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Paint Horse Winery

Sonoma County region

Two distinct passions: Premium Wine and Paint Horses

This month’s Gold Wine Club selection is a bit unusual in the wine industry, in that its wines uniquely portray the winery owners’ deep affection for their favorite animals. In this case, the prime objects are the breed of horses known as paints, and made famous by American Indians during thousands of Hollywood western sagas.

The paints have a long and documented history, and are descendants of the horses brought by the Spanish conquistadors during the 17th Century. They bred with Native American horses and were prized by the Indians for their stoutness and versatility. The Indians also thought the paints to have magical powers and were greatly treasured by their owners.

Since it was the Spanish who also introduced vinifera grapes to California, there seemed a natural kinship as well as a perfect connection for Paint Horse Winery. Paint Horse Winery is located in the Valley of the Moon growing area of Sonoma Valley, home to many small wineries and numerous agricultural businesses. It sits on twenty acres, including three and a half that are under vine. The remainder of the property also houses the eight paint horses that constitute owners Bruce and Liz Green’s current paint herd.

The Greens have been into paint horses for nearly three decades and the winery is their homage to these wonderful and truly beautiful animals. According to Bruce Green, the couple rides their horses on every occasion, both in western pleasure and also trail riding.

“There is nothing better in the world,” he remarked, “than to take some time with friends and spend time outside with the horses. It’s as if you are in a different world. It’s easy to forget about business and actually get caught up in the moment.” Paint Horse Winery became a reality in 1997, when the Greens first purchased the property. Some vineyards were already planted, but needed a great deal of work. The Greens improved the existing vineyards and planted two more acres, mostly to Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

“Then we started making a little wine for ourselves and then even more. In fact, we made a good deal of wine. An amateur winemaking contest came along and we won a slew of Gold Medals. It was just enough to hook us on the wine business. We told ourselves that if we didn’t sell all that we made, we could easily drink whatever was left.” The first release of only 600 cases came in 2004 and was met with extremely good reviews and scores. However, Bruce Green decided on a different venue in which to sell his wines.

"We took a look at the incredible difficulty involved in finding distribution for Paint Horse Winery,” he continued. “So we decided to try and sell most of our production via the Internet. It was something of a gamble but it seems to have worked.” Present production for Paint Horse Winery has risen to between 2,000 and 2,500 cases, and will probably remain at that level until Bruce Green’s plan for the future is put into effect.

“It might be another two or three years,” he explained. “But, we already have the permits in hand to build a new winery and tasting facility. That eventuality would certainly cause us to increase our production. In fact, it is entirely possible that the tasting facility will precede the winery. That might happen as soon as 18 to 24 months from now.” Paint Horse Winery is one of the true gems to be discovered while visiting Sonoma Valley’s cavernous reaches. It is reminiscent of the small businesses of decades ago that were the very foundation of Sonoma winemaking.

Map of the area

Julia Iantosca - Veteran Winemaker.

Picture of Julia Iantosca - Veteran Winemaker.

Paint Horse Winery's winemaker, Julia Iantosca, has over 30 years of experience in making wines around the Sonoma Valley. She first interned with Dry Creek Vineyards and later received a degree in fermentation sciences from UC-Davis. She moved to the Sierra Foothills and worked for Stevenot Winery located in Calavares County for two years. She then returned to Sonoma as winemaker for William Wheeler Winery, a position she held for eleven years.

In 1993, Iantosca moved to Lambert Bridge Winery as winemaker and later as general manager. She is presently associated with Vinquiry, a wine laboratory service that provides winemakers for small wineries and entities. Iantosca also serves as winemaker to two additional small wineries. Her interest lies mostly in Merlot and Bordeaux-region varietal blends, a perfect fit for Paint Horse Winery’s most specific portfolio.

Sonoma County

Picture of Sonoma County

Even though Sonoma Valley is quite large in acreage, the grapes for Paint Horse Winery come from but three sources. The Merlot is mostly estate-grown on Paint Horse’s own vineyard, while some of the Cabernet Sauvignon originates from the Rich Little (not the well-known comedian) Vineyard just off Highway 12, adjacent to the B.R. Cohn Winery. The Chardonnay is purchased from the heralded Sangiacomo Family Vineyards (another Hwy 12 fixture for many decades) that has long been considered one of Sonoma’s top sources for highest quality Chardonnay grapes and the winner of numerous gold medals for its fruit.

Bruce Green - Owner

Picture of Bruce Green - Owner

Bruce Green is 54, and incredibly laidback for a multi-business owner. After graduating from San Francisco City College with a degree in Hotel & Restaurant Management, Green opted to reopen the Brookside Winery Tasting Room in Las Vegas. He next worked for catering giant ARA in Las Vegas, and eventually ran two of the company’s major catering venues in that city.

In 1984, Bruce Green went into business for himself, and founded Coastal International Trade Show Exhibit Services. The company provides finished carpentry and general contract services to hotels, condos, retail and multi-residential users and is considered a leader in its field. The native San Franciscan became interested in wine in his early twenties, but never dreamed he would one day be in the winery business.

‘I’m a person that believes that opportunities sometimes come along in life and then you decide,” he offered during a recent interview. ‘My wife and I loved to drink wine and we had some success as amateur winemakers, so we decided to take the plunge. We do things differently at Paint Horse Winery, where we much prefer to kick back and enjoy our wines with our customers and friends.” Green feels that his winery and grape growing business allows him to be more in tune with the land he owns and says that he truly enjoys the farming aspect at Paint Horse Winery.

‘We are always out of doors,” he continued, ‘and stay active. It is also a marvelous way to include my family in these activities.” Green’s family includes his wife Liz and sons Liam, 14, and Luke, 2. Daughter Lana is 12. All help around the ranch, particularly during crush when time is important. Liz Green also serves as the winery’s general manager and handles most of the marketing and general office work. The fact that the Greens have weathered the latest hurdle that the wine business has experienced is a testament to their devotion and true grit. The recession-led problems of the past three years that plagued the entirety of the wine industry were significant to the small operation, but are now behind them.

‘I definitely see improvement in the overall wine business,” Green added. ‘The thing we had to do was attempt to keep our customer base in tact while many larger wineries were offering discounts on their wines of as much as 50%. The glut in the wine market was significant, and many small wineries were forced to shut their doors.” Green is also keen on the fact that his winery blends so well with the other pure enjoyment of his life, the care and handling of the paint horse. He and his family have been involved with the paint breed for thirty years and are delighted to introduce others to their wonderful pastime.

‘We schedule private events at the ranch and include the horses in the events,” Green finalized. ‘It really works out well. Everyone enjoys the experience of being close to the horses and it makes the events something out of the ordinary. Besides, my family enjoys hosting events the most, and that’s really the most important thing in the long run.” The Greens seem to have it all going in the right direction. They are proud of their accomplishments and totally in love with their winery and horse business. With the prospect of a new tasting facility and winery on the horizon, Paint Horse Winery’s future seems even brighter. It is also entirely plausible that the Green children will follow their parents into the winery business, one of Bruce Green’s greatest hopes.

Paint Horse Winery is a gift to all wine aficionados. It is a small, independent operation that is a throwback to the tiny, family-owned wineries of the past. It is a step back in time that should not be missed if the occasion ever arose to enjoy its hospitality and fine wines.