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Greenwood Ridge Vineyards

Alexander Valley AVA

Greenwood Ridge Vineyards, Mendocino's Hidden Gem

If you've ever been to the Anderson Valley in Mendocino county, California, you have a pretty good idea why Allan Green was drawn here to escape the San Francisco city life. Greenwood Ridge Vineyards is nestled atop a 1400´ high ridge overlooking the picturesque Anderson Valley. Surrounded by nothing but lush forests of evergreen and redwood trees, the winery itself was built to co-exist with the beautiful natural surroundings. In fact the winery's tasting room was constructed from a single redwood tree which blew down during a storm on the property in the late 1960's!

Why build a winery here, in such an isolated hillside location?

"Unlike our neighbors on the valley floor, we have very little concern over the fog and frosts that play havoc with the vineyards at lower elevations," says owner Allan Green. "We can take advantage of more sunshine at our high elevation allowing us to grow grapes which require more time on the vine," he adds. Indeed, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and White Riesling grapes, which are not commonly found in the valley, thrive in the winery's tiny 12 acre vineyard.

Allan Green's family had already purchased land adjacent to the vineyard in 1971, as a family retreat (see Spotlight Section). Two years later they bought the Greenwood Ridge site from Tony Husch (Tony founded nearby Husch Vineyards, which is now owned by the Oswald family). Tony had planted 8 acres of vineyards at the Greenwood Ridge property in 1972, and is one of the oldest vineyards in the Anderson Valley.

Allan's plan at the time was simply to maintain the existing vineyard, sell most of the harvest and keep some grapes for himself to dabble in a little home-winemaking. That is exactly what he did up to 1979, selling his crop to nearby Edmeades Winery (now part of Kendall-Jackson), and making a bit of Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon for himself. On a whim, in 1979, Allan decided to enter his home-grown Riesling in the prestigious Orange County Fair Wine Competition — and promptly won a Gold Medal! The very next year he started his own winery, Greenwood Ridge Vineyards. The name incidentally, comes from the Caleb Greenwood family who first settled the area in the mid-1800's.

A small winery facility was built right away in 1980. Allan called in Jed Steele (of Kendall-Jackson fame), to help get the winery started in the right direction. A decision was made to take out and replace the Merlot vines, so just two varietals were harvested in the winery's first year—Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon. Since the Cabernet required several years of aging before its release, the winery's reputation grew initially around its excellent Riesling. By 1984, with several vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon aging and the Merlot crop ready to harvest, the winery was expanded to accommodate the growth. The following year Allan hired Fred Scherrer as full-time winemaker while he attended to growing the business. That same year he built a public tasting room and warehouse facility on Highway 128 in Philo, a few miles from his remote vineyard site. With a new winemaker, and a place to showcase his wines, Allan began to broaden the winery's repertoire.

Sauvignon Blanc was not a common varietal back then, which is why Allan's first venture from his estate varietals was in this direction. He took advantage of nearby Ferrington Vineyard's consistently high-quality crop to begin producing Gold-Medal-caliber Sauvignon Blanc.

Next came Zinfandel. Conveniently, Fred Scherrer's family had operated a Zinfandel vineyard since the 1920's. These old-vine grapes have been used to make Greenwood Ridge's superb Zinfandel since 1986. Each vintage of this outstanding wine has out-performed the previous one. In fact, the 1991 vintage was #63 of the Top 100 Wines in the world as ranked by the Wine Spectator.

Chardonnay was added to the list almost by accident. In 1988, a winery client had arranged for a custom crush of Chardonnay, but backed out at the last minute. Knowing the quality of these grapes, from the DuPratt Vineyard, Allan decided to finish producing the wine under his own label. Subsequent vintages of Greenwood Chardonnay have been blends from the Dupratt and the famous Lolonis Vineyard, in the Redwood Valley.

Pinot Noir is the latest of the winery's offerings, making its debut in 1989. The grapes for this wine come from neighboring Roederer Estate, the California outpost of the great French Champagne house of Louis Roederer. "We are fortunate to get a small quantity of their fabulous crop each year," says Allan Green. Each vintage of Pinot Noir has won Gold Medals, including "Best of Show Red Wine" at this years' Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition.

Greenwood Ridge's estate vineyard was expanded to 12 acres in 1986, with additional Riesling and Merlot vines. Overall production stands today at 7-8,000 cases. "That's where I want to stay," reports Allan. "The winery was not designed to be a big producer," he adds. "I want to keep it manageable, concentrating on making small lots of the best wine possible."

The problem with being small and located in a remote area is exposure—or lack thereof. Which is largely why Allan started the now-famous California Wine Tasting Championships, held each year in July at the winery. "It occurred to me early on that because of our remote location, just having an open-house wouldn't cut it," he said. "The Tasting event pulls in people from all over the country who have fun at the competition, enjoy the beautiful surroundings and discover some great wines."

Greenwood Ridge Vineyards has been named One of America’s Top 30 Wineries three times by Wine & Spirits magazine and Allan Green was awarded the George Zeni Memorial Award by the Mendocino Winegrowers Alliance in 2003 for “outstanding stewardship of the land, community service, and producing the highest quality wine grapes in Mendocino County.”

Greenwood Ridge is now one of the oldest vineyards in the area. Although the winery is off the beaten path, its beautiful natural setting and award-winning wines have placed it on the radar for wine country visitors and local wine enthusiasts. If you happen to visit Mendocino, be sure to check out the Greenwood Ridge tasting room – a unique octagonal structure built from a single 400-year-old redwood tree that fell down during a storm in 1969. It was designed by Allan’s father and has become a Valley landmark, providing a stunning location for sampling Greenwood Ridge wines.

Map of the area

Van Williamson - Winemaker

Picture of Van Williamson - Winemaker

L.A. Times wine writer, Dan Berger, named Van one of the best winemakers in California in 1991 "the vintage year of both featured wines this month. Ever since his arrival at Greenwood Ridge, the quality of wine being produced here has skyrocketed. Sweepstakes awards (Best of Show) and Gold Medals have become a common occurrence. But instead of resting on laurels, it has added to the pressure. "I wasn't sure if I could continue to create distinctive wines," he admitted. But so far, Van's wines show no indication letting up.

Born and raised in land-locked Cottonwood, California, near Redding, His interests though, gravitated to the water where he spent much of his youth actively involved in sports such as water skiing, fly fishing, diving for abalone and surfing. He attended Chico State College in northern California, originally to study civil engineering. He discovered wine during a wine appreciation course and never looked back. "I knew I could be an average engineer but I also knew I could be an outstanding winemaker," he recalls.

Van transferred to Fresno State to pursue his enology career. To earn enough money for his room and board, he taught and cared for emotionally disturbed children. "It would be my second career choice," he says. "It remains a very gratifying time of my life," he adds.

While at school, his greatest enjoyment was, "getting out there and picking the grapes, making the wine myself, experimenting and doing different fermentations," he explained. After graduating in 1984, Van had some career-building stints at Fetzer Winery, then Château Montelena Winery, before joining Allan at Greenwood Ridge in 1987.

Of the over 50 wines Van has produced, all but just a few have won Gold Medals. Quite a testimony for such a young winemaker. "I use my palate to make wine," reveals Van. "Circumstances create a wine too. The fruit is different from vintage to vintage. You go with what God has given you in the vineyard, then you try to enhance those qualities."

Allan Green - Winery Owner

Picture of Allan Green - Winery Owner

It's ironic that Allan Green chose to retreat from the San Francisco city-life to live in a remote area of Mendocino county, and now finds himself wishing more people would drop by to see him! It's not because people don't like his wines. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Since starting his winery in 1980, Greenwood Ridge has produced winner after winner. But with the tasting room located 8 miles from the winery, closer to town, Allan was in danger of becoming the Maytag repairman of the wine industry!

"We want people to discover how beautiful this place is," says Allan. Which was one reason he started the California Wine Tasting Championships. "It's a fun-filled weekend of fine wine, regional cuisine, and the finest scenery in Mendocino county," he insists. Since 1983, thousands of wine lovers have experienced this one-of-a-kind event that attracts visitors from all over the country.

During the last weekend in July each year, Allan hosts his famous wine-tasting event which is open to all levels of tasters: novices, amateurs and professionals. The idea is to correctly identify each wine by varietal type. After several rounds of elimination, the final round of contestants compete to identify each wine by appellation, vintage date and producer! Contestants may enter as individuals or as part of a team in the doubles competition. Prizes are awarded for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place finishers in all three expertise levels in both singles and doubles. Allan invites anyone interested in attending to call or write for an Entry Form. The event has received national exposure in such publications as Newsweek, Sunset, Wine Spectator and dozens of other magazines. Some of you may have even heard about it on the NBC Nightly News.

After catapulting his winery into the limelight, Allan created yet another sensation by commissioning several artists to visually and musically interpret his wines. "Describing the aroma or taste of a wine, often times I see a visual image before any words come to mind," says Allan. "I became intrigued with the idea of describing wines using music and art," he adds. The end product of this idea turned out to be a series of original paintings and musical scores which interpret the wine tasting experience.

Do you get the idea that Allan Green is an idea-man and a doer. Perhaps he gets his creativity and drive from his father, Aaron Green, a well-known San Francisco architect. Incidentally, it was Allan's father who designed the winery tasting room made entirely from a single redwood tree.

Allan grew up in Los Altos, California, a suburb just south of San Francisco. He attended college at the University of California at Riverside, then went to UCLA where he earned his Masters Degree in Graphic Design. He created his own artistic path, running a successful international graphics design business. In the mid nineteen-seventies, burned out on the city scene and captivated by the beauty of Mendocino county, he escaped to the country.

Allan built a redwood home for himself in the Mendocino hills. He now spends his time running his winery and pursuing other artistic endeavors. He writes books, creates posters and designs wine labels. He also teaches wine appreciation classes from time to time. Allan was recognized a few years back by San Francisco Focus Magazine, as "one of California's most innovative wine authorities." As if all that is not enough, Allan finds time to hang another moniker on himself as a DJ for a local radio station where he puts together a Rock-and-Roll radio show every Thursday evening. Oh yes, he also has a one-of-a-kind collection of wine cans, some of which date back to the 1930's! And did I mention that it's right next to his collection of over 4,000 different beer cans!

One gets the impression that Allan Green is enjoying life.