We are stewards of a family farm and vineyard just north of Santa Rosa, California, on the east side of the Russian River Valley. A century ago, it had vines as well as other crops. Some oak trees on the property have redwood stakes buried in their trunks, because crows sat on the grape stakes and dropped the acorn seed. After Prohibition, the farm went into egg and chicken production, dairy and prune orchards.
It was quite run-down when Ken’s grandparents, Henry and Elizabeth, bought the farm in 1956. For many years, Henry pastured sheep on the property and and also rented farm equipment to farmers all over Sonoma County. When the soil conservation co-op sold off its equipment he purchased all of the implements and rented seed drills and tillage equipment and land planes and manure spreaders and the like. He spread the word that a diverse planting of different grasses, clovers and other plants made for a healthier and more productive pasture, one that was resistant to erosion. As farmers began to plant vineyards again he encouraged people to plant cover crops in their vineyards, and of course rented them the equipment. As trellis spacing became narrower he got narrow seeders that would still fit the new spacing.
When he was 80, Henry decided it was time to plant grapes again on the property. He had the idea for a long time and had considered it carefully. Sheep production was not profitable any more and he wanted to make sure that he left a sustainable farm to his children and grandchildren. He dug a large reservoir pond and laid out his vineyards, planting one block a year. He knew what he wanted because he had been in so many vineyards delivering and consulting on equipment and tillage. He planted only half of the property, leaving the rest for the farmstead, for sheep pasture and for natural areas and woodland.
Our family vineyard, planted by Henry with such deliberate care, is 15 acres of Pinot Noir planted on a hillside site with south and west exposure, in the heart of the Russian River Valley. The sloped site helps protect the vines from frost. The mostly “Arbuckle” soils, volcanic in origin with lots of stones interspersed in the clayey loam, support a balanced vine that has proper nutrients but not excessive vigor. The vines are Pommard 4 clone grown on 5C and 110R rootstock. We use careful drip irrigation once the soil dries out in late summer, from a well and our pond.
Planted a century ago as part of the historic FountainGrove winery estate, the Siebert Ranch was, after Prohibition, a sometime dairy, chicken farm, prune orchard, sheep ranch, and speakeasy. Ken’s grandparents bought the property in 1956 from a drunk and serial insurance fraud, whose lover faked a jump off the Golden Gate Bridge in order to collect life insurance. As Ken’s grandfather bid on the property, the price kept going up, but finally, he sealed the deal with $35,000.
Henry planned to live on the property for a while, and subdivide. He was attracted to a small farm because his own grandparents had lived on a simlar-sized farm outside of Walla Walla. But as he lived on the farm he fell into farming ways, keeping a large herd of sheep and renting farm equipment (after the cooperative shut its operations) throughout the County. As vineyards began to be planted again, he delivered narrow Brillion seeders to the vineyard site to plant cover crops between rows, and over time this became his most popular rental item. Nearly everyone in Sonoma County who established vineyards in the 70’s or 80’s rented equipment from Henry at some time or another.
When Henry was 80, he wanted to leave the farm to his son, Chris. Henry figured it was about time that he plant grapes himself, so that the property would pay for itself. He talked to his long-time friend, Bob Dempel, who is an esteemed vineyard consultant, and said that he was going to plant a vineyard. Bob said, “Henry, you’re 80 years old. Don’t you know it takes three years to see a crop?” Henry’s response was, “I can hardly wait!”.
Henry personally directed the planting of the vineyard and its operations, although he asked Bob to do the spraying for him and help with harvest. One block Henry reserved to plant last, feeling that it would be the best block on the property. This block, block 5, was as yet un-planted when Chris Siebert died, unexpectedly, of lung cancer. Ken and Henry laid out and planted the block together.
Before he died, Henry saw a crop from every one of his vineyard blocks, and even a couple vineyard designate bottlings by Paradise Ridge and River Road Wineries.
Ken began to manage the vineyard in 2005. In 2006, we made our first vintage, a Russian River Valley blend, including some grapes from the Siebert Ranch. In 2007 and following, we have made a Siebert Ranch designated Pinot Noir, over time selling less fruit and keeping more for our own production. Presently, we keep about half and sell about half. We sell to Crew Wines and to Flowers Winery.