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Viticulturist Alfred White Marks his 50th Year at Husch

Al kneels among the vines to explain the irrigation while leading a tour.

Al leads our vineyard tours each year during the PRP Picnic in the Vineyard.

You need to have fun with your work. But after four months of shoveling Pennsylvania snow and finding no job options, Al White wondered if leaving the Anderson Valley had been the right choice. Al called his real estate agent - a guy named Tony Husch - and asked if he could get his old house in Anderson Valley back. That's right, the house Al had sold just four months earlier. Amazingly, the realtor was able to reverse the sale so Al returned to Anderson Valley. The clever real estate agent then suggested Al should come work for him at a fledgling winery and vineyard called Husch Vineyards.

In 50 years since, Al has proven himself indispensable as vineyard manager and has had a lot of fun along the way. But it was just a few years into his job that Al made a radical and unprecedented change not yet seen in California viticulture. He converted the vineyards at Husch to no-till practices, abandoning the custom of turning the soils with a disc (a type of plow) and allowing the native grasses to recolonize the vineyard. This change quietly started the movement to regenerative farming.

Six years into his tenure, in 1979, the fun came with a mysterious raise. Tony Husch popped his head into the winery and shouted to Al that he was getting a $5,000 raise. Later Tony disclosed that the salary boost would be paid by a new owner at the young winery.

The new owner, Hugo Oswald, Jr. took a liking to Al and Al’s responsibilities grew quickly. Maybe too quickly. Al  realized he wasn't having fun in his role as winemaker at Husch. He asked for his old job back, suggesting Husch hire a trained winemaker. Oswald agreed; Al turned 100% of his focus to the vineyard.

Ten more years passed and by the mid 1990s Al was ready to start his plan for a major vineyard upgrade. The trellis at Husch - a California T - was antiquated and a new system was planned to boost quality and production. The new lyre trellis would spread-out the growth on each grapevine, improving airflow and sunlight penetration. 

Because two major projects are more fun than one, Al chose this same time to install a drip irrigation system, dramatically cutting the vineyard’s water consumption.

By the time Al hit the 30 year mark he found himself working with the third generation of Oswalds, Hugo Oswald’s grandchildren. The winery placed emphasis on the vineyard character with new programs dedicated to showcasing the  best fruit. The Knoll Pinot Noir was added to Husch’s permanent bottling schedule, along with the Vine One Chardonnay. Both wines are a direct result of Al’s vision and care of the vineyard.

At his 40 year mark Al retired the Husch spray rig as he implemented a “light touch” policy in the vineyard. Husch’s pioneering work on restoration of the Navarro River was underway and Al led the charge to install a new pond. With more pond storage Husch is able to capture the ample winter rains and leave summer flows in the river for our native salmon residents. 

Entering his 51st year at Husch, Al can easily see his legacy as he walks the vineyard. The owl boxes house “the night patrol” that keeps the gophers in check. The green blanket between the vine rows represents 50 years of no till farming. Improved irrigation practices have resulted in a 90% reduction of water use. The picture perfect clusters on the vine hint at another wonderful harvest. There can be no doubt, Al is having fun at Husch.

Harvest 2023: The latest, longest on record, big sigh…

The 2023 vintage will be remembered as memorable, lots of smiles followed with a big sigh. Following a rainy winter and spring, the growing season got off to a late start. Summer temperatures in Mendocino County were pretty mild allowing the grapes to slowly mature and ripen. We anticipated a later than usual start date, based on the rainy spring and mild summer, but we had no idea how late.

Intern Amanda, Raul and Rigo sorth through pinot noir.

Second year intern Amanda helps out Rigo and Foreman Raul to pull out MOG (material other than grape).

Typically we bring in Sauvignon Blanc mid-August. Some vintages we start picking right after Labor Day. This year? Summer vacations were extended, Labor Day festivities thrived, and we still waited. Diligent sugar sampling didn’t do much except confirm that the fruit wasn’t ready. The grapes needed more time on the vines to grow and mature.

Winemakers Brad and Peter went back and forth between our Ukiah and Anderson Valley vineyards evaluating next steps. After much debate the first pick call was made on Friday, September 8th with hand-picked Chardonnay from La Ribera Vineyard in the Ukiah Valley. With a lean sugar reading of 23.2˚ brix and pH 3.6 it was a solid choice to get crush started. Several continuous days of Sauvignon Blanc followed with sugars ranging from 23.4˚ to 25˚. Our harvest groove was just beginning... until it wasn’t.

Mother Nature kept us guessing. We patiently waited until Sept 19th for our first pick of Pinot Noir in the Anderson Valley. In between inconvenient weekly rain drizzles, we continued harvesting fruit in both Ukiah and Anderson Valley for the next 30 days.

The last day of September marked our Old Vine Zinfandel pick (20 days later than a typical year). October was greeted with a little Gewurztraminer, but not all of it was ready. More rain, more delays, and grapes not quite ready challenged the patience of Brad and Peter. Although both played the calm, cool and collected winemakers, we could see the concern. Will the grapes ripen? Will we have room in the winery to crush everything at once?

Flash forward to October 12th, a month into harvest and about 1/3 of our fruit is still hanging on the vine. Fortunately the extra time on the vine did allow for the sugars to develop and acids to drop. So, yes we picked more Chardonnay, lots of Pinot Noir and Petite Sirah.

But what about Cabernet Sauvignon? Patience pays off as the Cab ripened to ideal levels around October 26th - a mere 3 weeks later than usual. The concerns of ripening grapes were alleviated, but space in the winery was not. Every fermentation bin was used, each stainless steel tank topped to the max, and barrels were bursting at the seams. There was no room to spare.

The winery crew stands in front of large stainless steel fermentation tanks.

Behind the scenes as the winery crew monitors our white wine tank fermentations.

We always expect some sort of drama with harvest - not enough fruit, too much fruit, but the real fear of when and if the fruit will ripen was a first! Big sigh. As of Halloween all grapes have been picked, well, except the late harvest Gewurztraminer. That will be a story for another time.

Last year we reported that 2022 was the longest harvest on record. As we know records are meant to be broken. Congrats, the 2023 vintage takes the win and we’re still smiling.

Winter Wine Favorites: A few of our top selections

2022 Vin Gris $23
Vin Gris ‘grey wine’ denotes a pink wine that is crafted in the traditional French style from black Pinot Noir grapes. This classic dry rosé exudes aromas and flavors of strawberries, subtle watermelon and blood orange. This festive sipper serves as an ideal holiday wine. Enjoy with charcuterie, ceviche, scalloped potatoes, or bacon wrapped figs.

2021 Special Reserve Chardonnay $28
Elegant and luxuriously smooth, this classic Chardonnay is sure to complement all celebrations. Winemaker Brad selected his favorite lots to craft a wine that highlights balanced tropical fruit and toasty oak. Enjoy with soft cheeses, butternut squash soup, or roast chicken.

2020 Grand Oz $65
Last call! Less than 30 cases remain of our flagship wine to honor our grandfather, HA Oswald, Jr. It’s the best of the best. Aged in new French oak barrels for 31 months. Aromas and flavors of dark cherry, black currant, and graphite lead to a long, velvety finish. Enjoy with aged cheddar, beef tenderloin, grilled Portobello mushrooms or chocolate truffles.

Season's Greetings

The 3rd and 4th generation Oswald family gather to celebrate another vintage! From grape growing to winemaking to sales and everything in-between we know what it takes to create a wine worthy of your enjoyment. Brother-sister duo Zac and Amanda run the day-to-day operations with a focus on family tradition creating quality wines and fair pricing. Amanda’s husband Brad is the Winemaker, while Zac’s wife Krista works in the Tasting Room and sells Husch wine locally. From their dorm rooms or apartments, the 4th generation: Luke, Amelia, Mojo & Trix, help with IT issues, assist with events and create artwork, videos and photography.

Third and fourth generation family members gather in the vineyards for a family picture.

You can also stay in touch with our free newsletter. Expect news and special wine savings with our semi-annual mailing.

Husch Vineyards
Tasting Room: 4400 Hwy 128, Philo, CA 95466
Mail Address: PO Box 189, Talmage, CA 95481
Open Daily 10am to 5pm
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