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Quivira Vineyards - Sonoma county


The Legend of Quivira

During the 16th and 17th centuries, enticing tales of a prosperous civilization in the New World flourished in Europe.

This "Kingdom of Quivira" as it was called, was reported to have a wealthy economy, sophisticated culture, and thriving commerce with China. The lure of Quivira stimulated exploration of the New World for over two hundred years. European cartographers placed Quivira on the Pacific Coast, between "Capo Mendocino" and "Capo de San Francisco," in the region now known as Sonoma County.

Today's Quivira (pronounced "kee-veer-a") is located roughly where it was first designated by Mercator and many other great European mapmakers over three centuries ago, in the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County. The Quivira of today is a 90 acre wine estate, owned by Holly and Henry Wendt. The abundant riches of Quivira are evident in its wines: meticulously crafted estate grown Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and a Grenache-based wine.

This month Gold Medal Wine Club presents two of Quivira's finest. Their much heralded 1989 Cabernet Cuvee, won top honors in the World Wine Championships last year, as the best red wine in the moderately priced category. This is the same competition which handed out a National Championship award to Van der Kamp's incredible 1986 English Cuvee champagne which was featured by GMWC in November 1992. Their 1990 Sauvignon Blanc is also an outstanding wine and winner of many awards in 1992.

The Wendts founded Quivira in 1981 with a singular goal: to produce the highest quality estate grown wines, only from those varieties proven to consistently excel in the Dry Creek Valley. All are carefully matched to particular rootstock, soil type, drainage and microclimate. Existing vineyards were upgraded and additional acreage was developed, bringing total plantings to 72.5 of the 90 acres. In addition to the primary varieties mentioned earlier, small amounts of blending grapes were planted-Semillon, Petite Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Mourvedre and Syrah, in the interest of balance and subtle complexity for the finished product. In 1987 a small but efficient winery was built with a production capacity of 20,000 cases.

Holly and Henry Wendt call their 18 acre Sauvignon Blanc vineyard "Fig Tree Vineyard," in reference to a 30 year old fig tree located amid the vines, and also to an interesting flavor component found in the ripe fruit. The entire vineyard is located on the floor of Dry Creek Valley, in well drained soils ranging from deep gravelly loam (rich, dark soil) to sandy loam. The vines were planted in 1981 with two year old bench grafts, utilizing disease resistant AxR#1 rootstock (see The Wine Wizard in this issue) and the famous "Wente" clone, which traces back to Chateau d' Yquem, in Sauternes, France.

There are two distinct plots of Cabernet Sauvignon under cultivation at Quivira, totaling 13 acres. The hillside vineyard measures 6 acres and grows in red soil. The vines are from two year old bench grafts, planted in 1984. The second vineyard is 7 acres, planted on the floor of Dry Creek Valley and runs along the loam and gravel banks of Wine Creek adjacent to the vineyard.

All of Quivira's carefully nurtured grapes are fermented in small lots and aged in French oak barrels. "Our winemaking style is more dependent on fruit character than any other element. Sound, ripe fruit with intensity and depth of varietal flavor is at the core of all Quivira wines," states Winemaker Grady Wann. The wine estate concept of owning and operating the vineyard source and growing only those varieties which consistently excel in the immediate locale, is the foundation of Quivira's winemaking philosophy and style. Their meticulous, attention-to-every-detail, "vine-to-wine" techniques have resulted in consistently exceptional wines year in and year out.

We hope you enjoy this month's superb selections from Quivira Vineyards.



Grady Wann - winemaker

Grady Wann took an unconventional but comprehensive route in his journey from graduate student to Winemaker at Quivira, which included collecting a PhD in organic chemistry and extensive research in the vineyards and cellars of one of California's most prestigious wine estates. Born and raised on the East Coast, Grady came to California to pursue a doctorate degree at Stanford University in the mid 1970's.

While working and teaching at Stanford, Grady "caught the wine bug" and began to explore the industry, examining the scientific relationship between viticulture and winemaking.

Upon completion of his academic work, Grady veered off the prescribed chemist's path and looked for a harvest job, "to get a feel" for the wine business. "It was difficult to get a crush job," recalls Grady. "no one was ready to believe a Ph.d. would be willing to wash barrels for the entire harvest." But wash barrels he did, while asking lots of questions, and by the end of the 1982 vintage, Grady was solidly committed to the wine industry.

The next step was U.C. Davis, where Grady broadened his knowledge of viticulture and enology. Davis was followed by a brief stint working with MaryAnn Graf at Vinquiry, an independent wine analysis and consulting firm. At Vinquiry, Grady met and subsequently went to work with Bill Bonetti at Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards. "As research enologist, I had a mandate to explore and track the effects of viticultural practices through cellar techniques to finished wines. My understanding of the vine-to-wine process expanded greatly during this phase of my career," says Grady. Since he made only Chardonnay at Sonoma-Cutrer, his spare moments at home were spent fermenting and blending red wines in his garage, conferring and tasting with other enologists, and teaching at a local college.

After six years at Sonoma-Cutrer, the desire for broader experience led Grady to
Quivira. "Quivira offers all the ingredients I am looking for: a man of integrity and direction at the head of the operation; an excellent team of dedicated personnel; estate vineyards with a proven track record where I can monitor and fine tune grape quality; and wines in a style I appreciate and respect," remarks Grady. "My goal is first to maintain the excellent quality of Quivira wines-and then to find ways to continually improve them. There is a tremendous opportunity here to create wines of distinction, complexity and balance."

Why would an international corporate executive and his wife build a 90 acre wine estate in the rural Dry creek Valley of Sonoma County, California’ "We love the West and Northern California is the best of the West," quips Henry Wendt, who, when he is not walking the rows of his Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel, is busy as Chairman of the Board of SmithKline Beecham, a multi-billion dollar trans-national health care company. Eschewing the concept of retirement, Henry explains, "Partly in preparation of our next life stage, when I will be less engaged in the international health care business, we wanted to create and develop a dynamic and interesting way of life and business." The Wendts preferred Sonoma County over other grape growing regions because it has retained its agricultural character and produced exceptional grapes. Dry Creek Valley in particular appealed to them because it has preserved a rural lifestyle and established great reputations for Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

"We are developing a premium wine business from the vineyard up to the bottle on the shelf," comments Henry. "The California wine business is evolving toward regional specialization. The Europeans have understood this notion for centuries. In California, regions such as Carneros and Dry Creek Valley will find themselves, with respect to variety, vineyard practice and management. We would like Quivira to be at the vanguard of this trend."

When asked how a busy corporate executive can sustain a thriving business thousands of miles from his offices in Philadelphia, and London, England, Henry admits it is difficult but feasible. With 55,000 employees in 102 countries, SmithKline Beecham is a huge far-flung international business, so management from afar is a familiar practice for Mr. Wendt. "The key is good people," he says. "The essence of long distance management is finding the right people and giving them clear and proper guidance and authority. The Quivira team consists of energetic and committed professionals."

Even with their busy global travel schedule, the Wendts mange to be at Quivira for strategic times throughout the growing season, such as pruning, bloom and harvest. "We take a lot of our vacations and spend all of the major holidays at Quivira," says Holly Wendt. Henry adds that most corporate executives own summer homes or yachts or condominiums in exotic places. "We don't have any of these things. Quivira is the focus of our attention." Regarding the many business meetings that often consume the Wendt"s time at Quivira, Henry acknowledges that business may seem an unusual kind of leisure to many, but the Wendts enjoy the activity. "Besides," he smiles, "we find it hard to lie on the beach."

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