Santa Ynez Valley AVA
Incredibly well suited to produce premium Bordeaux-style wines
Most winery owners develop an interest in wine at an early age through tasting and exposure to fine wines. Many plan for several years until finally making the step and entering into the wine business.
Not so with Roger Bower, 55, the owner of this month’s Gold Wine Club selection from Bower’s Westerly Wines.
Bower is a native of Topeka, Kansas, who spent most of his business life around the oil business in Texas. Not that he was a driller or the like, but rather he was the owner and developer of a fire retardant product that was used to extinguish oil field fires.
The product was called Chemguard and was responsible for putting out numerous large fires including the Kuwaiti fires that were set by Iraqi engineers under the orders of the infamous Saddam Hussein.
Bower sold Chemguard and began looking for other venues to pursue. His parents lived in Newport Beach, California, and his daughter Rachel attended Santa Barbara City College.
“I considered a number of alternatives,” confessed Bower, “and I decided it was time for me to become involved in something located in California.”
That something turned out to be an incredible parcel of land (some 103 acres) located on what was the old Westerly Stud Farm of thoroughbred horse fame. The 4,000-acre farm had been broken up into smaller parcels and still contained a number of horse–oriented farm operations. Thoroughbred horses, it turned out, were also on Bowers short list of future projects.
The new property also contained an existing winery (formerly Cimarone) along with some thirty-plus acres of varietals. Since he conceded he knew very little about wine or the wine business, Roger Bower attacked the problem in his own inimitable way.
“I began putting together a top flight management team that could change the course of the existing winery,” Bower added. “I managed to induce winemaker Adam Henkel to join our team along with wine industry veteran Michael Young. Young is an expert in wine sales and marketing and a perfect fit for our company. Finally, we hired Juve Buenrostro to manage our vineyards. He is considered an expert in clonal selections and Bordeaux varietal canopy management.”
Bower also set out to learn everything he could about his property that sits in the Crown Point locale (also the location of Bower’s home) of the Happy Canyon AVA. He found that the temperatures changed dramatically as you drove inland from the ocean. “In only 11 miles, the temperature can change 20 to 30 degrees. The experts told me that this sort of climate favors Bordeaux varietals over those of Burgundy, so we acted accordingly. Every step we have taken is designed to makes us a world-class Bordeaux-style producer. And, I know in my heart that Adam Henkel is the person that is going to make Cabernet Sauvignon the most famous grape in Santa Barbara County,” he added.
The Happy Canyon growing region is exceptional in that it runs from west to east, as opposed to most other vineyards that run north to south. Its position right against the Los Padres Mountains assures that the sea breezes that originate along the coastline provide excellent circulation and a confection effect for the vineyards. The area is tiny (only three other wineries exist there) and Bower feels he possesses the correct ingredients to make his dream come true.
Westerly first saw the light of day in 1999 under old ownership. This year, 4,500 cases will be produced under Henkel’s stewardship. Future plans will be unveiled when the company’s newly planted vineyards begin producing usable fruit during the next few years.
For now, it is a distinct pleasure to introduce Westerly Wines to our members. We feel it won’t be the last time you hear about these marvelous wines.
Map of the area
Roger Bower - Owner & Visionary
To fully understand what makes Roger Bower tick, you need not look any further than the comments of some of his employees.
Take Michael Young, a thirty-five year veteran of the wine business who joined Westerly more than a year ago. “Roger is quite unique in the wine world,” he stated firmly. “He is very creative and refreshing for the wine business. His ideas are his own and he is an out-of-the-box thinker. Most of us in the wine business have been taught to handle things in a classical sort of way. Do the same things that have worked for us in the past. But Roger is different, he’s some sort of maverick. He brings new ideas to the table that have never been tried in the wine industry. He’s determined to make us into one of the really top winery entities, not only in California, but in the entire wine world.”
Young feels that his employer has quickly grasped the inner workings of the wine business and in particular, the subtleties associated with Bordeaux varietals and Cabernet Sauvignon in specific. “He sees the great potential of Bordeaux varietals in an area that has never been associated with those grapes.”
Neither Young nor Adam Henkel sees Bower as a micro manager, a big plus in their opinion.
“He lets us do our thing but is quite attentive to what we are trying to accomplish,” provided Henkel. “He is first and foremost an idea man and is about as passionate about things as anyone I have ever encountered in the business. He is everyday hands-on about our operation and everyone here appreciates what he contributes.”
Roger Bower is also a huge proponent of Santa Barbara County as one of California’s top producing areas. “With the weather conditions that exist throughout our county, we can grow practically any varietal you can imagine. Not all the great growing regions can say that and our best is yet to come. The growers around here are producing exceptional fruit that has become very fashionable up north. That really tells me something and I plan to back up my feelings with more vineyard plantings.”
Bower’s daughter Rachel is taking business classes at nearby Santa Barbara City College. She spends a good deal of her time around the winery and Bower hopes to see her involved sometime down the road.
Bower also has some thoroughbreds on his property, another aspect of his incredible life that he fully enjoys.
But for now, Westerly Wines is his main interest and he pursues this endeavor with complete commitment. Roger Bower is an excellent addition to the California wine colony. His dictates and decisions will produce an excellent portfolio of wines in the near future.
About the Vineyard
The sprawling expanse that is Santa Barbara County serves as the potential growing region for all of Westerly’s wines. While the operation centers on Crown Point in the Happy Canyon AVA, grapes are sourced from practically every other part of the huge county including the Santa Ynez and Santa Maria Valleys and the Sta. Rita Hills to name a few.
“There is such a diversity of fruit available,” explained winemaker Adam Henkel, “that it would be unpractical not to make use of its convenience. To make matters even better, the quality level is amazingly high. It all adds up to being able to make some really superior wines from our local fruit.”
In recent years, Santa Barbara County has risen in statue as a primary supplier for wineries interested in producing top quality wines. Some of Santa Barbara’s fruit even makes its way up north to both Sonoma County and Napa Valley where innovative wineries and winemakers put the fruit to good usage.
Adam Henkle - Winemaker
Adam Henkel, a Kentucky native, came to California by way of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he ran a boutique wine shop that enabled him to taste wines with vintners and growers from all over the world. After numerous trips to France, Australia, Oregon, and California, Adam decided to move to the Napa Valley to learn how to make wine in 2004. Following stints at Merryvale Vineyards in St. Helena and Swanson Vineyards in Rutherford, he settled in at Harlan Estate in Oakville where he was inspired by the “culture of perfection” and the relentless approach to wine quality.
Adam comes to Westerly after eight vintages as an integral part of the winemaking team at Harlan Estate. As the Direct Assistant to the Winemaker and Cellar Master for Harlan Estate, Bond Estates, and Promontory, he became known for producing profound, character-driven wines in an environment where expectations were always at the highest level. The viticultural diversity, geographical grandeur, and the opportunity to continue making world-class wines is why Adam decided to leave the Napa Valley for Santa Barbara County in early 2013. Adam lives in Santa Ynez with his wife Kellie and four children.