From Home Winemaker to Award Winning Pro.

A turkey ran beside the fence as I made my way up the gravel road to Claudia Springs Winery in Anderson Valley. It was trying to get over to its flock which was milling among the vines.

Claudia Klindt is not a turkey lover. And at the moment, Bob Klindt, whose lip was swelling as we speak, is not fond of the yellow jacket that just bit him. I’ve known Claudia and Bob since they first started making wine in Mendocino County and have been a fan from the start. I first associated Claudia Springs with pinot noir, which Bob makes with particular finesse. And now that I live in Redwood Valley, where their zinfandel grows, I love serving their Vassar Vineyards Zinfandel because it feels almost proprietarial since the vineyard is our closest neighbor.

When I first met the Klindts, they were commuting to Anderson Valley from San Jose. They had partners at the time–Claudia and Warren Hein–and all four worked for their county’s Social Services Department. The two Claudias inspired the winery’s name and a fitting Maxfield Parish scene of two ladies next to a gushing spring became the logo.

In 1989 on a “getaway weekend” they stumbled upon this property about 15 miles from the coast on the north side of Highway 128. “When Bob saw the 1000 gallon stainless steel tank in the carport, he got excited,” Claudia remembers, and there was no turning back. Bob, a passionate and award winning home winemaker in San Jose with aspirations to go professional, infected the other with his enthusiasm. The Klindts purchased the 20 acres with a home on it from Milla Handley, who began Handley Cellars here in 1982.

“We put up our house for sale in San Jose and sold it even before Milla and her late husband Rex accepted our offer,” says Claudia. The Klindts and Heins started by each putting up $20,000 and made up their business plan as they went along.

In the meantime the Heins purchased a 20-acre parcel adjacent to the Klindts. Everyone sorted out their jobs and made their first wine, 550 cases of Claudia Springs Chardonnay, right after they bought the property in 1989. “When we first started,” says Claudia, we knew nothing about warehousing or even what a pallet jack was.” They purchased six tons of Chardonnay grapes and took turns pitchforking the fruit into the crusher.

For the next five years the Klindts commuted between their jobs in San Jose and their fledging winery in Anderson Valley. Then they got jobs with Mendocino County Social Services. The year 1998 was momentous. The Klindts planted their vineyard–eight acres of pinot noir and two acres of pinot gris grapes, by taking on family partners. The Heins decided to get out of the winery as they now had three children, and sold their share of the winery to the Klindts. Today Claudia Springs makes 3,000 cases. Both Bob and Claudia are now retired from social work and work fulltime with the winery.

“It’s a creative process for me,” says Bob. “I couldn’t write or sing but I found I was able to take some grapes and make something people enjoy.” While he admits that this is a hard business to keep going, he finds the interesting people he meets make it all worthwhile.

Among those he mentions are the late Larry Pacini from the Talmage bench, Casey Hartlip, vineyard manager at Eaglepoint Vineyards about 1700 feet above Ukiah Valley, and Steve Alden, whose property is on Fish Rock Road in Mendocino’s newest appellation, Mendocino Ridge. He only buys grapes from Mendocino County vineyards. And he enjoys finding new places in the county to try. In Redwood Valley the Klindts get zinfandel and petite sirah from Vassar vineyard, and zinfandel from a one-acre vineyard owned by 91-year old John Ricetti. “Our 2005 Ricetti Zin got a gold medal at the 2008 Pacific Rim Wine Competition,” says Bob. His Potato Patch Zin from Alden’s vines got a double gold at the Zinfandel Championships.

Sometimes Bob does a Mendocino Zinfandel blending wines made from a variety of vineyards. “And sometimes it’s better than the vineyard specific wine,” he says.

Since they buy from many vineyards around the county, the Klindts are putting together a map of Mendocino on which they will color each of the vineyards where they purchase grapes. And they will include a photo of each of the growers on the map. The map will be mounted in their tasting room, which is in a metal building next to Flood Gate Cafe on Highway 128, at mile marker 16. The focal point of this fun stop on the way to and from the coast is the tasting bar. It was originally in Bob’s dad’s soda fountain in Big Timber, Montana, where Bob was born and raised. He made sodas at this bar where he now serves his own wines.

Since their crush pad is located on a small driveway under a carport, “everything has to be moved five times.” Everyone works moving the bins and punching down the fermenting red grapes. Their family includes Bob’s daughter, her husband and four children, and Claudia’s grown son, and daughter, and her two children. The grandchildren are getting old enough to help with labeling and bottling on a 1940s rotating carrousel on which they can bottle 300 cases a day. And they help pack wine for the Claudia Springs wine club shipments.

A few years ago two of their wine club members came to help out at a bottling and became partners in a brand they call Harmonique Pinot Noir. We’ll learn more about them when they are profiled in Wine Notes.

The Klindts are fully immersed in their winery. Sourcing grapes, crushing and keeping the lots separate, racking barrels stacked under their house, staffing the tasting room which is open Friday through Monday, 11 – 5, and then working with a broker and distributors to sell the wine are among the activities that keep Claudia Springs winery going full speed.

Bob and Claudia still take time to sit outside with friends under the shade of a forested slope next to their house. The cooling ocean air keeps the south facing property from getting too hot and it contributes to the slow ripening of the grapes. Bob, comfortable and reflective nine years after retirement, says with a satisfied smile, “There is no one in the barrel room nagging that my court reports are late.” But then, there are those pesky turkeys and yellow jackets.

TASTING NOTES: The 2006 Claudia Springs Zinfandel is one of Bob’s Mendocino blends that includes my neighbor’s zinfandel grapes along with those from Ricetti and Alden, plus a smidgen of petite sirah, syrah and merlot. “This was my chance to get creative,” says Bob. A big delicious fruit forward wine, it paired perfectly with an all-grilled dinner of lamb chops, potatoes, peppers and eggplant.

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