Stone Mason to Grape Grower.
Arriving at Dennis and Marty Roderick’s I step into the kitchen of their charming cottage-like home at lunchtime. Dennis and his crew, long time vineyard specialist Pancho Ibarra and 19-year-old grandson Remy Martin are sitting around the table. Bowls of steaming chili scent the air as I join them.
I’ve known Dennis and Marty since we all lived in Mendocino in the 1970s. When we met they were in the floor covering business on the coast and we were remodeling an old home in the village of Mendocino.
As Dennis pours a glass of Goldeneye Pinot Noir with the chili, I am struck by the compatibility of chili and an elegant Pinot Noir. Roderick Vineyard’s grapes have been sold to Goldeneye for the last couple of years. The wine’s balanced, complex and fruit-forward flavors are elegant and yet just right with the chili. Dennis makes his chili regularly in two-gallon batches from organic beef raised by John Ford in Redwood Valley. Tasting the Pinot Noir that expresses the flavors of Anderson Valley vines with the organic chili contributes to one of those “aha” moments of a symbiotic pairing of wine and food. After he and Ibarra and Martin scope out the afternoon’s work, Dennis recounts their years off the grid on this special piece of property.
“Pancho and Anderson Valley winemaker Bruce Regalia got me involved in grape growing,” says Dennis, who is the most positive and upbeat human being I have ever met. He credits his optimism to taking a Dale Carnegie course and reading his books when he was in his twenties. He pulls a yellowed copy of “How to Win Friends and Influence People” off the bookshelf and waves it toward Remy indicating it’s worth reading.
Marty, an artist, paints in acrylics and creates personalized and whimsically appealing ceramic bowls, vases, and containers featuring bouquets of lilies, pansies or iris with polka dots and rich hues and accents. Her pieces decorate the kitchen and living room, where picture windows and a big deck look out at the three-and-a-half acre Pinot Noir vineyard.
“When I was in my twenties I always thought I’d be a brick layer and have fun water skiing and drinking beer,” says Dennis, who admits that when he was younger he didn’t even like wine. He and Marty grew up and went to high school together in Walnut Creek. In 1961 they graduated and got married. Dennis apprenticed with masonry and tile artisans who were a generation older than him. “I learned the traditional techniques and loved doing masonry,” he remembers. By 1971 he started his own masonry and tile contracting business. In the early years he did all kinds of tile and flooring but in later years his specialty was fireplaces and outdoor masonry projects. One of his projects was the Sea Ranch chapel on the south coast along Highway 1.
He and Marty and their two children Wendy and David moved to Mendocino in 1973. “After about one-and-a-half minutes I hated the fog,” he says. In 1976 the Rodericks found this property, which had been part of the Old Albion Lumber Company and in the 1930s had railroad tracks through it. It is located along what is known as the Narrows where the Navarro River runs through the ridge out to the ocean.
For the next ten years, the Rodericks made payments on the acre parcel while waiting for their oldest child Wendy to finish high school. In 1980 they moved here fulltime and son David graduated from Anderson Valley High School. David now lives in Hopland with wife Christa and their children Grace, Gretchen and Elka. Wendy and her husband lives with her husband Mark Anderson and daughter Claire in Vermont. Her sons Remy and Spencer split their time between both coasts.
During the transitional years Dennis and Marty came out to the property frequently. They became close friends with local winemakers and grape growers counting Gretchen and Tony Husch who started Husch Vineyards as mentors. Bruce Regalia, who was with Obester (which is now Goldeneye) at the time was instrumental in the decision to grow grapes. “We learned the grape business through osmosis,” jokes Marty, who says their whole social life was around the grape business.
Everyone had an opinion about what they should do with the property. and enjoyed our friendship as they built up their beautiful 37 acres in Anderson Valley about 10 miles as the crow flies from the Pacific Ocean. Plant the champagne grapes– Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Don’t plant grapes. It’s too cold to grow grapes this close to the coast. The climate was warming, the indicators looked good.
“We decided the heck with it and put all our eggs in one basket,” says Dennis. In 2002 the Rodericks planted three acres of Pinot Noir. They sold their first harvest four years later to Domaine Charbay. Then at an Anderson Valley Fire Department fundraiser Dennis met Zach Rasmuson, winemaker at Goldeneye Vineyards, which had been hit by the smoke taint that affected many vineyards because of the lightning fires that burned for a month in Mendocino County in 2008. Roderick Vineyard was high enough that the smoke didn’t hit the grapes.
“We’re extremely happy to work with Goldeneye,” says Marty. “We feel like parents to our grapes. We take care of them all year long and when they leave the vineyard to go to the winery, we are happy to know they continue to be beautifully cared for.”
From the beginning the Rodericks were trailblazers in alternative energy even though being off the grid made things take longer than expected. Just this year they have upgraded their solar system which has kept the place going for thirty years.
Marty is an active volunteer at the Mendocino Art Center, where her work is on display. The vineyard she says is “Dennis’s heart and soul.” She adds that, “We’re fortunate our dreams have come together. There have been hard times along the way. It’s still hard when it frosts and we get the sleep of a new parent night after night. It’s exhausting, even for Dennis.”
Two years ago Dennis retired from his masonry contracting to devote full time to growing grapes “I am thrilled to be outside all the time,” he laughs. As we head outside after lunch Remy and Pancho carry sacks of cement to the pond to build pilings for a diving board for the grandkids. Dennis takes me on a tour of the hilly vineyard on his four-wheeler. The vines are planted so they have enough space around them that they get full sun from dawn until dusk.
He and Marty will take a vacation for the holidays and come back in time for pruning. “We start pruning February 1,” says Dennis. On that day he prunes a vine and checks to see how moist the interior is before continuing. If they are moist, pruning continues. If they aren’t moist he doesn’t prune yet. The vines need moisture to guard against the upcoming cold and frosty season.
“I’m thrilled,” says Dennis as we part. It’s a favorite expression of his and I share the sentiment looking over his and Marty’s progress on this beautiful site. Then Dennis shares his secret for staying upbeat all the time. He learned it from one of his first bosses. Whistle. He looks at me with a grin and says, “It’s hard to frown when you are whistling.”
MENDOCINO SPARKLING WINE FOR NEW YEARS EVE
As the last Wine Notes for 2009, it is appropriate to suggest toasting the new year with sparkling wine made in Mendocino. Five wineries make sparkling wine according to “methode champenoise” protocol just like the wines of France’s famed Champagne. An international agreement only allows sparkling wine made in Champagne to be called Champagne.
The newest Mendocino sparkler comes from McFadden Vineyards, which has a tasting room in Hopland. Also in Hopland the second newest bubbly is from Terra Savia, where you can also pick up estate made olive oil. Anderson Valley, where the renowned French champagne producer Louis Roederer chose to expand its brand because of its affinity with the terroir of Champagne three wineries make sparkling wine. Roederer Estate, Scharffenberger Celllars and Handley Cellars each make among the most acclaimed sparkling Brut, Brut Rose, and in the case of Roederer L’Ermitage, in tastings all over the world.
All are available at the wineries and most can be found at local supermarkets, as well as at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland, and West Side Renaissance Market, Ukiah Natural Foods, the Bottle Shop and Tierra. Also look for them on wine lists at restaurants where you can try them by the glass.