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Gold Medal Wine Club
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Santa Barbara, California 93111
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Husch Vineyards - Anderson Valley, Mendocino Count

Husch Vineyard Close to Perfection with Two Extraordinary Wines

Normally we prefer not to repeat a featured winery within a two year span. However we don’t let this rule of thumb get in the way when an opportunity arises to feature a couple of wines that are simply too good to pass up. Such is the case this month with two fabulous wines from Husch Vineyards.
Their special bottling of 1991 Library Reserve Pinot Noir captured an eye-popping 95 points in the Wine Enthusiast, along with a plethora of other prestigious awards, lofty reviews and high ratings. We’ve paired the Pinot Noir with an equally high caliber 1994 Sauvignon Blanc. This delicious wine won the Best of Show at the San Diego National Wine Competition, managing in process to outscore hundreds of other white wines including all the Chardonnays and other Sauvignon Blancs.

Those of you who are familiar with the Husch story—great! Don’t spend another minute reading, just dive right into these delectable wines. The rest of you pour a glass kick up your feet and enjoy both the wine and the story of Husch Vineyards.
Husch is the oldest winery in the rich grape growing region of Anderson Valley, in Mendocino County. Surprisingly, as late as 1971, 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 an eight 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 the property adjacent to the Husch vineyard, a 53-acre apple, pear and grape farming operation called the Day Ranch. They also farmed 123 acres of vineyards near Ukiah, named La Ribera. But with 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 struggling 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 5 acre planting of wine grapes. From 1960 to present, that original 5-acre plot underwent a carefully planned expansion to reach today’s size of 130 acres consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Chenin Blanc.

During the mid-1970s, the Oswalds purchased the Day Ranch, just north of Philo, in the Anderson Valley. 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 that 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 a unique optimum climate particularly for their 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 35,000 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.

In a relatively short period of time Husch Vineyards has found itself on the top rung of the competitive wine world. Their wines are proof positive that wonderful wines do not have to be expensive.

Fritz Meier

Fritz Meier is winemaker of Husch Vineyards, overseeing the production of all varieties at the Estate Bottled winery in Mendocino county. Fritz was born in Buhl/Baden, West Germany in 1960. As Fritz grew up he worked with his parents on their farm, which included vineyards, orchards and a distillery in the Rhine Valley on the slopes of the Black Forest. From childhood on, Fritz held an active role in all aspects of his parents farming and winemaking. His interest in winemaking developed through this early experience set the course of his future.

After high school graduation, Fritz studied at Geisenheim University in West Germany, securing a Bachelor’s Degree in Enology and Beverage Technology. Immediately after completing his undergraduate work he studied another four years, to earn his Master’s Degree in both Enology and Business Administration. As if that wasn’t enough, Fritz also worked part-time at various wineries in the area.

Fritz worked at Affentaler Co-op in West Germany, Oberhellman Vineyards in Texas, Charles Krug Winery in Napa county, and J. Fritz Cellars in Sonoma county before joining Husch Vineyards in 1987. ‘At the bigger wineries I learned about the technology of making wine, while at the smaller wineries I learned the hand-crafted approach to winemaking,” reveals Fritz.
In addition to his winemaking duties, Fritz also works with Vineyard Manager, Al White, in evaluating fruit and harvest and determining pick dates. He is also spearheading experiments in organic farming techniques and organic winemaking on two Husch properties which are registered as organic farming plots.

The Husch Winemaking Team

Hugo and Beatrice Oswald moved to California from the east coast in the late 1940s. Beatrice’s father needed help running the family pear orchard operation located just south of San Francisco in Santa Clara county. By 1958 the area had become so urbanized, the Oswalds began looking for alternative sites to grow their fruit. What they found was a perfect location along side the Russian River Valley in Mendocino county. The property was 200 acres of bare land with the exception of a tiny plot of wine grapes. The climate and soil conditions were perfect though for relocating their orchards. Perhaps more importantly, that small acreage of wine grapes served as a catalyst for today’s Husch Vineyard operation owned and run by the Oswald family.

In the winery’s infancy, Hugo and Beatrice found plenty of help right at home. Their seven children, 5 boys and 2 girls, have all contributed to the winery’s success as they were growing up. Today Hugo is still actively involved in the day-to-day running of the business. Son, Ken, manages the Day Ranch property located across the road from the winery. The Day Ranch consists of 53 acres of grapes, 8 acres of pears and almost 600 acres of forest and mountain terrain. Son, Miles, works with his father running the two properties along side the Russian River—the Oswald pear orchards and the La Ribera Vineyards.

As the other members of the Oswald family began carving out careers of their own, the Oswalds added to their winery team from ‘the outside” to sustain the momentum. After acquiring the Tony Husch property, Hugo retained the services of Husch’s Vineyard Manager, Al White. Al and his wife Mary, met Tony Husch after they moved to Mendocino from Florida just as Tony was beginning his winery in the late 1960s. Al oversees the entire Husch and La Ribera vineyard operations. His intimate knowledge of the land has been key in Husch Winery’s development of superior quality grapes. Recently joining the Husch team is Leo Dikinis, who runs the day-to-day business operations at the Husch Talmage office. Leo grew up in the wine country and gained a large part of his winery experience through his years with the Napa Bank.
Sherry Anderson is the Assistant General Manager and has been with Husch almost 10 years, as has Linda Baker, who manages the friendly tasting room staff in Anderson Valley. ‘These two have been a huge part of Husch’s stability and success over the years,” says Miles Oswald. Margaret Pickens works both in the tasting room and in direct sales in Mendocino county. ‘You have to meet Margaret, she knows all the stories of past days in Anderson Valley,” adds Miles. Ann Kidder and Irma Muniz staff the Talmage office and do all the real work!
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. The winery’s 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.