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White Oak Winery - Sonoma County


White Oak successfully established itself as one of Sonoma’s predominant wineries

Anyone who spent any amount of time during the late 1980’s or early 90’s around the town of Healdsburg in Sonoma County was certainly aware of the upscale presence of White Oak Winery. From a rather unassuming tasting room located adjacent to the old Clos du Bois winery, White Oak successfully established itself as one of Sonoma’s predominant wineries with a minimum of marketing dollars and with even less observable fanfare. The word on the street was that White oak’s wines sold themselves and that the quality in the bottle was undeniable.

A little more than a decade after its establishment in 1981, White Oak’s 1990 Chardonnay won the Sweepstakes (best individual wine out of 654 entries) at the Sonoma Harvest Fair and the still smallish winery (production was around 10- 12 thousand cases at that time) was no longer an insider’s secret to the area residents around Healdsburg. Since the Sonoma Harvest Fair is considered by Sonoma inhabitants to be the single most important competition held in California (or anywhere else for that matter), White Oak Winery was suddenly thrust into virtually every local conversation and the winery’s entire production that amounted to over $300,000 in sales was immediately sold out within the next thirty days.

Even with such fanfare, it took White Oak’s laid back owner Bill Myers over five years to affect a change in White Oak’s basic setup. Myers gathered together a small group of his friends and some outside investors and together successfully obtained a beautiful piece of Alexander Valley property that contained some sixteen acres of old vine Zinfandel that had been planted sometime during the 1920’s. This unique merger with a grower-oriented base of investors, provided the setting for White Oak’s new winery and tasting room, a splendid Tuscan-inspired villa that Bill Myers designed and built almost by hand. The entire project took Myers nearly five years to complete, and the new winery enabled White Oak to increase its production to its present 12,000 case level, a mark that Myers feels he will hold for some time to come.

“Even though I have been in the business for over 21 years,” Myers reflects, “I have taken White Oak’s growth very slowly and have been able to control our quality. I have set an immediate goal of 15,000 and a future mark at around 25,000 cases in another two years.”

Myers feels that White Oak can be profitable at the latter level and is making sure that all his efforts work in harmony with that objective. He is also exceedingly proud of his comfortable and attractive tasting room, where he proudly states, “we sell more wine than we do in the entire rest of California.”

Another key to White Oak’s success is the 325-acre ranch in Sonoma’s Russian River Region that is planted entirely in Chardonnay and that produces unusually high-caliber fruit that insures White Oak a leg up on other wineries. White Oak owns the property in partnership with a San Rafael company called Burdell Properties who in turn has some 500-700 individual investors involved in the ownership of their combined vineyard land. This appealing alliance gives White Oak a better than normal retail sales base for its wines and also offers to each investor a carrot in the form of a small discount on White Oak wines.

“When all is said and done,” Myers adds, “it is absolutely necessary that the winery make money. We figure to do well even in this down economy. We sell a lot of our grapes (Alexander Valley neighbor Jordan Winery is White oak’s largest customer) but we must always insure that White Oak’s bottom line is favorable.”

During 2002, White Oak will focus its marketing attention to the Eastern Seaboard and attempt to break into the attractive Boston and New York markets.

Bill Myers feels that this can be accomplished due to the fact that White Oak’s wines are perceived as exceptional values in the national marketplace. What’s more, he realizes that increasing his winery’s capacity makes it that much more attractive to national distributors, most of who possess huge portfolios.

Gold Medal also considers White Oak’s wines a terrific value and is delighted to introduce them to you as this month’s Gold selections. We know they will bring you a great deal of enjoyment.



White Oak Vineyards and Winery owner Bill Myers

Many stories have been written about the varied backgrounds and former occupations of many of today’s premier wine industry personalities. White Oak Vineyards and Winery owner Bill Myers lists building contractor and salmon fisherman as his former professions, and it is the latter that provides him with his most direct correlation to the wine industry.

The Los Angeles-born, San Jose State-educated Myers actually hitchhiked to Alaska in his youth without viable resources, following the footsteps of his grandfather who had made the trek back in 1898. Bill Myers was following his family’s stories and began the task of establishing a business for himself in the salmon fishing industry. This occupied the greater part of the 1970’s and extended into the middle of the next decade.

During the latter part of this period, Myers became a part-time resident of Healdsburg in Sonoma County and regularly traded some of his prize catch for bottles of wine from his favorite wineries. He became closely enamored with the area and after a while was sufficiently charmed with the wine bug to be convinced that his immediate future lay within the boundaries of the wine industry and Sonoma County.

Encouraged by his close friends and supporters, Myers began the task of establishing a winery operation that would fit his needs. He was extremely fortunate to attract Mary Ann Graf, one of the pioneer female winemakers in the industry who had recently left Simi Winery (with great accolades), into becoming his winery consultant, a position Graf still performs to this day.

Myers immediately sold his salmon fishing boat and invested in his first Alexander Valley vineyards. Since money was certainly a significant factor, White Oak’s initial wines were produced in a rented garage that was outfitted to become a small lab and winery.

White Oak Winery started small and can arguably be called a moderate sized winery in today’s competitive wine industry.

One of the main reasons that Bill Myers feels White Oak has been successful thus far is that he entered the business with no pre-conceived notions. ‘I was one of the few,” he states emphatically, ‘that never really bought into the oak fad. I was also somewhat reticent about putting wines through full malo-lactic fermentation. It was just my personal taste, but White Oak has never made a 100% m/l or barrel fermented wine. And I want everyone to know that we never will.”

White Oak and Bill Myers’ style is pure Burgundian, and according to the personable Myers, seems to be getting more so with each succeeding vintage. He points to the fact that he and present winemaker Steve Ryan are still experimenting with wild yeast fermentation and even produce a sur-lies Chardonnay that carries with it a reserve status.

Myers has turned over the winemaking duties to Ryan but admits that he still has a great deal to say about White Oak’s final blends. Bill Myers seems a happy, fulfilled man that is extremely proud of his winery’s staff and their cumulative accomplishments.

His tasting room is one of his proudest endeavors, and he feels his in-house staff’s efforts make other things happen for White Oak. The winery enjoys a fiercely loyal customer base and Myers feels this base has been built very patiently, by offering value-oriented wines in a productive environment staffed by really knowledgeable personnel.

He smiles and adds, ‘When we started in Healdsburg,” there wasn’t any money for marketing or anything. It was simply word of mouth and most of our customers were from the local area. I realized that if I could make wines that impressed these people who had a whole assortment of wines and wineries to choose from, I might just be able to make it. Over the years I have made some incredible friends and they have enjoyed some remarkable wines.”

Such candor is refreshing in a wine industry that has steadily eroded into mega wineries with mega marketing budgets and accompanying marketing techniques. Bill Myers and White Oak continue to be basically the same entities that started in business over twenty years ago. Sonoma insiders and winery friends are betting the situation at White Oak won’t change much for the next twenty years.

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