In 2020, we began a series on Multigenerational Family Wineries. The series went on hiatus shortly after the second part was published due to constraints of the pandemic. It’s now time to explore more of the many multigenerational family wineries along the Wine Road. This time we’re looking at two wineries whose farming roots go back over a century.
You may have driven past Nalle Winery on your way up Dry Creek Road not knowing the deep history, great wines, and whimsical bent you’d find up their driveway. Nalle Winery’s first vintage was in 1984, but their roots in Dry Creek Valley go back over a century. Lee Henderlong’s great-grandparents, John and Martha, immigrants from Switzerland, started farming at the north end of Dry Creek Valley in 1896.
In 1927, their son Fred (Lee’s grandfather), along with his bride Ruby, purchased land and built a home in the heart of the valley, on what is now the location of Nalle Winery and their estate vineyard. That same year, Fred planted grapevines—the dry-farmed Zinfandel that is still harvested to produce Nalle’s renowned Old Vine Zinfandel. Those vines are now 95 years old!
So how did we get from exploring Henderlong Vineyard to Nalle Winery?
A Chance Meeting of Dogs
When I asked Lee (Henderlong) how she and husband Doug Nalle met and eventually started a winery, I didn’t expect to hear their dogs forced the introduction at a tennis match in Healdsburg. The dogs met first and got rather rowdy, so Lee and Doug had to intervene. The rest is history.
When Lee and Doug married in 1974, the grapes grown on the Henderlong Vineyard were sold to local wineries. The young couple convinced Lee’s parents, Harold and Pauline, to let them construct a building or two on Lee’s grandparent’s homesite to process grapes; grapes they would then purchase from the Henderlong family vineyard.
Nalle Winery flourished, and in 1992, Doug and Nalle wines were featured with two well-known Zinfandel producers in a Wine Spectator cover story. This article, plus a 90+ score for the featured Zinfandel, put Nalle Winery on the map! Doug and Lee continued to make wine from the family vineyard, in addition to sourcing grapes from a few local growers. Their sons Andrew and Sam helped out in the winery from a very young age, and after college, Andrew joined the winery full-time. After making wine with his dad for several years, Andrew eventually took over as winemaker.
Today, the winery duties fall to Andrew and his wife April, who has a strong viticulture background. Just a few weeks before I spoke with the family, Doug, Lee, Andrew and April were featured in the Wine Spectator, 30 years after the first article featuring Doug was published. Andrew and April also just received two 90+ Wine Spectator reviews on their Zinfandels, just as Doug did in 1992.
In keeping the family legacy, Andrew, April, and their three young children live in the farm house built by Lee’s grandparents, Fred and Ruby Henderlong, and their youngest daughter is named Ruby. It’s wonderful to see a winegrowing family’s heritage continue on.
Sustainable Before Their Time
I’d be remiss to not mention the amazing “above-ground cave” that Doug built in 1990. The concrete arch, covered with three to six feet of soil, was planted with rosemary to keep the soil from eroding. This not only created an above ground cave, but it keeps the building cool without using energy. The tasting room is at one end of this winery and barrel storage structure, so visitors get an up-close view of this unique building with a living roof.
The Nalles take their winemaking very seriously, but you’ll find touches of whimsy everywhere. Their faux family coat of arms has two squirrels with a Latin motto that translates to “Wine Makes You Smart.”
The Nalle’s wine club is called the Squirrel Club with the club options being the Mixed Nut Club or the Zintensive Care Club. The Squirrel Club gatherings are billed to be equally nutty.
A visit to Nalle Winery sounds like a great choice, and supports another of the many multigenerational family wineries along the Wine Road.
If you live in or around Healdsburg, the Foppiano name has been synonymous with grapegrowing and winemaking for more than a century. The family’s business dates back to the mid-1890s, when Italian immigrant Giovanni Foppiano purchased 80 acres and a working winery, establishing the Foppiano Wine Company. The Foppianos survived the Prohibition years, but not without challenges. One noted challenge was when Federal Treasury agents forced the family to dump out 100,000 gallons of wine!
After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, Giovanni’s son Louis J. helped the family restart the winery. By 1937, the Foppiano Wine Company was bottling wine under the Foppiano name. Along with his winery duties, Louis J. help established both the Wine Institute of California and the Sonoma County Vintners, two valuable wine industry organizations. By 1970, two of Louis J.’s sons joined the winery—Louis M. in sales and Rod as winemaker and vineyard manager. That same year, Louis J. replaced the prune and apple orchards on his property with grapevines, expanding his wine production potential.
With multiple family members working at the winery, production grew as did sales. By 1985, Foppiano had expanded into markets in both Europe and Asia. In 1999, Paul Foppiano, son of Rod and great-grandson to Giovanni, joined the family business as vineyard manager. Today Paul is the winery’s president, and also retains his role as vineyard manager. His love for the family vineyards is evident in the focused care he gives to land and vines.
Sustainable Farming for Over a Century
Since 1896, the Foppianos have sustainably farmed their vineyards. This quote from Paul nicely sums up the family’s philosophy, “With about 140 acres under vine, it is our goal to farm grape varietals in a sustainable manner to fit the terroir of our estate property.”
We all know that you can only make great wines from great grapes, and Paul Foppiano ensures the winery continues to get exceptional estate grown grapes, year after year.
2021 marked Foppiano Vineyards’ 125th anniversary. Three generations of Foppianos live on the family property, with the youngest, Paul’s daughter Gianna, being the great-great granddaughter of the founder, Giovanni. Gianna was born 110 years after Giovanni purchased the first 80 acres and the working winery. It’s easy to understand why the Foppiano family was selected to be a part of the deep roots segment on multigenerational family wineries. Foppiano Vineyards is one of oldest continually operated, family-owned wineries in Sonoma County!
Delicious Wine and a Picnic with a View
There is more to Foppiano Vineyards than their deep roots. The tasting room offers a choice of tasting flights, and the expansive outdoor space overlooking the estate vineyards is the perfect spot for a leisurely picnic as you sip on a glass of the renowned Foppiano Petite Sirah.
Experience this winery, seeped in history, by coming by for wine tasting daily between 11 and 4. Reservations are encouraged, but walk-in guests are always welcome.
Cherishing the Past, Embracing the Future
It was so fun to explore the stories of two wineries with deeply rooted histories of grapegrowing along the Wine Road. Both Nalle Winery and Foppiano Vineyards have remained family owned, and have stayed true to their mission of producing the best wine possible.
I hope you’ll consider exploring some of these multigenerational wineries. Here are links to the 10 previous wineries we explored in Part 1 and Part 2. Stayed tuned as Part 4 will be published in the coming months.
Cover photo courtesy of Foppiano Vineyards