By Virginie Boone

In the wake of this week’s Point Fire, we draw on our knowledge that Sonoma County has survived tragedies before and that we remain a resilient community that carries on, helping each other along the way. Not enough can be said about how lucky we are to have such dedicated firefighters and neighbors who do all they can to save our houses, farms and ranches and keep people and animals out of harm’s way.

We started The Good Stuff nearly two years ago to tell the stories of Sonoma County from the ground up with a glass-half-full perspective, an idea borne out of the 2017 fires. We remain committed to its vision, knowing that it’s always been important to remember and enjoy the good stuff in our lives.

Bradford Mountain in the Dry Creek Valley, west of the towns of Healdsburg and Geyserville, is 1,264 feet high and part of the Northern Coast Range, which buffers this northern end of Sonoma County from the Pacific Ocean. Its boundaries include Pena Creek to the north, West Dry Creek Road to the east and Wine Creek to the south and west. The summer fog can’t reach above 650 feet. Some say Bradford Mountain once had a more poetic name, Blue Buck, inspired by a great blue buck seen coming off the peak.

And it is an area of Sonoma County, like many others, that has known its share of ups and downs.

By the end of the 19th century, a considerable amount of vineyards and orchards were planted on Bradford Mountain. Low-yielding, the grapes were considered high quality and fetched enough of a price to make farming them worthwhile. Wine Creek was named for the illegal stills that operated along its banks during Prohibition.

It has dealt with fires before. A fire destroyed nine homes and 15 farm buildings along West Dry Creek Road, according to a Press Democrat story from August 25, 1972, believed to have been caused by arson. It burned 1,000 acres within the first few hours. A smaller fire burned 150 acres in August of 1963 and another in September of 1969.

Fred Peterson of Peterson Winery came up to Sonoma County in 1982 from Mount Eden Vineyards in Santa Cruz. He came to look at property in the mountains of Dry Creek Valley with Bill Hambrecht of Hambrecht & Quist, an early investor in Apple Computer and Adobe Systems that also served as the investment bank for many wineries, including Robert Mondavi. Hambrecht later started investment firm WR Hambrecht & Co., which took Sonoma County’s formidable Ravenswood Winery public in 1999.

Through his company Hambrecht Vineyards and Wineries (HVW), Hambrecht once owned Rockaway Vineyard in Alexander Valley (now owned by Rodney Strong), Floodgate Vineyard (now called Starscape) on Trenton-Healdsburg Road in Russian River Valley and Lytton Springs Vineyard in Dry Creek (now home to Ridge). He also founded Belvedere Winery and Vineyards in 1998 and had stakes in Gary Farrell, Carneros Creek and Chalone.

Hambrecht built a weekend home on Bradford Mountain alongside his just-purchased vineyard, the land described in a Wine Spectator article from 2003 as “a hodgepodge, containing fruit trees, marijuana plants and an old vineyard…. Parts of the surrounding vineyard were so dilapidated that wine production seemed like a pipe dream. But closer inspection of the adjacent Grist Vineyard revealed a plot of Zinfandel dating from 1895 that produces intense wines with racy structure and delicious earthiness.”

Hambrecht bought those 200 acres and tapped Peterson to develop it, calling it Wine Creek Ranch; the grapegrowing side of the business is known as Grist Vineyard. The 1,000-feet elevation Wine Creek Ranch/Grist Vineyard continues to be owned and farmed by the Hambrecht family, in this case, Bill’s grandson, Woody. Once the site of a grist mill, it was planted in 1974 to head-trained, cane-pruned Zinfandel.

Certified sustainable, it is the source of grapes for many producers, including Gary Farrell, Joseph Jewell, Little Trouble, Monte Rio, Martha Stoumen, Day, BloodRoot, Hunnicutt, Raft and Fogline Vineyards, among others, some of whom get old-vine Syrah or Sauvignon Blanc in addition to the Zin.

Peterson, a longtime volunteer firefighter, EMT and engineer for the Northern Sonoma County Fire Protection Department, continues to farm 16 acres of grapes at his own Bradford Mountain Estate Vineyard. His son Jamie makes the Peterson wines at Timber Crest Farms on Dry Creek Road.

The other winery on Bradford Mountain is Hawley, a 10-acre family-run operation led by winemaker John Hawley with his two sons, Austin and Paul. Hawley was Clos du Bois’s winemaker for 10 years and then did six years at Kendall-Jackson. Son Austin is making the Hawley wines now, while Paul serves as GM. John spends more of his time as a licensed falconer, training birds of prey to hunt the starlings that can destroy vineyard crops.

These are just some of the families who have made Bradford Mountain their home and their livelihood. We send our best wishes to everyone within the Dry Creek Valley for a swift recovery from this latest fire and for a gentle remainder of the growing season ahead.