For a brief History of wine
& winemaking in the Santa Cruz Mountains, click
AHLGREN WINERY HISTORY
No hype, no fad, not a
trend. AHLGREN wines have earned
a reputation for consistency of quality: fine balance, fullness and intensity
of varietal flavor, firm structure, complex character and extended life.
Founded in 1976 and still located in the cellar beneath the rustic
mountain home of Dexter and Valerie Ahlgren, AHLGREN VINEYARD is dedicated to
limited production of fine premium wines: Semillon, Chardonnay,
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Nebbiolo, and
Syrah. The Ahlgrens employ
traditional, hands-on methods and premium grapes from carefully selected
Just how does a reasonably sane professional suburban couple get into
the business of winemaking? It is
a question asked at virtually every wine tasting ever given by the Ahlgrens.
Leaning back against a stack of barrels in the small cool cellar
beneath their home in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a visitor gazes into the
glass, smells the lovely wine and cannot help but wonder. Laughing, Dexter's
answer inevitably comes back, "It is all Val's fault."
In the early 70's she became interested in fermentation, and right there
under the kitchen table in the heart of Silicon Valley, things began to become
transformed into ever more interesting beverages -- elderberries into
elderberry wine, honey into sparkling mead, malt and
hops into beer. Meanwhile, in the
adjoining garage, other mysteries were exploding dangerously, and at times all
entry was temporarily forbidden.
When Val's wines became intriguingly tasty, Dexter became intrigued, and
it turned out he was the gifted winemaker in the family.
Possessing that precious mix of acute senses of taste and smell, and
blessed with common sense, Dexter demonstrated an intuitive and intelligent
awareness of how to handle grapes and wine.
Soon the suburban garage had been emptied of its autos; converted into a
winery-within-a-garage complete with insulation, cooling, and French barrels
ready for the next grape harvest.
Zinfandel, it was to be, and two tons arrived in the driveway there on
Cascade Drive in Sunnyvale to be crushed, fermented, pressed and barrel aged
under the wondering gaze of patient suburban neighbors.
A true Silicon Valley Garage startup!
Of course, things could not go on this way indefinitely, and the
Ahlgrens began to contemplate the realities of the fact that, speaking of
winemaking, things were definitely getting out of hand.
There would have to be a move.
Val had left her teaching position at De Anza Community College to spend
more time with her family, and soon after, Dexter decided to sell his share of
his Silicon Valley civil engineering company to his partner and strike out on
his own as a consultant. Now, they
could live anywhere that a phone call could connect Dexter with his engineering
clients. The search began for a
vineyard site that could accommodate a small winery, and a home for the Ahlgrens
within striking distance of Dexter's Santa Clara Valley engineering clients.
The land was discovered
in the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Sym Van der Ryn, architect, was
engaged, and in 1973 the great adventure of building their rustic, handmade
house began, starting with redwood logs purchased from a neighboring property.
The Ahlgrens milled the lumber with an Alaska mill and built their
mountain home with the winery nestled into north side of the hill beneath the
Bonded at last in 1976,
this small winery was dedicated to limited production of fine premium wines by
traditional hands-on methods, and has successfully established a reputation for
wines of consistently high quality and long life.
The Ahlgrens started
off the New Year of 2000 with the appointment of daughter Beth Ahlgren to the
position of Winemaker after Dexter suffered a stroke. Beth had returned to
Ahlgren Vineyard on 9/9/99 from ten years in Portland, Maine, where she
represented the winery in the fields of Public Relations and Marketing. Back at
the winery, she took the job of Assistant Winemaker in time for Vintage '99
before moving up to Winemaker in 2000 making an incredible contribution during
the months of Dexter's recovery.
After over a year as
Winemaker, during which Dexter made a remarkable recovery from the January, 2000
stroke, Beth moved on to a career in Santa Cruz. Dexter resumed his role as
winemaker, and is delighted to be back at it.
LOG", Ben Lomond, CA, Nov 11, 1977
Budding Winery Shows Promise
By Larry Mauter
For Val and Dexter Ahlgren, this is the
season of grape-stained hands. Now is the time for processing area grapes from
a "fruit of the vine" into tasty libations ready to consume following their
The Ahlgrens fledgling winery, located about seven miles north of Boulder Creek on Highway 9, was established by
the couple with hopes someday the winery will support the family making other
A tour of Ahlgrens hillside
"chateau" rates as a refreshing alternative to large commercial wineries.
Where automation has replaced hand labor in the large commercial wineries, the
Ahlgrens employ traditional wine making equipment and family labor to perfect their
Valerie explained the vineyard became
"bonded" cleared for tax purposes by the federal government last
year but that the winery is still "treated as a hobby" by the family. At
this point, Valerie feels they may begin selling wines next June. We want to sell
our wines not for "cash flow" but when the wines are ready, she remarked.
Ahlgrens became involved with wine making
following a Canadian visit where Val chanced upon a store featuring wine making equipment.
From that point, the situation steamrolled to when Val quit her teaching job at De Anza
college to work with the winery. Husband Dexter followed. He asked his partners in a
civil engineering firm in Santa Clara county to "buy him out".
After gathering some necessary equipment, he began "engineering out of the
house." This, according to Val, worked out so well they both realized
they didnt have to work in the "hub" anymore.
Escaping work, however, was not in the game
plan as Val pointed out there is no end to the list of chores. She said "much of
winemaking is washing equipment." That equipment includes heavy oak barrels used for
aging the wine, two ratchet hand presses, and a crusher used to separate the grapes from
stems. The press baskets, made of oak, and the crusher have been rebuilt for use at
the Ahlgren vineyard with the aid of knowledgeable friends. Theres even a
special winery paint for the crusher so the equipment does not interfere with the true
flavor of the grape, she disclosed.
Val was quick to acknowledge the value of
the 18 member Association of Santa Cruz Vintners in aiding the Ahlgren operation.
Ahlgrens produced 900 gallons last year and
winemaster Dexter feels they will double that production next year. He anticipates the
need to produce 2,500 gallons annually to enable him to begin selling at retail
outlets. Dexter described three methods, other than retail, to sell the vineyard
product. Locally, mail order sales
are a "very effective way of selling wine." He also mentioned the possibility of
vineyard wine tastings or tastings in conjunction with the Mountain Vintners Association.
A third possibility for sales would be establishment of a tasting room in Boulder Creek.
Although Dexter is to be considered the
chief while inside the wine cellar, Val has authority in tending the young grape plants.
This, according to Val, means Dexter is the one who operates the heavy mower used to mow
grass. We elected not to plow but to mow the vineyard because of the steep hillside. The
soil type here is one that would migrate downhill if plowed, explained Val. She
said they cut the grass two or three times annually, and the Santa Cruz native added
leaving the grass roots intact has given gophers something else to munch on rather than
young grape plants. During the summer, Val kept busy with a 15 mile round trip to
Boulder Creek to buy water for the young plants. Wells on their property have proved
salty. Despite winter rainwater collections, additional water was needed for the winery,
The rootstock planted in the Ahlgrens
vineyard is a native Saint George which is resistant to disease and shows
"more vigor", Val said. Next year, Ahlgrens expect to graft on Chardonnay grapes
to the root stock. From these, wine will be produced within five years. For
now though, grapes are obtained from Monterey County and from the Hecker Pass region of
Santa Clara County. Both agree their current grape sources are excellent, but Dexter
pointed out they are still looking to other vineyards producing grapes making "the
kind of wine we like."
The work taking place at the Ahlgren winery
is a family effort, with daughter Kim and 8 ½ month old grand daughter Mette on hand to
help with the wine-making chores. Val made no secret that she expects Mette to grow
up to be a "wine snob" being accustomed only to the best wines.
If the Ahlgren vineyard
stays on the same track, Vals expectations will quite likely be met with the
added bonus of becoming that self-sustaining family winery.