Wine x Passion
Wealthy people have always been attracted to winemaking. It's prestigious and classy to have your name on a label. And who else can afford to sink millions into something and then wait years to see if their investment even covers expenses?
Some rich people treat their wineries like a sports team: a bauble to occupy their leisure time. I won’t name the wineries that have a celebrity name and nothing more – though it’s a fun parlor game here in California.
Other moneybags take winemaking more seriously. Some even create a lifelong stewardship of the land that involves much more than simply making good wine. Herein lies passion.
Hansjörg Wyss is one of those people. The native of Switzerland made a huge pile of green in medical devices. He was ranked as the world's 121st-richest person by Forbes in 2010. Now here comes the passoin.
Wyss bought 900 acres of rolling ranchland on California’s Central Coast northwest of Paso Robles in June of 2000. He named it Halter Ranch; Halter is his mother's maiden name.
Wyss has always had a passion for land preservation, and he brought that attitude to Halter Ranch. “He wanted (the vineyards) to be sustainable and to work in tandem with the environment,” said Molly Strupp, Halter Ranch's assistant winemaker.
Since making his original purchase, Wyss has bought several adjacent properties, and he’s now the proud owner of 1,650 conjoined acres. “He has no intent to plant on most of it,” Strupp said. Including a separate 350 acres Wyss purchased on the other side of Adelaide Road, the estate now encompasses 2,000 acres. Only 281 are planted in vine.
Strupp is proud of an area called Bordeaux Alley: healthy plantings of merlot, malbec, petit verdot and cabernet sauvignon. But the land allows a surprisingly wide range of varietals to thrive – 19 in all, including Carignan, Marsanne, Roussane, Grenache Blanc, Tannat, Picpoul, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier.
Wyss' estate is certified sustainable, but his concerns go deeper than simply growing grapes cleanly.
“Unlike organic farming that only takes into account of what's going in and out of the ground, we care about social and economic issues,” Strupp said as we walked past a Coastal Oak in the vineyard measuring 324 inches in circumference and 55 feet in height with a 104-foot crown – possibly the world’s largest. “We have wildlife corridors, employee education. We have native gardens to attract the good bugs and the native plants. We never cut down oak trees.”
You don’t have to be one of the richest people in the world to practice good stewardship of a 2,000-acre property and make first-rate wine. But it sure helps, however money without passion won't go far.