Hop Kiln Winery
Sonoma County region
"It was so important to me to keep the spirit of the place."
Hop Kiln Winery at Griffin Vineyards is easily the ambient subject to write about in Sonoma County. Not only has it attained a reputation among local residents as the most famous landmark in the region, but it is also listed on the registry of National Historic Trust Buildings. This is a tribute to its historic beginnings and an insight into the flourishing hops industry that was prevalent during the early part of the last century.
The main structure at Hop Kiln Winery was built in 1905 and restored a number of times since then. The tri-peaked structure serves as today's winery, but is much the same in looks as when it was first completed. It has served as a backdrop for the television series Combat and a number of movies including the 1975 production of The Magic of Lassie starring James Stewart and Mickey Rooney.
Hop Kiln’s modern era began in 1961 when it served as a sheep ranch and constituted some 240 acres. Dr. Martin Griffin purchased the property as a retirement vehicle but found its charm and beauty too much to resist. Located as it was on the banks of the Russian River, Dr. Griffin found a location that would profoundly affect his life.
“Hop Kiln became a winery to save it from itself,” Dr. Griffin recalled. “It was such a wonderful place with a beautiful soul. But it was in great disrepair so I thought of making it into a winery.”
Dr. Griffin’s winemaking experience evolved from a yearlong sabbatical he had taken in Italy. There he had taken courses in winemaking that he sought to put to good use. It didn’t hurt that the Hop Kiln property came complete with 20 acres of Old Vine Zinfandel and Petite Sirah that had been originally planted in 1880.
“I did my best to protect the integrity of the property,” Griffin, now 81, added. “I have never knocked down an oak tree to plant any vines, it was so important to me to keep the spirit of the place.”
Around 1975, Griffin and his wife Joyce found a magnificent old 1873 Victorian that fit the property to a tee. Since it was located some 20 miles away on the other side of the Russian River, Dr. Griffin arranged for the house to be split in four and moved to its present location where is it the radiant jewel in Hop Kiln’s crown.
Today’s modern Hop Kiln Winery at Griffin Vineyard produces around 22,000 cases, about half of which are sold through the winery’s amiable tasting room and the other half through normal distribution. Dr. Griffin feels that the winery’s present level of production is at a level where he is comfortable but concedes that as his vines production increases, Hop Kiln might indeed expand if the demand is there.
He has employed a long-term (particularly in the wine industry) husband and wife team that is responsible for the day to day details of the winery. Steve Strobl has been the winemaker and vineyard manager since 1984 while Jo-Anne Strobl serves as the winery manager and business manager.
Dr. Griffin has been an activist throughout his career, championing many causes. He was responsible for the Audubon Canyon Ranch project that created wildlife preserves outside San Francisco and headed the Friends of the Russian River court action that forced the State of California to provide a watershed management plan for every river located within the State of California. Locally, he made it possible that Sonoma’s famous Westside Road be made a county scenic corridor thereby limited its commercial capabilities and preserving its beauty for decades to come.
With the help of his wife Joyce, a noted painter, Hop Kiln hosts art shows every other month and fully supports upscale artistic endeavors.
Throughout his long and active life, Dr Marty Griffin has maintained an incredible sense of humor. He related a story occurring immediately after opening the winery when he was the winemaker in residence. After a long day in his medical practice, he would return home and rack a number of barrels, backbreaking work for anyone. He would take his time and sample a bit from each barrel and soon realized the perils of being a full time winemaker.
“It was definitely a mistake” he smiled. “I came to my senses and hired a winemaker. It probably saved my medical career.”