“Our vines, their (Mendocino) wines” is how Julie and Joe Golden approach their biodynamic, organic and fish friendly vineyard venture. Located at the top of the keyhole of Yokayo Valley, the Golden’s Heart Arrow Ranch more than complies with the requirements for each of its certifications. But that’s not all.
Meeting Julie at the refurbished barn just off Highway 101 across from Ridgewood Ranch, means fitting into a demanding schedule of ranch management, grape sales, and raising four children, aged four to eight.
Julie, whose maiden name is Mattern, grew up south of Ukiah. Her dad had a vineyard and hops on Tindall Ranch and still grows Petite Sirah and Chardonnay. “I grew up looking out the kitchen window at vineyards,” says Julie. She moved away and her work in the high tech world led to living in Germany, which is where she and Joe met. Joe Golden is a trail blazer in fiberoptics and high tech broadband startups in Europe and the United States, where he currently works in San Francisco.
For eight of their last 15 years together, Joe and Julie lived in Europe. “When Joe and I decided it was time to have kids, we came back to Mendocino to find property,” she says. After first son Connor was born, the Goldens purchased the 1200 acre Heart Arrow Ranch in 1997.
Their second son Ryan was born in England in 1999. Julie remembers looking out their window in London and realizing there was plenty missing in the view. “Growing up outside is intrinsic to what kids need,” she says. It was time to move. The diversely geographic ranch which includes an earthquake fault and the Redwood Valley to Willits section of train tracks on it, fit the bill. Julie moved to Heart Arrow full time in 2006 and Joe now commutes to the city a few days a week.
Joe’s favorite wine is Cabernet Sauvignon and he had a dream to plant it on a hillside, of which they have plenty of south and west facing exposure. Julie’s childhood friend, the late Bobby Fetzer urged the Goldens to go biodynamic from the beginning and that meant finding the right vineyard manager.
Jerry Yates is renowned for converting 1200 acres of Mendocino County vineyards to organic for Fetzer in the 1980s. Then he worked in Bobby Fetzer’s neighboring biodyanamic vineyard before Fetzer moved to Covelo. And Yates was already on board overseeing the Golden’s Fairbairn vineyard in Hopland.
Yates, 52, tells me that he’s been working in vineyards since the fourth grade when he got a dollar an hour hoeing and pruning. “I picked grapes for fifteen cents a box and couldn’t wait for the price to go up to 18 cents,” he laughs. He worked in Redwood Valley for Charlie and Pete Barra, the Pifferos and the Butows.
“Jerry is the farmer whose heart and soul makes us successful,” says Julie, who went to school with Yates’s wife Theresa.
In fulfilling the biodynamic biodiversity component, the ranch includes sheep, pigs, cattle, and chickens as well as olives, fruit trees and a xx acre garden. The garden, farmed by Adam Glascow [ck} and Paula [ck] of Mendocino Organics, supplies food for everyone on the ranch and enough for about 10 other families who subscribe to a CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) through the Ukiah Farmer’s Market. “We supply the tractor and water and Adam helps with the animals and tends the summer and winter gardens,” says Julie.
Driving along the ridge road that bisects the ranch, Julie describes the grass fed Dexter cattle, which are known for only growing to 42 inches tall and the Barbados sheep, which don’t have to be clipped or have their tails docked. We pass owl boxes strategically placed to keep gophers from sucking up the seedlings and migrating birds munching on sunflower seeds leftover from the summer garden.
To the west is Eagle Peak and twenty three miles further is the coast. Extolling the virtues of the ranch’s 1700 foot elevation and western exposure, Julie notes that when Ukiah is fogged in, the ranch is often clear. The big frost that devastated so much elsewhere last spring just rolled down the hills.
“When we planted Cabernet grapes here everyone laughed because Napa Valley was the leader in Cabernet,” says Julie. They felt that Mendocino Cabernet wasn’t planted in the right place and this hillside had promise. Cabernet grapes love the hillsides with its less extreme temperature variation, it’s why we planted it here.
In addition Golden’s vineyards bud later here than other places. “We are four to six weeks behind Sonoma County,” she says. Cabernet grapes loved the hillsides where temperature variations are not extreme. The vines begin to bud later than in the valleys and from four to six weeks after those in Sonoma County. Twenty six acres are planted in Cabernet, five and a half in Petite Sirah and four and a half in Zinfandel.
A goal of the Goldens and the reason they bonded a winery in addition to growing grapes is to raise the profile of Mendocino as a fine wine region “We are working to change the tone and improve the perception of Mendocino County wine,” says Julie. Ninety-five percent of their grapes are sold in long term contracts to such wineries as Mendocino Farms, Pattiana, Elizabeth Spencer and Lolonis, among others.
The only wine made under Golden Cellars bond is CORO. The CORO program aligns with what our hearts want to do, says Julie. She believes that the cooperative nature of twelve wineries making a wine to meet certain criteria of excellence and flavor profile is “all about bringing our uniqueness to the forefront”. Coro wines all have at least 40 percent of Zinfandel wine in them and the rest of the blend is up to the individual winemaker. It is the only program like it in the world she says, “You can get kicked out of CORO if your wine doesn’t meet the standards. Not like in France where the “appellation controllee” designation, which is 200-300 years old, allows everyone stays in by virtue of their lineage.”
Golden produces about 300 cases of CORO, which is made by long time Mendocino winemaker Dennis Patton, who also makes Fetzer’s CORO. The next vintage, which is the 2006 CORO, will be released in June, 2009. While still relatively unknown, Julie feels that CORO will catch on because the wines have complexity as well as being easy to drink. “People prefer blends. You don’t have to have a palate for a specific varietal like you do for say, Pinot Noir,” she says. Even after spending so much time in Europe, Mendocino wines are her favorite.
Julie and Joe bought the ranch and planted the vineyard to be here and raise their kids. Julie’s days begin at 4:30 am getting the kids ready and taking them to school. Ryan, eight and Connor, 10, go to St. Mary’s in Ukiah. Daughters, Kaili, six, and Liaya, who will be five on Christmas Day, attend the Buddhist school in Talmage.
Julie then works in the office or goes to meetings and sales events between 8:30 am and three o’clock pm. Her dad pitches in when needed to pick up one of the kids and Joe is home for the weekend. Julie’s schedule would leave many breathless but Julie can handle it all. As she puts it, “All that I do with Golden Cellars and Golden Vineyards contributes to my overall goal of leaving this bit of earth in a healthier state and that’s my legacy to my family. I do it all for them.”
TASTING NOTES: Golden Cellars’ 2005 CORO, a blend of Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Sirah, is a velvety mouthful of integrated fruit and texture with a mellow spicey-ness that I loved with homemade pork sausage seasoned with cloves, allspice, nutmeg, salt and red wine served with garlicky cannellini beans.