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Witching Stick Winery

Sonoma County region

A small niche winery playing a vital part in the CA wine industry

Witching Stick Winery owner Van Williamson, 54, became interested in wine as a simple matter of survival. He recently recounted his story thusly. “I was a student at Chico State University studying civil engineering and had two roommates. The only thing my roomies wouldn’t drink was wine so I began tasting some and bringing it back to our room. I really became interested in wine and by my junior year, I had switched to Fresno State University to major in enology and winemaking.”

Along the way, Williamson married his wife Anne, who had some direct ties to the wine industry. Her aunt Leitha was married to Tony Fashauer, the owner of a 200-plus acre of vineyard land that was well established in the tiny town of Philo, in Northern California’s Mendocino County. When she turned 30, her aunt gave Anne the acreage that today bears her name.

“The vineyard is located at an elevation of 1,200 feet and has excellent drainage,” Williamson explained. “It was planted in Zinfandel and we continued on as growers. Even though Mendocino is not particularly known for Zinfandel, our elevation allowed enough sun to ripen the grapes to the levels we needed. The Mendocino Ridge Appellation is mostly coastal ridge-top areas above 1,200 feet and corresponds to the existing fog line. We have been able to prove that our theories work.”

Then in 2010, some of the ranch’s production didn’t sell (remember, that was the time of great peril for many wineries due to the recession experienced throughout the country) and Williamson decided to make some bulk wine. He and Anne were pleased with the results and decided to create their own brand. The first year a miniscule 200 cases were produced from the available juice.

Then, with the help of their artist daughter, Vanessa Gingold, the Williamsons finally settled on a classical version of a divining rod for their new venture, alternately called a witching stick. “We wanted some variation of a ‘V’ on the label and this was what Vanessa came up with,” remarked Williamson. “I liked the name witching stick better than divining rod. I felt it had more panache and would stick in a consumer’s mind a long time. It has worked out quite nicely for us.”

Even though his Witching Stick wines haven’t entered any wine competitions (too costly, have to give away too much wine), wine industry periodicals have shown great enthusiasm for the products. This is pleasant news for Van Williamson, who is most pleased with the acceptance of his vineyard among top regional vineyards.

“To see our name alongside some of the really great vineyards in Mendocino is very reassuring,” he commented. “We are a really small family operation and our competitors are generally much larger with more resources. Sometimes it’s really hard to compete. We must let our wines do the talking for us.”

Williamson also admitted to favoring a number of varietals including Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and several others. But the incredibly difficult Pinot Noir has become the winemaker’s favorite grape to deal with.

”There’s just something about the Pinot that attracts me,” he opined. “I guess it’s the fact that I enjoy drinking it more than any other. The fact that it is such a challenge to produce has something to do with it, but the reality is that I simply like its taste better. A number of top wine drinkers have said to me that drinking Burgundies is a real art, and I totally agree with them.”

Anne Williamson is also involved with the real estate business but still finds time to do occasional pruning with her husband in the vineyards. That fact makes Witching Stick Winery a truly family affair.

Williamson is pleased that his winery’s production has reached the 1,200 case level and doesn’t foresee any real increases in the near future. “What makes me happy is the fact that many new wineries want to buy our grapes due to the success of Witching Stick Winery. We are able to source some additional incredible fruit to fill out our portfolio. It makes us more of a complete winery.”

Small niche wineries such as Witching Stick play an important part in the continuing evolution of the modern California wine industry. They provide a unique insight into the terroirs of areas that might not be otherwise noticed.

Van Williamson is perfect for the role as owner of Witching Stick. He is unassuming and thankful for his chance. Enjoy his handiwork!

Van Williamson Winemaker

Picture of Van Williamson Winemaker

Dear Platinum Series Wine Club Members,

Witching Stick Wines is pleased to introduce you to our wines with the 2012 Durell Vineyard Chardonnay. Thirty years of winemaking has taught me an important lesson: you cannot make great wine without great grapes. Durell Vineyard is a world class vineyard located on the bay, facing hills outside the town of Sonoma. My job as a winemaker is to capture the essence of the place in a bottle. I like to think that I captured the fruit and balanced it with hints of well seasoned French oak. Like always at Witching Stick, the wine was fermented with native yeast and was minimally handled.

A glass of our 2013 Chardonnay will deliver most aromas associated with the varietal as you let it air. Typical green apple pie ala mode, tropical fruits, citrus, butterscotch, and toasty lemon meringue are some of the aromas. The flavors start off with richness and creaminess, but finishes with a crisp minerality. The wine was fermented in 100% new French oak. After fermentation, the smaller barrels were racked into neutral oak and we left 70 percent of the wine in a new 360 gallon oak oval. The large oak containers give the wine a special finesse.

The 2013 ripening season saw no rains before harvest and the fruit came to us fully ripened at 24.2 degrees brix. This Chardonnay is a wine that the anything-but-Chardonnay crowd likes, but at the same time, is flamboyant and creamy enough for the old school Chardonnay lovers. The minerality on the finish is always what has drawn me to this vineyard and it is this structure and tannin in the wine that makes it age so gracefully. Durell Vineyard produces a Chardonnay that can be laid down for a while and will benefit with additional cellar time.

I am sure you will enjoy your introduction to Witching Stick Wines, and if you are in the Anderson Valley, be sure to visit us at our new tasting room in downtown Philo.

Van Williamson
Winemaker - Witching Stick Wines