Talk about letting your wines speak for you! We met Greg and Missy Nelson at the Mendocino Grape Growers event in Santa Rosa last spring, which we attended on a press pass. We enjoyed chatting with Missy, but Greg kind of hung back and didn’t talk too much.
It’s apparently Greg’s style. When Anne emailed him, since that’s whose card we had, his responses were terse, at best. So is the website. That’s fine. The wines are a lot of fun and we’ve got a couple sweeter ones to feature this week.
The Nelsons have been farming in Mendocino County, California, since Greg’s parents moved there in the early 1950s, and Greg has been growing grapes all of his life. According to the website, in addition to grapes, the family grows bartlett pears and Christmas trees. But with 200 acres planted out in 11 different varieties, grapes are a major part of their business, with the line-up including zinfandel, carignane, pinot grigio, cabernet sauvignon, viognier, petite verdot, petite sirah, orange muscat, riesling, and merlot.
Only five percent of their crop ends up in bottles with their family name on it. Greg’s son Chris is the winemaker and according to Greg, it was Chris’s idea to start the winery. This is truly a family business, with Tyler Nelson listed as the vineyard manager.
Every so often, it doesn’t hurt to remember that wine is, ultimately, an agricultural product and that you get grapes by farming them. Fortunately, when Mitch Wyss came in to grow grapes for Halter Ranch Winery owner Hansjorg Wyss, he came in as a farmer. However, one with not much experience growing wine grapes.
“It was a real trial by fire,” said Leslie Wyss, Mitch’s wife. But Mitch is still there and it’s not because of a family connection. He and Hansjorg are not related. Leslie explained that Mitch is of Swiss ancestry and Hansjorg is Swiss.
“It’s not an uncommon name there,” Leslie explained.
She said that they are farming 250 acres, but their production is actually rather small, about 5,000 cases. The wine, itself, is made by winemaker Bill Sheffer. Leslie said that one of the reasons the grapes are so good is the soil, which is rich in limestone, not unlike some of France’s most renowned grape-growing regions in Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley.
“We’re growing Bordeaux varietals and Rhone varietals that are really nice,” Leslie said. “But I think we’ll mostly be Rhone.”
The main Bordeaux varietals, of course, are cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc, with syrah being the best known of the varieties of grapes grown in the Rhone Valley.
Halter Ranch is located on the west side of Paso Robles, on Adelaida Road. You can find their website here.