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Wildhurst Vineyards - Lake County


Rich traditions shine through with Wildhursts Wine Club selections

Wine club of the Month Selection - Visitors traveling to northern California’s “wine country” are often overwhelmed by the sheer number of wineries in Napa and Sonoma counties. As a result, many do not get a chance to venture into surrounding wine-producing areas such as Mendocino or Lake counties. Both counties are located directly north of Napa and Sonoma and are home to many excellent wineries.
Wildhurst Vineyards is a perfect example. Located in Lake County just south of neighboring winery Kendall-Jackson, newly established Wildhurst Vineyards has catapulted onto the wine scene with no fewer than 10 varietal offerings. “New” winery may be a bit misleading though. The winery was formed in 1991; however, co-owner Myron Holdenried has been growing grapes here since the early 1960s—well before many of the established wineries of Napa or Sonoma counties.
The Lake County area is rich in wine growing tradition. The first grapes planted here date back to the 1870s. At the time there were over 30 wineries with more than 7,000 acres planted. Myron Holdenried’s ancestors arrived from Kentucky in the 1840s, just prior to the California Gold Rush. Their fortuitous timing allowed them to successfully mine enough gold to buy parcels of land throughout California. One of these parcels was a 160 acre plot in Lake County where Myron’s grandfather started a grain and cattle business. Prior to the turn of the century, he planted pear orchards on part of the property and helped launch that area’s pear growing heritage which still flourishes to this day.
Prohibition virtually wiped out the commercial wine business in Lake County. For almost fifty years the soil lay dormant waiting for someone to resurrect the once burgeoning grape farming business. And that’s exactly what Myron Holdenried did. The Holdenried pear ranch had grown to over 400 acres by the mid 1960s. Watching their county neighbors to the south, Myron realized that the grape boom was still in its infancy. He began the resurrection by planting 30 acres of Zinfandel grapes. Two years later he added Cabernet Sauvignon. By then he was convinced the area had great potential to produce top quality, premium varietals. He continued to add to his plantings putting in Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Johannisberg Riesling and Chardonnay grapes.
As his vines matured, Myron built a solid market for his premium quality grapes. He had no trouble selling his crop each year to other wineries throughout northern California. One thing began to bother him though. Here he was producing top-notch grapes, and they were “disappearing” into the wines of other wineries. There was virtually no recognition at the consumer level for the Lake County growing region. These wineries were just putting it into the bottle with little or no promotional redemption.
Deciding it was time to do something about this dilemma, Myron and his wife, Marilyn, convinced long time friends Gus and Barbara Collins to join them in starting a winery. In 1991 they leased a winery facility from defunct Stuemer Winery located 20 minutes from the Holdenried vineyards. They decided to use an old brand name of Stuemer’s called “Wildhurst.” “Hurst” is a old Gallic word meaning “group of trees in the hills.” Considering the surroundings, the name was appropriate and catchy as well.
Wildhurst’s first commercial wines included Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and a white blend called Matilliha—all from the 1991 vintage. Mark Burch is Wildhurst’s winemaker. Formerly with Kendall-Jackson, Mark was attracted to Wildhurst’s operation primarily due to the high quality of grapes that KJ was purchasing from them. “Wildhurst is a grower’s winery,” says Mark. “Myron and I have the same desire to focus our wines on the quality of the fruit and the unique qualities of Lake County,” he finishes.
Amazingly, all of Wildhurst’s first wines were critically acclaimed by the press and wine industry competitions. The ensuing vintages have built Wildhurst’s reputation as one of the top grower/producers in Lake County. And that’s something to brag about when you consider that Lake County wines win more awards per acre of vineyard than any other winegrowing region in the world. Even though Myron admits there exists a public perception that non Napa or Sonoma wines aren’t as good, he insists that hasn’t been a problem. “It’s not been a tough sell at all,” Myron offers. “For the vast majority of consumers, it comes down to a price versus quality issue. We’re able to offer high quality wines at a very reasonable price,” he adds. His words ring true, for Wildhurst has received more “Best Buy/Best Value” accolades over the past six years than any other winery in the country.
Today the Holdenried vineyards total over 300 acres. Only the best 20% of each crop is used to make Wildhurst wines. The rest is sold to other wineries. This year will see the completion of a new winery facility located on the Holdenried vineyard property. There are plans to grow the winery to as much as 50,000 cases over the next five years—up from 18,000 today. “I want to do my part in promoting Lake County as an established quality area to grow grapes,” says Myron. “We’d like to see the area turn into more of a destination place,” he adds. “Making good wine is only the beginning.”



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