Lake County AVA
Wildhurst Set to put Lake County on the Wine Map
Wildhurst Vineyards is a perfect example. Located in Lake County just south of neighboring winery Kendall-Jackson, ten-year-old Wildhurst Vineyards has quietly carved out a reputation to rival those higher profile wineries situated just a few miles down the road. Even though the winery was established in 1991 co-owner Myron Holdenried has been growing grapes here since the early 1960s—well before many of the established wineries of Napa or Sonoma counties.
The Lake County area is rich in wine growing tradition. The first grapes planted here date back to the 1870s. At the time there were over 30 wineries with more than 5,000 acres planted. Myron Holdenried’s ancestors arrived from Kentucky in the 1840s, just prior to the California Gold Rush. Their fortuitous timing allowed them to successfully mine enough gold to buy parcels of land throughout California. One of these parcels was a 160-acre plot in Lake County where Myron’s grandfather started a grain and cattle business. Prior to the turn of the century, he planted pear orchards on part of the property and helped launch that area’s pear growing heritage, which still flourishes to this day.
Prohibition virtually wiped out the commercial wine business in Lake County. For almost fifty years the soil lay dormant waiting for someone to resurrect the once burgeoning grape farming business. And that’s exactly what Myron Holdenried did. The Holdenried pear ranch had grown to over 400 acres by the mid 1960s. Watching their county neighbors to the south, Myron realized that the grape boom was still in its infancy. He began the resurrection by planting 30 acres of Zinfandel grapes. Two years later he added Cabernet Sauvignon. By then he was convinced the area had great potential to produce top quality, premium varietals. He continued to add to his plantings putting in Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Johannisberg Riesling and Chardonnay grapes.
As his vines matured, Myron built a solid market for his premium quality grapes. He had no trouble selling his crop each year to other wineries throughout northern California. One thing began to bother him though. Here he was producing top-notch grapes, and they were “disappearing” into the wines of well-known wineries such as Beringer and Napa Ridge. There was virtually no recognition at the consumer level for the Lake County growing region. These wineries were just putting it into the bottle with little or no promotional redemption.
Deciding it was time to do something about this dilemma, Myron and his wife, Marilyn, convinced long time friends Gus and Barbara Collins to join them in starting a winery. In 1991 they secured a winery facility from defunct Stuemer Winery located 20 minutes from the Holdenried vineyards. They decided to use an old brand name of Stuemer’s called “Wildhurst.” “Hurst” is an old Gaelic word meaning “group of trees in the hills.” Considering the surroundings, the name is appropriate. The verdant slopes of Mt. Konocti overlook the Holdenried ranch. The winery lies at the foot of the volcano’s western exposure, and from the home vineyard the view is spectacular, rugged and beautiful.
Wildhurst’s first commercial wines included Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and a white blend called Matilliha—all from the 1991 vintage. From the outset to 1996, Kathy Redman served as winemaker with the consulting help of Jed Steele. Both were previously from Kendall-Jackson Winery. Kathy hailed from South Africa where she learned her craft before landing at K-J. And, of course, Jed Steele is a well-known winemaker and widely recognized as one of the best. In 1996, Mark Burch took the reigns as Wildhurst’s winemaker. Mark grew up in nearby Fresno and earned a degree in Viticulture at Fresno State. Working his way through the ranks at Gallo, then Sebastiani and finally to Kendall-Jackson, his skill as an enologist was noticed by Jed Steele who introduced him to Myron at Wildhurst. “I bring a grower’s outlook to winemaking,” says Mark. “Wildhurst is a grower’s winery, and Myron and I have the same desire to focus our wines on the quality of the fruit and the unique qualities of Lake County.”
Amazingly, virtually all of Wildhurst’s wines have been critically acclaimed by the press and wine industry competitions, including this month’s featured wines, their 1997 Cabernet Franc and 1999 Chardonnay. Even though Myron admits there exists a public perception that non-Napa or Sonoma wines aren’t as good, he insists that hasn’t been a problem. “It’s not been a tough sell at all,” Myron offers. “For the vast majority of consumers, it comes down to a price versus quality issue. We’re able to offer high quality wines at a very reasonable price,” he adds. His words ring true, for Wildhurst has perhaps received more “Best Buy/Best Value” accolades over the past decade than any other winery in the country.
Today the Holdenried vineyards total 130 acres. Only the best 15% of each crop is used to make Wildhurst wines. The rest continues to be sold to other wineries. There are plans to gradually grow the winery to 25,000 cases, up from 18,000 today. “I want to do my part in promoting Lake County as an established quality area to grow grapes,” says Myron. “We’d like to see the area turn into more of a destination place,” he adds. “Making good wine is only the beginning.”
Cabernet Franc wine is relatively hard-to-find in the marketplace. A good Cabernet Franc is next to impossible to find. We’re confident you’ll be thoroughly impressed with the Wildhurst 1997 Cabernet Franc. The 1999 Chardonnay is a standout as well. With the number of Chardonnays available in the marketplace it’s hard to get noticed if you’re a small winery like Wildhurst. You’ll love this one.
Map of the area
Myron Holdenried - three Generations of farming take hold
Myron Holdenried is a farmer. His dad was a farmer. His dad’s dad was a farmer. Myron’s son is a farmer too. In fact, for five generations, the family has been farming either grain, pears or grapes.
Myron grew up in Lake County in the small town of Kelseyville. His great-grandfather, Louis Henderson, bought the original 160 acres of farmland here from earnings made during the famous Gold Rush of the late 1840s. He then established one of the first pear orchards in northern California.
Following his family footsteps, Myron involved himself with agriculture throughout his upbringing to carry on with the farming enterprises. He attended U.C., Davis, where he met his wife, Marilyn, who was also studying agriculture. His schooling there not only enhanced his already substantial agricultural background, it also helped inspire the family’s entrance into the grape growing business.
The Holdenrieds now farm over 400 acres of pear orchards and over 300 acres of grapes. Most farming operations are happy to end the growing season with the sale of their crops through produce brokers. The Holdenried’s operation has expanded into fruit processing and sales. So they have total control from tree to table. That concept is paralleled in their winery operation. From vine to table, the Holdenrieds can assure a top quality product is reflected for their name and for Lake County. Myron is a leader in the federally recognized ‘Clear Lake” winegrape region.
While Myron is overseeing the farm operation, his wife Marilyn runs an upscale gift shop and an adjacent Bed & Breakfast called Matillija Manor. Matillija is an Indian name for the California state flower, poppy. The pear orchard is managed by their son, Brent. Their daughter, Stephanie, lives in San Francisco and is not currently involved in the day-to-day family business.
By aggressively promoting their Lake County Wildhurst wines, the Holdenrieds are striving to give the area the recognition they feel it deserves. ‘We’re dedicated to growing great grapes, making fine wine and bringing it to the market at a fair price,” states Myron. Wine enthusiasts can’t ask for much more than that!