Husch Vineyards

Husch Vineyards: Home Sweet Husch

Wine Notes by Heidi Cusick Dickerson

Having just reread what I wrote in 1997 about Husch Vineyards in my book “Mendocino: the Ultimate Winery Guide,” I could easily cut and paste it right into this column--with a few additions. Still demure and understated with a reliable reputation for some of the most consistent quality wines in the industry, there have been changes.

The Anderson Valley based winery has grown. The family vineyard La Ribera in Ukiah has changed hands. An expansion on the old barn has modernized the winery. And the next generation is running the business.

“I love hearing people say it hasn’t changed!” says Amanda Robinson Holstine, a vivacious mother of two and one of the family owners at Husch Vineyards. She and her brother Zac Robinson along with their parents and spouses are at the Husch helm today. Their grandfather Hugo Oswald didn’t start Husch, the oldest winery in Anderson Valley. That honor belongs to Tony and Gretchen Husch who planted the vineyard in 1968 and established the winery in 1971. When Tony Husch put the winery up for sale eight years later, neighborhing grape grower Oswald sealed the deal after walking the vineyard with Husch.

“Grand Oz, our nickname for our grandfather, wanted to make wine for the locals--something everyone can afford,” Amanda recounts. He and “Ramona,” as the grandkids called Oswald’s wife Bea, lived at La Ribera Ranch on Old River Road south of Ukiah. They were second and third generation Mendocino farmers and had seven children, including the Robinsons’ mother, Beelu. When Beelu married Richard Robinson they became the next generation to continue the Husch winery.

“Our parents would bring us with them when they came over to work in the sales room on the weekends,” says Zac Robinson, vice president of operations. “As kids we tromped around here and down at the creek.” They remember adding on to the seven story treehouse built by the Huschs’ children in a grove of redwood trees.

Pointing to a commemorative Presidential plate, Zac says, “Our 1984 Husch Gewurztraminer was selected to serve at a state dinner hosted by Ronald Reagan in Beijing.” He describes Grand Oz as a “proud Republican” who got a call one day from the White House. He was asked to deliver the Gewurztraminer for the dinner to Air Force One at an air base in Santa Barbara the next day.

“He loaded up the station wagon and drove all night to get there,” Zac tells.

“One of perks for the customer of a family operated winery,” adds Amanda, “is that we answer the phone. Grand Oz was there to do the job and we still do it that way.”

Of other things that haven’t changed at Husch, one of my favorites, besides the consistency of Husch wines, is the tasting room. Borrowing from my book, “Husch’s rough hewn tasting room resembles the original dwellings of homesteaders who first settled the region. It was actually once a pony barn and a granary for storing animal feed.”

Husch is located on Highway 128 about 10 miles northwest of Boonville. A line of redwood trees across from Roederer Estate vineyards borders the entrance of Husch’s “demure and understated” winery and tasting room. Inside you may find Zac’s wife Krista or another equally welcoming host. The family members still live in Ukiah but are at the winery regularly, often with their offspring. Amanda is here at least two days a week and Krista works in the tasting room and manages sales to Ukiah restaurants and stores.

“We have a computer now instead of a cigarbox for a cash register,” laughs Amanda, “and we keep surprises on hand for our regulars by offering new wines like the Renegade Sauvignon Blanc.”

Husband Brad Holstine is Husch’s winemaker. Brad studied engineering at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and worked at wineries in the central coastal area. It was at one of these wineries that Amanda met Brad. They married and she became Executive Director of the Monterey County Wine Commission representing 40 wineries. When the Robinson branch of the HA Oswald family decided to rearrange the ownership from the second to the third generation six years ago, the family came together. Amanda and Brad, who had winemaking background, were ready to move back to Mendocino County.

Zac, who helped start internet companies in Silicon Valley, had just sold his interest in “Ask Jeeves.” Amanda and Brad decided they wanted to raise their kids in Mendocino County. They moved back and with their parents’ consultation are working more than full time to run Husch Vineyards. He and his wife Krista have two children Luke 11 and Amelia 8. The Holstine’s children are Mojo, 6 (for Morgan Joseph) and Trixie, 4 (named for great grandmother Beatrix Standish).

While they haven’t changed Husch’s “Big Six” mainstays of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chenin Blanc, and Gewurztraminer, they are having fun creating small bottlings of special wines.

As Brad says, “It’s fun to make the Big Six and I love it when people come up at wine tastings and say ‘I recognize this wine.’ But it’s even more fun to create small lots like Renegade Sauvignon Blanc, which is aged in neutral oak with wild yeast.” Other wines like LA Blanc (for Luke and Amelia) are named for this generation’s children. MoJo Red is named for Amanda’s six year old, who was recently in the Ukiah Natural Foods Coop and shrieked with delight when he saw a bottle with his name on it.

Another aspect of Husch that continues is the self guided vineyard tour. The tour isn’t available when the neighboring sheep are grazing among the vines. Otherwise ask the tasting room staff for the printed guide.. Your walk will take fifteen minutes or as long as you like to mosey among the vines checking out the seven points of interest. You’ll learn a bit of Husch history as well as a few things about grape growing at this certified Fish Friendly vineyard property, which has been managed by Al White since 1974.

The tour begins near an owl box, one of four around the sixty acre property. The importance of owls is noted because of their appetite for gophers. The grove of redwood trees, home of the multi-leveled tree house is down the hill. At the top of the hill, visible grafting junctions hint that a block of Gewurztraminer was once Chardonnay vines. From here are classic Anderson Valley views of oak trees, redwoods and sensuously sloped hillsides. On an outcropping just before the Navarro River is Husch’s prized “Knoll Vineyard.” This field, planted with pinot noir in 1971, provides the fruit for one of Husch’s vineyard-designated wines.

There’s a classic old barn to the east. The original craftsman style house nestles among the oak trees to the west. And a modern swing set brings you to the present.

“We’ve successfully transferred to the third generation of owners of Husch Vineyards,” says Amanda, “Our foundation was solid thanks to our parents and grandparents. It’s exciting to be part of this with our spouses and our children. ”

There’s no place like Husch.

TASTING NOTES: Husch’s 2005 “Knoll” Pinot Noir from the first Pinot Noir Vineyard planted in Anderson Valley has lively berry aromas encased in an affluent balance that was delicious with the pancetta and shallot laced egg sauce of a classic pasta Carbonara, topped with plenty of shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

For more information on Husch Vineyards contact the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission www.truemendocinowine.com or www.huschvineyards.com.

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

Next Week: Jeriko Estate

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