Our Wine Wizard

Warner Henderson was born in Exeter, California where he lived until the age of ten when he moved to San Luis Obispo. While attending Cal Poly, a bottle of a 1968 Sebastiani Barbera launched his interest in wine. Switching schools and degrees, he attended UC Davis and attained a degree in Viticulture. This was to be Warner's passion. While learning to grow Pinot noir in Oregon, Warner realized that the real educational experience laid in the centuries old vineyards of Provence and Burgundy. In 1982, speaking not a word of French and with $300 dollars in his pocket, he traveled to Paris. Warner roomed with a family in Provence and began to learn the ways of French living. Riding around on a moped, he tasted the wines of some of the renowned wineries of Provence and Chateauneuf Du Pape (New Castle of the Pope). Refining his palate and conditioning it to the tastes of superior wines, Warner sampled some of the France's best. Invited to Burgundy to the Domaine De La Pousse D'OR (Domain of the Shoot of Gold) for the harvest to work alongside wine master Gerant Potel, Warner saw grapes from seven Premier Cru vineyards come in to the winery and become seven different wines with seven different personalities. "To be able to taste those different wines and taste the aged personalities of each wine, was an invaluable experience for a winemaker."

At the end of Warner's En Tour as Stagaire of wine, he returned with a new found sense and even greater affinity for the potential of grapes grown in California. In 1983 he moved into Sonoma County and began his domestic wine making career with a nine year stint at Diamond Creek Vineyards. Over the course of his time at Diamond Creek, Warner learned about quality wine making and how caring for the grapes provide the base for excellent flavors. Working under Al Brounstein, Warner applied the lessons from his experiences in France to the relatively new winery. Moving around to the wineries of Sonoma and Napa, Warner learned the different methods that come with different vineyards. Warner refined his talents and explored the tastes that different areas of Northern California have to offer. In 2002, Warner saw an ad for vineyard manager in Petaluma for a small vineyard next to Highway 101. The owner, Michael, was adamant about having an experienced wine maker come and manage his vineyard. After much discussion, Warner was given the dream of any vintner, the management of his very own winery. With a healthy budget, Warner was able to apply his experience transforming the property into a winery he could be proud of. Converting an old hay barn into the Estate Wine Facility, he was able to refurbish the vines of the vineyards with a low yield perspective that produces healthy-happy fruit. "Happy grapes make great wine."

Meachum Hill

This hill on our property was given the name Roblar De La Miseria (Elbow of Misery) by the Spanish during the land grant era. This name was designated because of the strange accumulation of bones that the Spanish discovered there while exploring their new lands. The site was believed to be cursed and people stayed away from it. When our manager discovered the bones, he re-interred the bones into the site so that they could decompose naturally.

The Color of Pinot

Here at Windy Hill, we see subtle differences that can alter wines dramatically. In particular, the changes in taste that can occur from simply using a different type of bud wood. We use simplicity as a means to create a good backbone for wine production. Pinot noir grapes can be compared to white roses with different hues and textures, with different selections producing different flavors. We have made an effort to collect multiple historical selections of Pinot noir to offer the broadest pallet of choices while searching for the ideal situation for our ranch. Once the best combinations of selections are found, we plan to plant an additional 35 acres on the property to pursue the highest quality for the Pinot noir grape.

As inland valley air heats up, it pulls cool coastal air inward, constantly cooling the grapes and keeping them in the temperature range that the Pinot noir grape enjoys. The naturally formed Petaluma Gap that opens directly from the Bodega Bay and travels to the San Francisco Bay provides for a tube of coastal air to hit the hillsides of our vineyard constantly. The hills make for superior drainage and provide for a natural frost-control system that protects the grapes from spring frost. Due to its cool nature, the site is the ideal climate for the growth and maturity for Pinot noir grapes and is the basis for our success.

Through rigorous soil monitoring and grape-leave tissue analysis, Warner tried to determine the nutritional requirement of the vines to keep them healthy and at the highest possible level of production. By monitoring the soil pH and adding calcium carbonate or limestone to raise the pH of the soil, he optimized the soil fertility. This provided the vines with optimal nutrients and he found that the wine quality improved. This rendered a much greater control of grape taste and personality.

"By combining experience and passion we are devoted to the pursuit of the highest expression of the Pinot noir grape as wine."

Christo Connection

The famous Running Fence project by the environmental artists Christo and Jeane-Claude was constructed throughout Sonoma County in 1972. Beginning on the vineyard property, the fence ran over 24 miles to the ocean. Running Fence was made of 200,000 square meters of heavy woven white nylon fabric, hung from a steel cable strung between 2,050 steel poles embedded 1 meter into the ground, using no concrete and braced laterally with guy wires and 14,000 earth anchors. The fabric for the fence was originally woven to be used for automobile safety air-bags. But the Nixon White House allowed the car-makers to delay implementation of the air-bag laws for more than 10 years. That decision meant there was lots of air-bag fabric available at a reasonable price. The art project consisted of: forty-two months of collaborative efforts and the drafting of a four-hundred and fifty page Environmental Impact Report. We at Windy Hill are pleased to have some of the most famous artwork in the world take part on our vineyard property. To pay homage to Christo and his monument to the arts, we have one of the original panels hanging from our tasting room ceiling.

Windy Hill Estate Winery | 1010 W. Railroad Ave Cotati, CA 94931 | (707) 795-3030 | Fax (707) 795-3030