Moss Creek Winery
Napa Valley AVA
Moss Creek wines are held back longer than most before their release into the marketplace.
If there was ever a sure thing in a start-up winery, George and Ann Moskowite’s Moss Creek Winery might be it. “We will always be a small winery,” states owner George Moskowite. “We want to run a hands-on business and ensure a high quality product each year,” he continues. The plan, George revealed, is to keep overall production under 3,000 cases per year and no more than 1,000 cases will be produced of any one wine. Not that staying small and hands-on will ensure success, but the rest of the story may convince you that these two have nothing but upside potential.
The Moskowite Ranch in Napa Valley is long and rich in family tradition. Four generations of Moskowite’s have called this Napa ranch their home since the early 1900s. In 1917, George’s Great grandfather William Moskowite, moved to northern California from New York. Back east he trained as a medical doctor but was then lured to California’s promise of wide-open spaces and cheap land. After a brief stay in San Francisco where he and his brother opened up one of the city’s first five & dime stores, William headed north to Sonoma’s untouched territory.
William started buying chunks of land that he turned into sheep and cattle ranches. By 1930 he had accumulated over 10,000 acres throughout Napa and Sonoma Counties. Through the next four decades life on the Moskowite Ranch remained relatively unchanged. William’s son Harold, was brought up and worked on the ranch and Harold’s son George followed in the same footsteps.
In the 1960s, Napa and Sonoma’s wine industry began emerging and a gradual shift from cattle ranching to grape farming began to take place. Harold Moskowite, with his thousands of acres of prime farmland, was approached repeatedly by wineries searching for ideal locations to grow their grapes. Finally in 1972, he accepted an offer too good to pass up. A major winery proposed to fund the entire cost of planting, maintaining and harvesting a vineyard on the Moskowite property. Harold received a 20-year land lease agreement and a guaranteed contract to sell all of the grapes produced. Talk about a no-brainer!
Experts were brought in to plant 145 acres of Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Sauvignon Blanc, which took three years to complete. Then in the 1980s, 13 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir were added. As expected, the vines flourished on the property and resulted in top quality fruit. The fact that the mature vines on his property were a virtual gold mine was not lost on Harold. As the end of the 20-year contract loomed ahead, he constructed a winery of his own with the intention of giving it a go himself.
In 1988, Harold constructed a beautiful 3,000 square foot winery complete with hillside caves roughly the same size as the winery facility. By this time the property had been scaled down to 1,300 acres. The rest of the original 10,000-acre ranch land was being farmed by other family members and other portions had been sold off over the years. The land that Harold retained now had 160 acres of fertile vineyards on it but was still a cattle ranch too. There was also now a private hunting camp nestled in the hills and an airstrip was constructed to make the property more accessible.
After building the winery, Harold decided it was wiser to simply lease out the facility, which he did for a number of years. In the mid 1990s, Harold’s son, George, and George’s wife Ann, realized that the winery and vineyard on their Dad’s property was too good to pass up. Both had successful careers already, but how many times in your life do you get an opportunity like this? A beautiful mountain setting on a huge ranch, in the heart of one of the most famous wine growing regions in the world; a newly constructed winery facility complete with 25 year old, high-quality vines at your beckon call and a spacious mountain cave to boot!?
Harold sold his son the winery but for now is keeping control of the vineyards and contracting the grapes to George and other select wineries. George has an active role working with his Dad to add more varietals and improve quality in the vineyard. Over the last several years they have planted more Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Sirah and Syrah. The total vineyard size is currently 185 acres.
About 10% of the crop each year is hand picked and used by Moss Creek’s well-known winemaker, Nils Venge. Nils has over 25 years of winemaking experience and a long list of career accolades to go with it. He made a name for himself initially at Villa Mt. Eden and Groth wineries in the 1970s and 80s. His Groth 1985 Cabernet Sauvignon earned a perfect score of 100 from Robert Parker Jr.’s publication, The Wine Advocate. He was the first American winemaker to accomplish that feat. He nearly matched that effort with a 98-point score in the Wine Spectator for his 1992 Groth Cabernet Sauvignon. Nils is considered one of the top winemakers in the world today. In addition to Moss Creek, Nils is consulting winemaker for Del Dotto, Plumpjack and Robert Keenan wineries, as well as his own Saddleback Cellars.
In 1999, Moss Creek released their first wines—roughly 1,500 cases of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. The year 2000 will end up around 2,800 cases and that is the size George and Ann want to stay for the foreseeable future. Because wine from mountain grown fruit tends to take longer to develop in the bottle, Moss Creek wines are held back longer than most before their release into the marketplace. They have had the fortunate luxury of not having to hurry their product to the market just for sake of cash flow. “I think other wineries would do the same if they had the choice,” says George. “That’s another reason we want to remain small,” he continues. “We aren’t constrained by large amounts of inventory sitting around.” We’re willing and able to give our wines the time they need. We want to make the best quality product possible and we’re not going to rush it.”
George and Anne Moskowite - Winery Owners
One thing that is clear is that the Moskowites are a hard-working, high-achieving family. George’s Great grandfather amassed a land fortune building his sheep and cattle empire. George’s Dad put the land to work in creative ways, he added vineyards, leased land for a hunting camp, built an airstrip, constructed a full-fledged winery facility, and carved caves out of the mountainside. Harold also established a restaurant and bar down the road, where he would tend bar after working on the ranch all day. And as if that wasn’t enough, Harold was also a skilled heavy equipment operator, working as a contractor in addition to overseeing the ranch.
George grew up on the ranch and absorbed the same type of Moskowite work ethic. He has always been involved in helping out at the ranch, both with the cattle and the vineyard operation. He grew up in Napa Valley where he was a star athlete in wrestling, football and track. In fact, he was a California state wrestling champion in 1976, then continued with the sport after earning an athletic scholarship to UC Berkeley. At Berkeley, George played football, and wrestled on several US National teams, placing third in the world championships.
He graduated from Berkeley in 1981, then completed his MBA at Golden Gate University. From there he landed at a brokerage firm as a stockbroker and remained there up until the time he and his wife Ann purchased the winery.
Ann grew up in the nearby town of Santa Rosa. She traveled south to school, attending UCLA where she graduated with a fine arts degree in Design. In 1980, at an on-campus job interview, she hooked up with IBM as a Marketing Representative. Her IBM job eventually led her to Napa Valley in 1986, where she sold small business computer systems to the fledgling wine industry. ‘That was back when computers the size of refrigerators were doing the work that a small desktop PC can do today,” Ann quips. Two years later, Ann left IBM and worked for several other computer software companies, holding various sales and management positions.
Ann now spends full time working at Moss Creek Winery. She and George have one daughter, Madison who is five years old. We wonder if Madison knows how lucky she is being the fourth generation Moskowite who will one day presumably, run this incredible ranch and beautiful winery.