the 130 acre La Ribera property. And daughter, Beelu, helps with the marketing and administrative side of the winery. Son, Hugo III, was winemaker for three years when the Oswalds bought Husch, but he now runs his own Cherry orchard in Washington state.

Non-family members at Husch Vineyards include General Manager, Steve Jaskela, who runs the day-to-day operations. Winemakers Mark Theis and Fritz Meier (see related story), and Vineyard Manager, Al White, who originally worked for Tony Husch, are all intregal to the success of today's Husch Vineyards.

Perhaps what astounds Hugo Oswald above all, is the growth and size of the family business. Never had he imagined things would progress as they have. And that growth has been achieved by cash flow generated solely by the business. He has never had to borrow money to expand, striving instead to have each property become self sufficient, and literally grow a little each year. Having achieved that goal, Hugo can now focus on his recurring yearly goal of simply making great wines that are, never over processed, always affordable, and most of all, enjoyable to his friends.

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