Greenwood Ridge

Greenwood Ridge: Take me out to the winery—or Ballgame

Wine Notes by Heidi Cusick Dickerson

Before describing Greenwood Ridge tasting room’s Frank Lloyd Wright inspired architecture, their wines, the wine can collection, the line of screwcap bottles, the silkscreened labels and the annual Wine Tasting Championships, the operating word here is … baseball.

Proprietor and winemaker Allan Green, tall and athletic, props his leg on a wine case in his office at Greenwood Ridge’s tasting room on Highway 128 in Anderson Valley, as he recovers from knee surgery. “I had to get it done in the offseason,” he explains. With a passion for baseball, Green plays centerfield for the Greenwood Ridge Dragons, a team he formed in 2001 made up of players mostly from Mendocino and Sonoma counties. The Dragons play in the 45 and over division in the Redwood Empire Baseball League and in the Senior (over 50 amateur) League Tournament in Arizona, where the Dragons won the World Championship in 2007 and 2008. The season begins in April and continues through the grape harvest but there’s more to tell about Greenwood Ridge before we get there.

In 1973, Green’s family purchased a property on Greenwood Ridge from Tony Husch, who planted the original vineyard to grow grapes that were difficult to ripen in the Anderson Valley, where he started Husch Vineyards. In 1977, Green, an artist, designer, music buff and wine and beer can collector, moved to the ranch fulltime from Los Altos. He started playing ball in Anderson Valley even earlier. “Deron Edmeades had a softball team in Philo,” he explains. While playing ball with some of the early winemakers in the valley, Green got interested in wine. “I got into this business because I like living here,” he laughs.

Green began making wine in the early 1980s, first by himself and later with such winemaking luminaries as Fred Scherrer of Scherrer Vineyards and Van Williamson, the winemaker for Edmeades Winery, owned by Jackson Family Wines. Green’s first release was the 1980 White Riesling, still one of Greenwood Ridge’s venerable benchmark wines. Since then Greenwood Ridge became part of America’s only noncontiguous American Viticultural Area (AVA) known as Mendocino Ridge. All AVAs are designated because of their unique geographic, climactic and other ecological characteristics. Mendocino Ridge AVA, established in 1997, is composed of a series of ridgetop vineyards above the fogline and are known as “islands in the sky.” Greenwood Ridge released the first wine using the new appellation, a 1996 Merlot, 1997 White Riesling and 1997 Late Harvest Riesling.

In the meantime, in 1986 Green acquired the seven-acre triangle along Highway 128 just west of Philo that is home to the distinctive octagonal tasting room. It was designed by his father Aaron Green, who worked for years with Frank Lloyd Wright. The tasting room was built from wood milled from a single redwood tree that had fallen on Greenwood Ridge Ranch in the 1960s. Solar panels installed a couple of years ago now provide all the power for the tasting room. Picnic tables amid native vegetation and an arched bridge to an island in the middle of the pond add a welcoming environment where wine tasters can be found picnicking even in the winter.

Inside the tasting room views of the surrounding vineyards and the line of poplars in their winter leaflessness fill the surrounding windows. A revolving glass case displays dozens of wine cans from Green’s extensive collection. Some of the cans, with names like Vin-Tin-Age, Bigatti Vino and Apple Splitz, date to the 1930s, and his newest additions are sleek 750ml recyclable cans.

The warm oaken bar at elbow height is the place to learn more about the winery and taste the variety of wines, including Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, White Riesling, the luscious Late Harvest Riesling and Mendovino, a blend of Merlot and Zinfandel. More wines on the list include Pinot Gris, Merlot, Scherrer Vineyards Zinfandel, and not surprisingly…Home Run Red, which like Mendovino is a blend of Merlot and Zinfandel.

All of Greenwood Ridge’s wine is labeled with a dramatic fire breathing long tailed dragon, silkscreened onto each bottle. This label has a Frank Lloyd Wright connection. In 1959 Green’s father gave a cast-iron dragon fountain to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Mrs. Wright, however, preferred the dragon be fire breathing instead of water spouting. She changed it with the addition of a discreetly placed propane tank at their winter home, Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona. Green remembers going to Easter parties at Taliesin West, where “seeing that dragon made a lasting impression.” In 2001, the year his dad died, Green redesigned the label to commemorate that dragon. “We are one of the few wineries to silk screen our label onto all our wines,” says Green.

Another innovation at Greenwood Ridge is the screw cap. Following the lead of 90 percent of New Zealand’s wineries, Green did a test run of screw caps and was so impressed at the consistency and quality that he converted to them. In his Wine Club newsletter, Green writes that “We’re positive that screw caps will produce a better and more consistent wine than corks.”

Taste is something Green is passionate about, first with his own wine and then as the creator of the California Wine Tasting Championships. For the past 25 years Greenwood Ridge has been the host of this one-of-a-kind competition. Categories have included amateur singles and doubles and professional singles and doubles. Up to 500 people come to the winery to participate and compete. “For many years, we tried to expand it,” says Green, lamenting that it is still intimidating for people to go out on a limb to identify a particular varietal”. Loyal locals, like Ukiah dentist Steve Pasternak and coast wine consultant Mark Bowery, have taken top honors over the years. The 27th Championship, however, will only be open to members of the Greenwood Ridge Wine Club, which has many other perks that you can find out about on the website.

In addition to links about the wine club, the winery and wine, the schedule for the Greenwood Ridge Dragons baseball team is also on the website. There are stats done in baseball card style for each of the team members. Another winemaker teammate is Tom Rodrigues from Maple Creek Winery in Yorkville and it’s rumored that at least three others are ex-Giants players. Besides their regular schedule the Greenwood Ridge Dragons will also play in a free exhibition game at AT&T Park in San Francisco this summer.

“One of the reasons that I have time to play baseball is because I have terrific long time vineyard and winery managers,” says Green. Ron Karish has been assistant winery overseer for more than 20 years. And vineyard manager Pedro Viramontes has also been on deck for many years. Coupled with support from his bride of two years Marianna Green, a Sonoma County deputy district attorney, Green acknowledges that “knowing Ron and Pedro are in charge enables me to be gone during harvest when the baseball playoffs are taking place.” In his wine and baseball doubleheader, Allan Green is hitting home runs.

TASTING NOTES: An Alsatian varietal like Riesling inspired me to taste Greenwood Ridge’s 2007 Mendocino Ridge White Riesling with a variation on the classic “choucroute”. Sauerkraut cooked with juniper berries and tart apples with braised pheasant played on the crisp, fruity flavors and textures of the delicious wine, which is also a perfect aperitif and picnic partner.

For more information on Greenwood Ridge contact the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission www.truemendocinowine.com, or www.greenwoodridge.com.

Heidi Cusick Dickerson writes Wine Notes for the Ukiah Daily Journal on behalf of the Mendocino County Winegrape and Wine Commission.

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