Introduction 

I’m Brigid Harris, a board member and winery owner here in the Alexander Valley, and it’s truly an honor to be part of this board, representing a valley so rich in extraordinary history. I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with Hank and Linda Wetzel, who were instrumental in making Alexander Valley Winegrowers an official AVA 40 years ago. Our conversation took place in the original home of Cyrus Alexander. Read on to learn more about our cherished valley and the unique wine grapes grown here.

A man and woman holding a bottle of wine

Background

Since Harry and Maggie Wetzel’s pioneering steps in 1962, Alexander Valley has transformed from pastoral lands to a premium grape haven. Hank Wetzel, their son, not only upheld this legacy with the first estate wines of Alexander Valley Vineyards in 1975 but also championed the 1984 establishment of our AVA. We sat with Hank and Linda Wetzel to explore this journey and the future of Alexander Valley.

Interview

Q: What inspired you to establish Alexander Valley as an AVA?

A: Living on Cyrus Alexander’s original homestead, it felt right to honor that legacy. With the valley already flourishing with grapevines, I was compelled to spearhead the AVA establishment.

Q: Any challenges along the way?

A: Defining the upriver boundary was contentious. I remember in DC, being advised to aim for the broadest inclusion to satisfy most stakeholders.

Q: Who else was involved in this process?

A: Prominent contributors included Simi, Asti, Geyser Peak, Fieldstone, Jordan, Sausal, Robert Young, Château Souverain, and Russ & BJ Green.

Q: How has the region evolved in 40 years?

A: We’ve seen both an expansion in acreage and a scientific evolution in grape growing. The shift to denser vine spacing and a focus on Cabernet has marked a significant change, alongside greater environmental consciousness among wineries.

Q: What should the AVA focus on going forward?

A: Promoting our uniquely soft and ripe Cabernet Sauvignon is key. This characteristic style, refined through barrel and bottle aging, deserves more recognition.

Q: Future changes in the next decade?

A: I see continued focus on Bordeaux varieties, especially Cabernet. Increased recognition of Alexander Valley as a top-tier growing area is something I hope for.

Q: How did you promote the AVA initially?

A: Linda and I, among other vintners, traveled extensively, educating people about Alexander Valley’s unique position within Sonoma County’s diverse growing areas.

Q: What was Harry Wetzel’s inspiration behind starting the vineyard?

A: Influenced by frequent European trips, the vision was to cultivate France’s great grape varieties, anticipating the American palate’s evolution towards quality wine.

A sign with Alexander valley on it

Final Thoughts?

A: Alexander Valley is an environmental gem for agriculture. Its mild climate, coupled with the state’s overall agricultural richness, makes it a perfect place for growing outstanding wine grapes. My travels have always reaffirmed the valley’s lush, green beauty and its ideal conditions for producing flavorful, high-quality wines.

This rich blend of history, innovation, and environmental synergy is what makes Alexander Valley so special in the world of wine-growing.

Vineyards and hills

Alexander valley in 1905