When Tony and Gretchen Husch bought the 60-acre Nunn ranch in 1967 little was known about the grape growing prospects of the region. The property, situated between the towns of Philo and Navarro, had a history of sheep grazing and barley production. Growing grapes seemed an ill-advised prospect: the county farm advisor was skeptical and the number of abandoned vineyards in the region seemed to confirm the futility of the project.
But with encouragement from Stoney Hill winery in Napa, and a few tips from neighboring Edmeades Vineyard, the Huschs planted 8 acres of Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer grapes on the cool slopes of the property in 1968.
The question of which red grape to plant was unanswered for several years. The best advice from vineyard experts at UC Davis suggested Cabernet Sauvignon would thrive in the Anderson Valley. However the Edmeades’ experience with Cabernet showed that this advice was flawed. Husch ultimately decided to take a gamble with Pinot Noir. With bud wood from Wente, the Anderson Valley’s first Pinot Noir vineyard was grafted atop its rootstock in 1971. This 2.5 acre hilltop became known as “the Knoll.”
Having made a few batches of wine in wheelbarrows and garbage cans the Huschs were ready to become an official winery. Though the Anderson Valley had a long history of bootleg wineries nested in the hills, Husch became the first licensed winery in the region in 1971. Over the next couple of years Edmeades (1972) and then Lazy Creek (1975) joined Husch to create a small hub of wineries in this remote region.
Husch grew quickly in those first years. With its iconic tasting room and quality wines the Husch family was able to grow production to 4000 cases by 1979. By that time Tony and Gretchen were ready to move back to city life so Tony turned to his neighbor Hugo Oswald Jr. and offered to sell the winery. The story told in the family today is that the deal was sealed with a handshake in the middle of the vineyard.
The Oswald family had a long resume of farming experience: grapes, pears, prunes, cattle, and even a dairy at one point. In the late 1950s Oswald has moved his family from the Santa Clara Valley to Mendocino County and purchased a riverside property in the Ukiah Valley. Oswald developed this property, named La Ribera Vineyard, into a favorite vineyard for many Sonoma and Napa vintners.
During the first years of the 1980s Oswald re-defined Husch to become the winery that it is today. An emphasis was placed on quality and winemakers Hugo Oswald III, Mark Theis, and Fritz Meier successfully carried this mandate forward for the next two decades. All wines were transitioned exclusively to estate grown fruit. New varietals were added to the Husch portfolio as La Ribera grapes were introduced to the winery. Most notably, the first vintage of Husch’s famed Sauvignon Blanc was produced in 1980.
By 1985 sales were growing quickly.
The wines grew in popularity and by the mid 1990s Husch faced a choice: either end the current growth phase or build new facilities to support a large winery. For the family the choice was obvious and Husch decided to cap production at 45,000 cases annually.
Today Husch Vineyards remains owned and operated by the 3rd Generation of the Oswald family: Zac Robinson and Amanda Robinson Holstine. Winemaking is under the direction of Amanda’s husband Brad. Al White, in charge of all viticulture operations, has been with Husch since 1974. Numerous other employees have stayed at Husch since the 1980s, including Raul Mendosa (1984), Jose Luis Mendosa (1986), and Margaret Pickens (1987).
In 2011 Husch celebrated its 40th year of making wine.
Winery & Tasting Room: 4400 Highway 128, Philo, CA 95466 1-800-55-HUSCH (1-800-554-8724)
Hours: We are open 7 days a week from 10am to 5pm
Mailing Address: PO Box 189, Talmage, CA 95481