William Wheeler Winery
Napa Valley AVA
Going for the Gold
In the spirit of the Olympics this month, we thought it appropriate to "Go for the Gold!" We present you for tasting, two outstanding wines of unusual strength and character, two high quality wines which have risen above the rest of the crowd to win the Gold. In fact, multiple Golds. The wines are from William Wheeler Winery, and this is their story.
The vineyards and winery of Bill and Ingrid Wheeler are secluded in a niche between rolling hills 500 to 900 feet above the Dry Creek Valley floor, in Sonoma County, California. With a dramatic, panoramic view, the home and winery nestle amidst 35 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel vines to form an idyllic, storybook setting.
Their story evolved slowly. The Wheelers bought 175 acres of beautifully hillside land in 1970. Their reasons for buying the land were based more on impulse than on scientific research. They had grape growing in mind when they purchased the property, but did not systematically attempt to locate what has turned out to be a perfect place to grow Cabernet.
It was clear to the Wheelers at that time that a transition was occurring in the American public's perception of food and wine. Consumer tastes were shifting and maturing away from the jug wine popularity of the 1960's. The 1970's and 80's were going to be the years of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and the other classic European varietals. Believing this, they went to the vineyards of Europe in 1971, tasted the wines, studied the differences, collected soil samples, worked the harvest in Bordeaux, and asked a lot of questions!
In 1973 while commuting between San Francisco and Healdsburg they cleared the old vines and orchards occupying the terrain. Carefully selected clones of Cabernet Sauvignon chosen for that particular soil and climate were planted and then harvested two years later. They sold the fruit to local wineries until 1979 when they arranged the use of a neighboring winery's facilities, they custom crushed two vintages to sell under the Wheeler label. By 1981, totally consumed by the wine bug, they brought their family to live full time at the vineyard in Healdsburg.
In Healdsburg, the Wheelers renovated a building in the center of town just 15 minutes from their vineyard. This building is the winery's red wine aging cellar, public tasting room, and administrative offices. Later that same year, they built a 4,500 square foot fermentation cellar at the vineyards in Dry Creek Valley. A small, modern facility with jacketed stainless steel fermentation tanks, oak uprights and a Willmes tank press, the crushing, pressing and fermentation are done at this site. Located 150 yards from their house, they watch the grapes develop and be made into wine right in their backyard.
Since those early development days of the 70's, the Wheeler Winery has become a model of the Dry Creek Valley Cabernet style as exemplified in this month's selection. The featured 1985 Cabernet Sauvignon, Norse Vineyard, Proprietors Reserve has won two Gold Medals and three Silver Medals. The Sauvignon Blanc too, is an exemplary wine. The Dry Creek Valley has a reputation for producing some of the world's most distinctive Sauvignon Blancs. The 1989 vintage featured this month is perhaps the best of the best, having earned the only Double Gold award at the San Francisco Fair National Wine Competition It was the unanimous best choice of the thirty judges. We are excited to offer these phenomenal wines to our Gold Wine Club members this month and we hope you like them both. Enjoy!
A Look at the Personal Side
William Wheeler was born in St. Joseph, Missouri. At age six, with his family, moved to Santa Barbara, California. Bill attended Yale where he majored in history, with additional studies done at the London School of Economics and the Sorbonne in Paris. Bill earned an M.B.A in Finance and International Business from Columbia University. In 1965, upon graduation, he entered the State Department's Foreign Aid Program. He was posted in South America, becoming one of the youngest Foreign Services officers in a senior overseas position.
While posted in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, he and Ingrid met. They were married in London, England and had their first child, Justin, in Bogota, Colombia. A daughter, Jessica, joined the family in 1972. The Wheelers returned to California in 1970. They visited friends in Healdsburg, fell in love with the area and soon purchased their 175-acre ranch. To enhance their winemaking and vineyard knowledge, Bill and Ingrid apprenticed in France as "working guests" of Château Malecasse in Bordeaux. Filled with ideas and enthusiasm, they returned to California and began to clear their land and planting 20 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon. They named the ranch "Norse Vineyards" in honor of Ingrid's Norwegian heritage and harvested their first grapes in 1975.
Bill has had a long involvement with wine, is a member of the Vintners Club of San Francisco and was a founder of one of the first commercial wine warehousing companies in the San Francisco Bay area. He has served as a director of the dynamic Sonoma County Wine Grower's Association and is past president of the Sonoma County Vintners Co-op.
Bill and Ingrid continue their dream of expanding William Wheeler Winery. With a disarming grin he remarks, "There is an old European expression that you plant a vineyard for your children. I am only beginning to understand the accuracy of that saying- this is an unusually long-term commitment, but it is very satisfying when it all comes together!"
Julia Lantosca - Winemaker
Julia Iantosca, Winemaker for William Wheeler WInery, grew up in a rural area of Ventura County, in southern California. Naturally, Julia developed an interest in agriculture and was active in 4-H as a youngster. Later while studying Microbiology at San Jose State University, she learned to taste wine from a friend who managed a wine shop. Julia recalls, "I grew up in a family where ordinary table wine was always served with dinner. My father had a heart problem and part of his 'prescription' for a healthy diet was a glass or two of wine with dinner. My fascination with wine broadened when I began tasting a greater variety of premium wines."
After hearing about the enology program at UC Davis, Julia transferred there in 1977. While studying at Davis, Julia took advantage of the Planned Educational Leave Program and worked six months at Dry Creek Vineyards as an initiate cellar worker. Hauling hoses, pumping wine, sampling tanks, cleaning barrels and other winery chores gave her a chance to see winemaking from the inside. She worked closely with the chief enologist at the time, learning technical skills, discussing winemaking theories and practices, while generally building a solid framework for her future career.
Immediately upon graduation from Davis with a BS in Fermentation Science in January, 1979, she went to work as Winemaker at Stevenot Vineyards, a small winery in the Sierra foothills of Calaveras County. In the spring of 1982 she became Winemaker at William Wheeler Winery (3W).
Julia lives in Santa Rosa with her husband, Bob, who is Winemaker at Gloria Ferrer (Freixenet, Sonoma) the Spanish-owned sparkling wine facility. She is a member of the American Society of Enologists, California Enological Research Association, Treasurer, Sonoma County Wine Technical Group, and Director of the Wine Library Association.