Vino Valpredo Wine Company - Fritz Underground Winery

Sonoma County region

A new sister winery with a goal of showcasing the best varietals and vineyards Sonoma county has to offer

To tell the story of Vino Valpredo Wine Company, one must start at the beginning with the establishment of its larger sister winery, Dry Creek Valley’s Fritz Underground Winery.

Fritz Underground Winery traces its roots back to 1971, when founders Jay and Barbara Fritz sought a weekend retreat for their growing family. Fritz’s business was international shipping and customs work and was located in San Francisco. He traveled extensively abroad and the thought of a bucolic setting when he returned from those trips seemed attractive. Sonoma County’s famous Dry Creek Valley beckoned and a suitable piece of land was found on which to plant grapes.

Initially, the grapes were sold to other wineries. In 1979, Jay Fritz decided to enter the winery side of the business and Fritz Underground Winery was born.

Jay Fritz was also a visionary, one of the more significant to inhabit Sonoma County in quite some time. He envisioned his property as a green space environment before ‘green space’ became a worldwide crusade. He carefully studied his property before choosing an acceptable location on which to build. First, the site was excavated (two stories worth) with the idea of reusing the dirt after the winery was built. The cool, subterranean excavation became the cellar and aging space for the new winery. The dirt was then moved to the top of the winery, effectively making it an underground winery.

For the outside, Jay Fritz chose the work of 19th Century Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí as his inspiration. Imposing rounded windows dominate the site, offering a marvelous commune with nature and a living testament to the importance of the grape.

The impressive structure employs a full gravity flow process for its winemaking. Such a process is quite beneficial to the pressed juice and keeps oxidation down to a minimum and helps the aromatic aspects of the wine. The process helps promote fullness in the wines and provides some lingering aspects to their finish.

Fast forward to 2010. Jay Fritz has handed the reins of the winery over to his son, Clay Fritz, who now oversees all day-to-day operations. Clay had ideas in mind of how to expand Fritz Winery, and began introducing ultra boutique sister winery labels - one being the award-winning Vino Valpredo brand of this month’s Gold Wine Club feature.

Vino Valpredo (named after Clay’s wife, Natalia Valpredo Fritz) initially began as a special proprietary blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, named ‘Bianca Mia’ as an homage to their daughter Bianca. It has since grown to include other varietals (namely, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon), all produced in extremely limited quantities and sourced from top vineyard locations throughout Sonoma County.

While the focus of Fritz Winery had traditionally been on estate wines from the Dry Creek Valley, the new Vino Valpredo brand allowed the family to travel outside their immediate region and showcase the wonderful range of varietals and vineyards that Sonoma County had to offer. This addition has given Clay Fritz and winemaker Brad Longton great flexibility and inspiration in crafting new wines, as well as the ability to work with top sites and make truly unique, distinctive wines from vintage to vintage.

The goal with Vino Valpredo is to showcase the best of Sonoma County, and what better way to achieve this goal than by sourcing fruit from premium vineyards, working with master winemaker Brad Longton, and by crafting the wines at the world class winemaking facility of Fritz Winery. The Vino Valpredo wines can be tasted at the recently opened Windsor Tasting Lounge, located in downtown Windsor, near the Town Green Park.

We applaud Clay Fritz for continuing his family’s legacy, his innovative nature, and for his long-standing reputation for crafting really good wines from Sonoma County. We are proud to feature his under-the-radar, ultra boutique Vino Valpredo brand and hope you enjoy the selections. Cheers!

Featured Wines

Map of the area

About the Vineyard

Most wine growers will agree that Sonoma County is one of the most diverse grape growing regions in the world. Situated between the Pacific Ocean and Napa Valley, and north of San Pablo Bay, Sonoma County is home to 17 unique AVA’s with more than 60 wine grape varietals planted across the sprawling region. As Master Sommelier, Keith Goldston, puts it, “Sonoma County is an incredible spot to make many different styles of wines - it’s almost like a whole country in one county.”

One of the factors that leads to Sonoma’s diversity is its unique geographical setting - from valleys, plains, and mountaintops, to forests, riverbeds, and ocean cliffs, Sonoma offers a bit of everything to adventurous wine grape growers. The area’s soil structure is defined by a rare combination of ash and lava, and in addition to this, Sonoma is also home to more soil types than are found in all of France. This creates a unique combination of soil and geographic rarities unlike any other region in the world.

Sonoma County is also heavily influenced by its close proximity to the ocean, and its cool nights and temperate days create the perfect conditions to draw in layers of oceanic fog to cool the warmer inland valleys. The fog is perfectly channeled through the region by way of the Russian River.

With such variations in the geography and climate, Sonoma is home to nearly an infinite array of microclimates that gives wine grape growers an exciting and inspiring landscape to work with. Sonoma’s wines enjoy global recognition and have won countless national and international wine awards.

It is no wonder that wineries such as this month’s Vino Valpredo have chosen to showcase the entire Sonoma County region in their portfolio of wines. It is truly a land of unlimited potential for grape growing and winemaking.

The Art of Fine Wine

Sonoma Vineyard

Part of a pastel grouping of Sonoma landscapes, painted by artist Anthony George.

Brad Longton - Winemaker

A number of things about winemaker Brad Longton make him unique among California’s relatively tight brotherhood of winemakers. First of all, he’s Australian. He hails from Perth in Western Australia, and has been in the United States (off and on) for the past two decades. Longton is also a vegetarian, somewhat unusual for a livelihood that often depends on matching wine flavors with specific foods, quite often meat-oriented dishes. Brad is also a self-taught winemaker, one who has learned on the job through the school of hard knocks and hard work. He is fortunate to have been tutored by one of the true heavyweights in the wine business, namely the iconic Heitz Cellar (and its stellar Martha’s Vineyard) where he worked for more than four years. Tall and athletic, he also enjoys basketball and his young family. He considers himself to possess a soft hand with his winemaking, a factor that is evident throughout the Vino Valpredo portfolio of wines.

Clayton (Clay) Fritz - Owner

Clayton (Clay) Fritz is only 45 years old, but, by his own account, the personable owner of Fritz Underground Winery has already stacked a great deal of living into those four and a half decades. He is of French/Swiss ancestry and his family originally emigrated from Alsace in the 1930’s.

When he was called on to run the family winery (Fritz) more than ten years ago, he realized the decision would shape the remainder of his life.

“When I took over the winery from my parents, I knew it would require a great commitment and I was prepared for all eventualities,” he began. “Mom and Dad had done a great job up to that point, but I saw that some changes were needed in order for us to go forward. I was given the chance to do things my way, and, fortunately, it has all worked out for the best.”

A fourth generation San Franciscan, Clay Fritz graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA with a degree in religion and philosophy.

“My degree didn’t exactly prepare me for the wine business,” Fritz confessed. “But my 30th birthday came and my parents wanted to pass on the winery to someone. That someone turned out to be me. My Dad always said that Fritz Winery should be run by a Fritz and I agreed with his way of thinking.”

Clay Fritz’s intention was to reinvigorate the winery and scale it to a position that would invite additional national exposure.

“We had always been very popular around Sonoma and in California,” he explained further. “But, we had never really concentrated on the rest of the country. I wanted to make artisan-style wines that people could easily identify with and then position them at a price level that everyone could afford. That might sound simple to do, but, in truth, it isn’t all that easy to accomplish.”

In addition to maintaining the prized Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc from the Dry Creek Valley estate property, under the Fritz brand, Clay also made the decision to continue buying fruit from other sources in surrounding Sonoma County.

“We have had a long time relationship with a number of top growers around here,” Fritz continued. “People like the Dutton Family who own some of the best vineyards in Sonoma, if not all of California. I strove to reinforce our relationship with many of these families and was able to begin producing wines with distinctive personalities. This led to more awards and higher scores for the winery that ultimately benefited what we were attempting to achieve.”

These wines with ‘distinctive personalities’ that Clay mentions are those of Fritz Winery’s sister brands - Vino Valpredo, Jenner, and Lost Canyon. Vino Valpredo intends to showcase the best of Sonoma County, featuring the top varietals and vineyards planted there; Jenner features exclusively Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Sonoma Coast vineyards; and Lost Canyon is a label for single vineyard wines from the Russian River Valley.

While Fritz is extremely proud of his Estate Reserve Zinfandel (Fritz Winery) that has always been a high-scoring, top-rated consumer favorite, he also turns to some of these lesser known wines and brands as his greatest achievements.

“To me, making a truly hand-crafted wine is a work of art. If you can achieve elegance in the bottle without it costing a fortune, you have something special,” Fritz concluded.

Clay Fritz himself is something special, in a relaxed sort of way. He is a person that has taken what he was given and made the best of it, no matter the circumstances. He is a strong believer in family and the proper way of doing business and this has aided Fritz Underground Winery’s reemergence into the top echelons of California wineries.