Maple Creek Winery

Maple Creek Winery: Art, Wine and More

Wine Notes by Heidi Cusick Dickerson

Art and wine are the main inspirations at Maple Creek Winery, home of Artevino and Maple Creek brands. You’ll also find baseball, western chic and a love of food blended into the tastefully rustic Maple Creek Winery off Highway 128 near Yorkville. Proprietors Linda Stutz and Tom Rodrigues have transformed what was once a goat farm and hobby winery into a reflection of their interests and artistic style.

Up a steep one-lane driveway is the tasting room, remodeled from the old goat barn. To the right of the door, a rusty classic ‘32 Chevy truck is part of the garden decor. The giant tubs stacked in the bed I find out later are used for grape stomping at their annual Wine Club hoopla. Two friendly dogs, Sheriff and Lucy are lazing on the wooden walkway. Above them, Maple Creek’s motto “Enter as Strangers, Leave as Friends,” hangs above the front door. It doesn’t take long to see how it works.

On a cool Sunday morning, a couple on their way home from the Mendocino coast stand at the tasting bar. Rodrigues and Stutz are both behind the bar when one of the tasters shares that his brother is a Catholic priest and he uses Maple Creek wine as altar wine.

Rodrigues laughs remembering his first foray into wine tasting as an altar boy growing up on the San Francisco peninsula. “I used to take sips to make sure the wine was good.”

“We have people coming into the tasting room all the time with great stories,” says Stutz. Just last week someone came in to let them know they saw Rodrigues’ original painting of baseball legend Cool Papa Bell in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

A copy of the painting hangs in Maple Creek’s tasting room where all the merchandise relates to things Rodrigues and Stutz love. High quality prints of Rodrigues’ artwork including the labels for Maple Creek and their Artevino labels adorn the walls. A distinct western theme reflects their love of horseback riding with burlap wine sacks and kerchiefs for sale. Food items include jars of Hot Pepper Jelly, barbecue sauce, honey and olives.

The attractive energetic couple came from successful careers in art and interior design in Marin County before they decided to head north and become farmers and start their own winery. “I was a self employed artist for 40 years,” reflects Rodrigues. His parents came from Portuguese fruit farmers from the Azores, and he grew up farming in the Santa Clara valley where the family grew apricots, apples, peaches and made a barrel of wine in the basement. “I would have a little glass at dinner,” he says.

After graduating from high school in the 1970s Rodrigues started out doing stained glass for church windows. Ten years later he was a production designer at Skywalker Ranch in Marin County. And he started collecting wine. The first bottle he bought was a three-liter Mouton Cadet and he still has it. As he got savvier he bought other French wines and invested in wine futures of first growth Bordeaux. “I had a knack for picking the right vintage and did well,” he says. He sold some of his wines to help buy the Maple Creek property.

He and Stutz met in Marin. She is a commercial interior architect and designer and at the time had lived there for 10 years. They were both looking for a change. On Christmas Day in 2000 Rodrigues went on a motorcycle ride. “I always like to ride on holidays because no one is on the road. I took off on Sir Frances Drake Boulevard and cruised north to Highway 128, the best motorcycle road in the state.” He stopped in at Maple Creek Winery, then owned by Linda and Larry Martz, who were also looking for a change, and decided this was the place.

On May 14, 2001, Stutz and Rodrigues moved to Maple Creek. To say that first year was challenging is an understatement, says Rodrigues. “It was more overwhelming the more we did. We had to learn how things work and what it means to turn a hobby winery into a productive one without any specific experience in the wine industry.”

“It opened our eyes to ranch life and being so rural,” says Stutz, who was getting her first taste of running a (retail?) business. (I owned a design firm for 7 years – Stutz Design)

“We still spend a good part of the day fixing things,” adds Rodrigues. “When you live in such a rural place, you don’t call the plumber when you have a leak, you are the plumber. I learned how to do a lot of things I hadn’t done before.”

Four months after buying the winery “9/11 happened and then Two Buck Chuck came on the market,” remembers Rodriguez. The economic downturn that came after 9/11 and the launching of the successful two dollar a bottle wine meant “we had to rethink our business plan in addition to redoing the entire property.” For their first two years at Maple Creek Stutz and Rodrigues worked every single day rebuilding. “Even though it was hard at first, we both saw the opportunity in what we were doing,” says Rodrigues.

Most of the 180 acre ranch next to Maple Creek is “grazing” land for mountain lions, pigs, deer and other wild animals as well as their horses Rebel, Hollywood and Buck. There are ten acres of hillside vineyards where they grow Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Symphony, a hybrid of white grapes Grenache Gris and Muscat.

Maple Creek and Artevino wines are all made with Mendocino County grapes. Artevino wines include Symphony, a slightly sweet great picnic wine, award winning Chardonnay, Largo Ridge Zinfandel and Pinot Noir, grown in Anderson Valley. Proprietary blends under the Artevino label include Montage a blend of Merlot and Cabernet, Cowboy Red, made with Merlot, Zinfandel and Carignane, and Buckin’ Blanco Chardonnay made in “the Sauvignon Blanc style.” They also make a Late Harvest Symphony dessert wine. The Maple Creek Estate brand is wine made from Chardonnay grown at the ranch and Linda’s Vineyard Merlot, a classic Bordeaux-style wine.

Rodrigues designs the wine labels. He paints original canvases which are incorporated in his art nouveaux design. In the last year or so Rodrigues has found time to return to designing labels for other wineries and accepting new art commissions. He shows his paintings in Sedona and Santa Fe and recently had a 25-year retrospective at Lauren’s Restaurant in Boonville. A link to his artwork is on the winery website.

When he’s not fixing something, making wine, doing his art, or hunting wild mushrooms on the property, Rodrigues plays baseball. As a member of the Greenwood Ridge Dragons team, he plays 24 baseball games every year. Eight years ago he went to the Giant’s baseball fantasy camp and met Greenwood Ridge winemaker Alan Green. “We shared a passion for wine and baseball,” says Rodrigues. “Last season we won the World Series in the over-50 league,” he crows.

Stutz, vivacious and direct, looks over the tasting room while chatting with visitors about last year’s Wine Club Hawaiian theme party and shows photos of people in grass skirts stomping grapes. The couple signs up for the Wine Club. Ninety percent of Maple Creek wines are sold in the tasting room and through the Wine Club.

Reflecting on her favorite part of life at Maple Creek, Stutz shares, “It’s when we have a dinner party and everything is from our land—the wine, the venison, wild mushrooms. I get a deep sense of satisfaction in that.” In addition she describes the wonderful community around Yorkville. “The winery is important but it is not the entire picture,” she shares. . . and then there are all those friends they make at the winery.

TASTING NOTES: Artevino Reserve 2005 Chardonnay is a wine I can wrap my palate around. This Chardonnay envelopes the best of the grape with a luscious fruit forward poise that was lovely with broiled garlic shrimp.

For more information on Maple Creek Winery, contact the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission at, www.maplecreekwinecom.

Heidi Cusick Dickerson writes Wine Notes for the Ukiah Daily Journal on

behalf of the Mendocino County Winegrape and Wine Commission.

Next Week: McFadden Vineyard

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