Oster Wine Cellars

Oster Wine Cellars: Family, Bluegrass and Cabernet

Wine Notes by Heidi Cusick Dickerson

Love, wine, music, family and birthright weave into the story of Oster Wine Cellars. This quintessentially Redwood Valley story begins with Teresa and Ken Oster, who were raised in Redwood Valley, met in kindergarten in Redwood Valley, and now own vineyards and a winery in Redwood Valley. Their married children, Adrianna and Gibson, also live here and everyone is involved in the vineyard and winery. Their passion is Cabernet Sauvignon from Redwood Valley.

“We are very family oriented,” says the personable Teresa, who is the 10th of Barney and Kathleen Fetzer’s 11 children. Ken’s parents bought the 200-acre property that is home to Oster Wine Cellars on Tomki Road in 1964. His mom, June lives in a 1920s bungalow on what was the old Williams ranch. A fourth generation grape grower, Ken grew up under giant oaks and evergreens and with farm animals and vineyards. “My family grew grapes near Cloverdale,” he says. “We just recently found a receipt from 1894 for wine grapes sold to the old Italian Swiss Colony in Asti.”

A self described “jack of all trades,” Ken grew up fishing and logging. His dad was a crop dusting pilot and ran a well drilling business (and played the guitar). Before becoming a full time grape grower and part time guitar maker, Ken got into metal fabrication and had his own portable welding and steel business.

“I can fix anything that isn’t electronic,” he laughs. Teresa smiles remembering her father who would buy a book to figure out how to do whatever needed to be done. “Now it seems like people just hire others to do it.”

Teresa grew up on the west side of Redwood Valley at the Fetzer family ranch. Barney Fetzer put all his kids to work as soon as they were able. Teresa did labeling and bottling from an early age. “I worked on accounts payable at 12 years old!” she remembers, adding that “we were put in charge of these gigantic tasks.”

There was order to the busy Fetzer’s’ daily routine. The girls made breakfast and the beds and the boys were sent out to the fields. “We had lunch and dinner together every day and there was always music in the evening.” Bobby, Teresa’s brother who died tragically in a river accident four years ago, taught everyone to play the guitar. Her brother Richard and Ken were friends.

Although schoolmates since kindergarten, Teresa and Ken didn’t become attracted to each other until they were sophomores in high school. “There is nothing like falling in love with my best friend’s sister,” sighs Ken. They were married in 1979.

When her family still owned Fetzer Vineyards, Teresa was involved in sales and marketing. “We took Fetzer from 2500 cases to 2.5 million cases,” says Teresa. Ken worked with Teresa’s brother Dan Fetzer, who designed the new winery in Hopland. “Dan did the drawings and I constructed the catwalks and steel structures,” he says.

When Fetzer was sold, Ken and Teresa started taking care of vineyards and became full time farmers. All organic, their Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes are sold to organic oriented wineries locally.

Teresa has fond memories of a “great upbringing.” The Osters are continuing that familial oriented center she grew up with. “It’s nice to try and keep it going“.

Daughter Adrianna agrees. She and her brother are close to their parents and aunts and uncles. “It was fun growing up in the country, playing tag in the vineyards, and learning to automatically duck when you come to a row,” she laughs.

Adrianna, 29, has just finished a masters’ degree in viticulture and enology from UC Davis. She’s worked at other Fetzer family-owned wineries including Uncle Dan’s Jeriko, Uncle John’s Saracina and Uncle Jim’s Ceago. She explains that having the family wine on the table her whole life “we have a house palate.” Going to UC Davis gave her the formal training to broaden her outlook and she decided to become a winemaker. “Wine oxidation is my specialty,” she says, adding that her thesis was on slowing wine’s aging process.

Now she is extending her education to the sommelier side, which means in-depth training and education all kinds of wine. A sommelier is a wine expert who shares their expertise in fine restaurants, wine shops and other venues with consumers. Adrianna is currently enrolled in an intensive three-month sommelier class with renowned wine educator Karen MacNeil at the Culinary Institute of America’s campus at Greystone in Napa Valley. Her husband Joe Gozza is a vineyard manager working for Chevalier Vineyard Management Inc., which manages many acres of Mendocino County’s wine grapes. They live at one of the family’s vineyards on the old Fernbach homestead built in 1926 at the corner of West Road and School Way.

Gibson, 28, and his wife Theresa have two children Lila, two years, and Wade, eight months. Theresa teaches English at Eagle Peak School in Redwood Valley. They live on another family property on the east side of Redwood Valley on what was once part of the old Finnish colony. Gibson participates in all the duties that come with managing the family vineyards and still finds time to fly for the Co-op Fire Patrol in Mendocino County and is a volunteer firefighter for Redwood Valley/Calpella Fire Department

When the Oster’s launched their wine brand in 2002 and released their first Cabernet Sauvignon “Our goal was to make an ultra premium Cabernet,” he says, adding that he believes that Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grow especially well on their site in Redwood Valley. Adrianna adds, “our goal is to promote our Redwood Valley Appellation. We want to express the beautifully unique terroir of this place we are so lucky to call home.”

A beautiful redwood barn houses the winery and is what Adrianna called “stage one.” Barrels line the walls, case goods are cooled in a room under the mature giant trees and Adrianna has plans for a lab and tasting bar. “We’ll stay at around 500 cases and market mainly to our wine club members,” says Teresa. “The next stage includes the planting of Adrianna and Joe’s vineyard in the spring”.

Winemaker Adrianna explains that they only use native yeast for fermentation. The wine is not filtered, just fined. It spends 18 months in the barrel and has one year of year bottle aging before being released. “It is a classic Cabernet Sauvignon blend with Merlot,” she says, reiterating the family involvement. “We do our blending trials around the kitchen table.”

I recently shared a bottle of Oster’s Cabernet Sauvignon with some winemaker friends. One commented on how well integrated the oak flavor was in the wine and though it was due to the kind of barrels used. Indeed. Ken says he buys barrels from the French companies Seguin Moreau and Taransaad, which selectively harvests the trees so the forest continues to grow. He says, “We use the highest quality materials to make our Cabernet Sauvignon.”

And the label, shaped like a guitar pick, reflects the family’s love of music. Everyone is involved in acoustic music. Ken, who builds guitars and repairs mandolins and guitars, has played blue grass since he was a kid. Adrianna plays the standup bass and sings. They have a family band with local friends called “Grassfire”.

“We do our winery events around “Blue Grass” music,” says Teresa. “Our Wine Club is the life blood of our small production winery and the reason we are able to produce such a fantastic wine from our unique Redwood Valley Appellation”.

An upcoming wine club event in October, “Red Wine and Blue Grass” will feature the “Grassfire” band. Oster is also open to the public during “A Taste of Redwood Valley”, which takes place on Father’s Day weekend in June and the “Holiday Wine Sale” on the weekend before Thanksgiving. Otherwise visits are by appointment only, at which the charge for tasting is applied to wine purchases. Oster Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon is also available locally at Patrona and the Bottle Shop in Ukiah , Cafe Beaujolais in Mendocino and Scopa in Healdsburg.

As the family discusses plans for additions to the winery and grounds Teresa says the foremost goal is to keep the charm of the old ranch. A century old bunkhouse will be preserved. Old apple trees are laden with fruit and berries abound near the river. Plans are underway for a big communal garden near the winery. A stage area is in the works under the trees. “We do everything here and everyone is involved in every facet,” says Teresa. And they do it all with music.

TASTING NOTES: I took a bottle of 2005 Oster Cabernet Sauvignon to Sundays in the Park, which seemed appropriate. It went beautifully with the aromatic Himalyan Cafe’s rice, garbanzos and spinach and a potato filled samosa.

For more information on Oster Wine Cellars or to join the Wine Club contact us at www.osterwine.com or the Mendocino County Winegrape and Wine Commission at www.truemendocinowine.com.

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

Next Week: Meyer Family Vineyards

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