Iron Horse Blog

Joy Sterling
February 4, 2018 | Joy Sterling

Milestone Release of Ocean Reserve

I am very excited to announce the milestone release of our 10th vintage of Ocean Reserve Blanc de Blancs, created in partnership with National Geographic.

We chose the ocean as our focus because the ocean is the engine of our micro-climate, creating the fog that allows us to make Sparkling Wines of our quality and deliciousness. Production averages 1,000 cases each year, with $4 bottle sold going to National Geographic’s Ocean Initiative, helping establish marine protected areas and supporting sustainable fishing around the globe.

Our connection to National Geographic is thanks to a fortuitous meeting when my mother met Gil Grosvenor, then Chairman of the Board and the last family member to run the Society (a direct descendent of Alexander Graham Bell). They were tablemates at a Leakey Foundation lunch for the Louis Leakey centennial at the Field Museum in Chicago, discovered they share the same birthday … day and year, and a friendship was born.

In 2006, we celebrated “their” 75th birthday at a gala in Washington D.C. Naturally, Gil was the honoree, but he was so charming he made my mother feel it was her celebration as well, wishing her happy birthday from the stage and sending flowers down to her at our table.

The Society helped us launch our annual Earth Day event in 2007 and in 2008 Gil did us the honor of being the keynote speaker written up here.

He was such a good sport. We didn’t have a lectern for him and his notes went flying off into the vineyards in the wind. That fall, Gil spoke at the 40th anniversary of the Leakey Foundation in San Francisco and again had to brave the elements. It was pouring and somehow Gil missed the ride from his hotel. Thank goodness, he is intrepid and, though thoroughly drenched, found his way to the auditorium in time to introduce Jane Goodall. It’s amazing he ever took my phone call again.  

The following year, we released our first vintage of Ocean Reserve. Barton Seaver, Explorer in Residence at the time, came to Iron Horse to design the cuvee with our Winemaker. Here is a great video of the process from the archives.

That first vintage had three different labels, all released at the same time, so you never knew which one you’d pull out of a case. 


We were honored to add the National Geographic logo on a new label with the beautiful orcas in celebration of the Society’s 125th anniversary.

And to have our wines featured at the 125th Anniversary Gala.

Ocean Reserve was served at two International Oceans Conferences hosted by the State Department

and was the toasting wine when Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgensen free-climbed the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in January 2015.

Now we are going back to that sweet turtle on the label. I hope you will join us in helping protect the ocean, one delicious sip at a time.


Time Posted: Feb 4, 2018 at 8:00 AM
Joy Sterling
January 1, 2018 | Joy Sterling

A Toast to the First Full Moon of 2018

January has two full moons and the first one is tonight.

How perfect that we are starting the New Year with the encouragement of the full moon. It’s the Wolf Moon … so, if there ever was a night to howl at the moon, this is it. Moonrise will be 6:32p PST Monday January 1, 2018. Perfect time to pop a cork. 

You might also want to plan ahead for the Blue Moon, which you know is rare, occurring January 31. 

Peering into our crystal ball, we at Iron Horse predict another very fast year, which is why it is so important that we stop and acknowledge every chance we can.

In reflection, my biggest take away from 2017 was : Don’t take anything or anyone for granted.

As you can imagine, the highlight of my year was seeing the mountain gorillas in Uganda in June. It was amazing to be allowed to enter their camp even for an hour.

The most heartening experience of the year was how the wine community came together in the fires. Who knew we have so many heroes!

So, with that in mind, my family and I raise our glass to say thank you and cheers. I wish that everything you wish for comes true.

Time Posted: Jan 1, 2018 at 4:55 PM
Joy Sterling
December 11, 2017 | Joy Sterling

First Taste of Vintage 2017 & Dinner with the Governor

Dear Friends and Family,

I got my first taste of the 2017 vintage and am thrilled to report that it is absolutely delicious.  There is no doubt that we have taken our wines up another notch … or two, especially our Blanc de Blancs and Chardonnays.

I was very excited to get to do a little barrel tasting.  ‘Tis the season and one of the most fun things we do in the winery.

For example, showing our latest innovation, taking precision farming to the next level, we tasted two “sister” Chardonnay barrels, both from the same vineyard block - one that will go into Sparkling and the other into still wine. The decision was made based on a drone image. The block in question is the one that looks like a heart (if you ask me and David) … or a dog’s head (if you ask our Assistant Winemaker Megan Hill). The grapes for the still wine all came from that upper third of the “heart” that has more foliage … and the grapes for the Sparkling from the lower part with fewer leaves. Fascinating and delectable

We also tasted what will be our first single vineyard block bubbly – one of our favorites for Blanc de Blancs, dubbed Reflection because it lies down by the pond/reservoir, casting a beautiful reflection in the water. I am excited about it because it is already impossible to put down - you just want to keep sipping it, and because it highlights who we are as grower/producers.

On a personal note, I am very proud to have been re-appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to a second term to the state Food and Agriculture Board. Serving on that board is one of the greatest things I do and as a result. I had the privilege of being included in a Salon Dinner on Climate Change honoring the Governor and First lady, hosted by Craig and Julie McNamara. Craig is stepping down as the President of the Board, so this was especially meaningful as his farewell dinner and it turned out to be sadly prescient of the fires in Southern California.

A salon dinner, I learned, is one where there is one conversation for the whole table with the host as moderator. The key takeaway from the discussion was recognizing that climate change is not something off in the future, but happening now, which really hit home when the Governor announced a state of emergency the very next day because of the firestorms in Ventura.

The menu was a completely “no waste” dinner. 

The wines were 2004 Joy! Blanc de Blancs, 2015 Heritage Chardonnay and 2015 Thomas Road Pinot Noir.

Our hearts go out to our friends in Southern California. We here in Wine Country empathize completely. We are learning that the fire season is no longer a few months in the summer. We could find ourselves firefighting at Christmas. I love the Governor’s seriousness and determination to minimize the dangers and am completely on board to do everything I can to be part of the solution.

Finally, a reminder that December 21 is the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year and certainly a toast worthy event. I’m thinking 2013 Winter’s Cuvee … because sometimes the obvious is simply the right thing to do.

Winter’s is the richest of our bubblies. Part of what makes it so special is the dosage, or finishing element, which includes a splash of the Audrey brandy. Named for my mother, made from Iron Horse estate 1987 Pinot Noir, and distilled by Germain Robin, only one barrel was produced.  It is perfect for a long chilly night when you feel like cozying up with some bubbles.

Around here, every season is the season of love.

Sending you all best wishes,

Time Posted: Dec 11, 2017 at 4:59 PM
Joy Sterling
October 19, 2017 | Joy Sterling


Dear Friends and Family,

We feel we dodged a bullet from the fires this past week, which puts us front and center to contribute. One of our ways of helping is with the release of a special cuvee called Gratitude – a limited production 2012 vintage rosé with $5 a bottle sold going to The Redwood Empire Food Bank.

Photo: Shana Ray Bull 

As you know, making a special cuvee is one of the things Iron Horse does best. Gratitude is a rosé based on freshly disgorged 2012 blend of 76% Pinot Noir and 24% Chardonnay, laid down spring of 2013, four plus years en tirage … and given a unique dosage.  Winery retail is $65/bottle. Total production 500 cases.

To be honest, we planned this cuvee months ago … before Harvey, Irma, Maria, Las Vegas and the fires.

We certainly had no idea it would be so timely.

Back in May, the Tasting Room team said they wanted a rosé for Thanksgiving. Our Winemaker David Munksgard is the master of the special cuvee. So, we came up with Gratitude.

Mark Berry designed the label, which is of course gorgeous.

We are funneling all of our contributions to The Redwood Empire Food Bank, currently providing critical food to evacuation centers and shelters for our neighbors displaced by fires … while working to ensure that those who needed food assistance before the fires are still able to access their help.

Photo: Jon Strachan

Our Tasting Room is open. There will be no tasting fee through at least the end of the month. And a portion of the proceeds from the Tasting Room and on-line sales will go to the Food Bank.

With all our very best,

Time Posted: Oct 19, 2017 at 11:42 AM
Joy Sterling
September 4, 2017 | Joy Sterling

Harvest Update

With so much happening around us, there is something very centering about focusing on harvest. 


Photo: David Munksgard

All the fruit for Sparkling and Pinot Noir has now been picked. We will probably be done by the end of this week, which seems very early, but remember, our harvest started on August 4 for bubbly, so, that’s a month … and this weekend’s heatwave accelerated everything. 

Photo: David Munksgard

So far, Vintage 2017 is all about extremes – even just speaking climatically, we went from extreme drought to record rain fall to record breaking heat.  This weekend is certainly one for the record books. It was 106 degrees in San Francisco Friday.  70 degrees here on Saturday at 5am. That never happens.

Extremes always lead to more work.  And I could not be more proud of our vineyard and winery crews. This is the first vintage for our new Assistant Winemaker Megan Hill. It has certainly been challenging, but her smile speaks volumes. 

Photo: David Munksgard

It’s hard to pry a quality assessment of the vintage out of my brother Laurence and our winemaker David, but I spied a hint on a sample of Chardonnay free run juice. The labels says “F-Low” (for the lower part of   block F on the Estate) – “the beginning of a great BdeB (Blanc de Blancs).”


Photo: LG Sterling

Free run juice straight out of the press also makes a delicious Sparkling cocktail, which you can only have here at Iron Horse and only this time of year. We call it the “Sterlini”.

One of my favorite though little-known quotes is from (I believe) JFK, talking about something he learned playing touch football, “When you see blue sky, go for it.”

In that spirit, Happy Labor Day! I hope you are celebrating with the fruits of our labor and join us in sending all of our positive energy to our many friends and my cousins Rand and Pamela in Houston.

Time Posted: Sep 4, 2017 at 9:18 AM
David Munksgard
July 28, 2017 | David Munksgard

The Run Up to Harvest

As harvest draws near, the excitement grows and grows; not just with me as the winemaker, but with everyone here at the winery.

Photo: Elieen Vasko

You know harvest is nigh when we have veraison, i.e. when the grapes start taking on the color you see at harvest. Pinot Noir starts off green, then turns purple. Chardonnay starts off green, then turns a pretty, translucent, straw gold.

Photo:  David Munksgard

Other early indicators include the Naked Ladies ...

Photo:  LG Sterling

... and the onsalught of squash.

Photo:  LG Sterling

Here in wine country, vineyards are everywhere. Even if you are not involved in the wine world, it is hard not to feel the anticipation. My neighbor,  a senior airline pilot,  noticed the changing color of the grapes on his daily commute, prompting him to knock on my door to ask when I thought harvest might begin this year.

On Wednesday (July 26) we did our very first vineyard grape samples. This is when we randomly pick a cluster here and a cluster there, then mash them up in a bucket. The juice is then tested for Brix, or percent sugar. Based on this sample and general observations, I’m holding by my prediction that we’ll start the second (or possibly third) week in August.

All the winter rain along with late spring rain gave our vines a huge gulp of water. The vines reacted by growing more leaves than I’ve ever seen in my career. Too many leaves cause shading of the grapes as well as raising the humidity in the fruit zone - conditions perfect for mildew and bunch rot. I want beautiful, fully mature grapes that are free of those ugly things. The best option is to remove that excess foliage, open up the fruit zone and allow fresh air in. This is done by vine hedging mechanically as well as removing lateral growth and individual leaves by hand. It’s a "bunch" of work, but so worth it. The vineyards are looking really good. The crew has been working very hard; they are my heroes.

Wish us luck!

David Munksgard, Winemaker

Time Posted: Jul 28, 2017 at 8:51 AM
Joy Sterling
July 20, 2017 | Joy Sterling

Summer Pro Tips

I hope your summer is going swimmingly. Ours got off to a scorching start with triple digit temperatures, shattering heat records going back a century. This, coming off the wettest winter on record, after five years of extreme drought.

Taking it all in stride, our best advice for beating the heat is of course multiple bottles of bright, crisp bubbly. Summer Pro Tip #1: The fastest way to chill bubbles is in an ice bath – half water, half ice. You need to fully submerge the bottles. You can put the bottles in plastic bags to preserve the labels.

Photo Shana Bull

100 plus degree days are extreme for us in cool, foggy Green Valley. And, as you can see in the photo above, when the temperatures soar, we put our Pinot on ice as well. Summer Pro Tip #2: Pinot Noir volatizes and tends to shows more alcohol if the bottle gets hot.

Fortunately, in the vineyard, the grapes held up remarkably well, thanks in large part to having sufficient water from the abundance of rain we received this winter. Amazingly, people were snow skiing in Tahoe July 4th weekend. We still have water trickling in Green Valley Creek. And I have never seen the hydrangea so exuberant. 

On the flipside, all that moisture gave us massive leaf growth, trapping humidity as high as 85% in the area around the grapes, which could cause mildew and rot.

Our job has been hedging the vines, removing lateral shoots that grow off the main shoots, cutting back the canopy, and hand pulling off individual leaves to allow air to circulate through the vines.  

Additionally, a bit of sunlight filtering through to the clusters heightens fruit aroma and flavor development.

This photo shows the great job the vineyard team is doing, removing leaves from the morning side of the vines. Morning sun is softer… less likely to cause sunburn.

Photo David Munksgard

Mercifully the cooling fog has rolled back in … restoring our signature summer weather pattern of the sun breaking through at about 10 am, usually in time for the Tasting Room to open. Then the fog slowly lifts to reveal Mt St Helena on the horizon. It’s a show we love to put on every day during the growing season.  

Photo David Munksgard

Summer Pro Tip #3: Best to wear layers when you come to taste with us.

I hope you have had a chance to try our 2013 Summer's Cuvee. It just went out in our July Wine Club shipment and is as as much a taste of the season as tree ripened peaches.

I hope you are planning on coming to our Summer of Love Garden Party exclusively for club members on Sunday August 6 at my parents’ home, where you will get to see the hydrangea I was bragging about above.

Sunday September 10 is our annual Make Your Own BLT Party in the vegetable garden behind my house. We are growing 290 varieties of tomatoes this year.

And, we are planning a Wine Club Appreciation Soiree on Saturday evening September 23. Complimentary tickets for up to 150 guests will be available by a Willy Wonka style lottery. To enter, please go to our events page on this website. Your Golden Ticket awaits.

Summer Pro Tip #4: For tastings, please make advance reservations here.

The entire Iron Horse family joins me in sending our very best wishes, 

Time Posted: Jul 20, 2017 at 2:23 PM
Joy Sterling
June 5, 2017 | Joy Sterling

We've Got Grapes!!!

Hey June 🎵,

l am very proud to be flying to London for the prestigious Decanter Magazine "Exploration of International Sparkling Wines" - initially a PR and marketing dream, now tragically a point of pride in defiance of terror.
My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of the victims from Saturday's attacks. As the Brits say: Keep calm and carry on.

You can click here to see the catalog. Iron Horse and Schramsberg are the two American producers. 

By my way of thinking, once in London, I am half way to Africa. So, I am going to see our cousins, the mountain gorillas in Uganda. It is thrilling to get a notification from the airline that says: "Your flight to Entebbe is approaching ..."
I am told it will be a very emotional experience - primate to primate. Gorillas are, after all, family. We will be tracking them on foot from a base camp in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. There are just 600 left in the wild. 
Also very exciting, our Estate Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and 2013 Ocean Reserve Blanc de Blancs are being featured at National Geographic's Explorers Symposium in Washington DC.

Here at home, we've had bloom ... and now grapes, which over the course of summer will size up and become filled with delicious flavors.

photo: LG Sterling 
We are bottling the 2016 Sparklings to be laid down for the next three, four and in the case of Joy! at least 12 years en tirage. In the meantime, we are releasing our first wine from vintage 2016 - our very delicious 2016 UnOaked Chardonnay

photo: Shana Bull 

The timing couldn't be better as we have been sold out of the prior vintage for months.

We have some fun events coming up:

World Oceans Day 

They say the ocean deserves its own day; we at Iron Horse like to add that the ocean deserves its own bubbly! Please join us in a toast with our 2013 Ocean Reserve Blanc de Blancs. We are offering a complimentary tasting for everyone who comes to the Tasting Room wearing blue on June 8. Remember, we are "by appointment" for tours and tastings.

Ocean Reserve is a special limited production Sparkling Wine created in partnership with National Geographic. $4/bottle goes to help restore the ocean's health and abundance.
Summer of Love Garden Party, exclusively for Wine Club Members

Please join us Sunday August 6 for our annual Wine Club garden party at the home of Iron Horse co-founders Audrey & Barry Sterling. This year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, so be sure to wear flowers in your hair. 11a to 1p.  Limited to 60 guests. Club Members price $50/person. 

Share the love (and a glass or two of 2013 Wedding Cuvee) with Audrey & Barry as they celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary. Click here for more details.

A very special toast! And all best wishes,

Time Posted: Jun 5, 2017 at 2:36 PM
Joy Sterling
April 25, 2017 | Joy Sterling

Every Day is Earth Day

It has been a very buzzy month.

Photo LG Sterling

As I’m sure you’ve heard, the California drought is now officially over for most of the state. Certainly in our part of the state.  Look at how green it is:

Photo Eileen Vasko

We have had a biblical amount of rain.  And while I thank you very much for your prayers, you can stop now. We've had enough. (Goes to show, we farmers are never happy.  First its drought and then we’re complaining about deluge.)`

The recovery is not yet 100%. There are parts of the state that are still in drought mode, most notably at the heart of California agriculture - Fresno, Kings County, Tulare and Tuolumne, where diminished groundwater levels still require a need for emergency drinking water.

Water allocations went back to 100% for agriculture, but for many farmers that news came too late. Just a month ago, they were told to expect 65% … and so they planted accordingly. Unfortunately, with farming, it’s not just turning on or off the tap.

Hopefully a long, slow, steady snow melt will help replenish the acquifers and while mandatory conservation measures have been lifted, hopefully we Californians will not go back to our wanton ways.

For now, I am digging the sunshine, as are the vines, which couldn't look more beautiful ... and the roses, which are just starting to pop along the fence as your drive onto the property. These beauties are climbing five stories high in the tree in front of my house.

We had a very rewarding experience when the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife released 84,000 baby cohos from our bridge into Green Valley Creek, a project Laurence has been working on since 2004. "Our" creek is deemed critically important for the salmon and it is great that Laurence and my mother just happened to be driving by so they got to see the release ... my mother from the car and Laurence up close with his camera.

Photo LG Sterling

Clearly a proud moment. By now, hopefully they are three times the size and have made it to the ocean to return in two years.

For us, there is no better way to toast Mother Nature than with the delicious wines of Green Valley. Kudos to our friends and neighbors at DeLoach, Dutton Goldfield, Freeman Vineyard and Winery, Hartford Family Winery, Lynmar, Marimar Estate and the Rubin Family of Wines for being the highlight of our Earth Day event.

I also want to thank the extended IH family for putting it together, led by our Director of Hospitality, the incomparable Dixie Buhlke.

I was honored to introduce our keynote speaker California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross, whose portfolio includes: food, fiber, dairy, forestry, animal welfare, pollinators, water, food safety, hunger, food waste, pests, avian flu, labor issues, immigration issues, border issues, habitat protection, trade, and climate change and contrary to common wisdom, how agriculture is part of the solution to climate change. This to me is so key. Most people think of farming as the problem. But even the almond growers, last year's whipping child, are working on innovatative, voluntary, sustainability practices.

Photo Supervisor James Gore

And, how fun to introduce the Impossible Burger – a first for almost everyone there. It certainly met the cool factor, though it was  a bit ironic that that we were enjoying them in an old, 1920s cattle corral. If plant based burgers are the future, then the future promises to be delicious! Especially with a glass of Green Valley Pinot Noir.

Photo Shana Ray

We staged a one day, one time only exhibit of National Geographic food photography from around the word. This was a truncated version of a traveling exhibit on The Future of Food. 

One of the most poignant images showed a New Jersey family of four in their home surrounded by a year’s worth of uneaten food.  


Photo Robert Clark, courtesy National Geographic

Sadly, 40 percent of the food in the U.S. is wasted – enough to feed 25 million people, at a cost of $218 billion a year. 21 percent of our water is spent growing, processing, transporting, and disposing of food that is never eaten.

One brilliant solution is to embrace misfit fruits and vegetable, so called “ugly” produce that get left in the field, or rejected at the store level for any imperfections. We had Imperfect Produce on hand serving fresh, spring “rejects” as crudites.  

All edible leftovers from our event were distributed to those in need by the food sharing app Copia, whose 27 year old founder and CEO Komal Ahmad gave an inspiring talk about starting her organization while she was in school as a way to get perfectly fine food that was going to waste at the UC Berkeley dining hall into the hands of the homeless in People’s Park. Calling hunger "America's dumbest problem", she is on track to feed 1 million people.

The music was great - Ronstadt Generations, led by Petie Ronstadt – Linda Ronstadt’s nephew, representing five generations of musicians.  

The beneficiary this year was the nonprofit organization Sustainable Conservation, based in San Francisco, whose mission is  uniting farmers, environmentalists, regulators, scientists to work together to help solve California’s toughest environmental  challenges.

Chef Traci des Jardins, Karen Ross, Stacey Sullivan of Sustainable Conservation, Joy Sterling. Photo Sarah Stierch.

For a very good newspaper account, click here.

For me, the big take aways were:

  • Waste not
  • Wield power as businesses and consumers to guide government
  • Every day is Earth Day
Time Posted: Apr 25, 2017 at 5:24 PM
Joy Sterling
March 13, 2017 | Joy Sterling

Meet Farmer Joy

I am very proud of this interview on the California Grown website for their "Meet a Farmer" series, posted last week. I hope you will read and enjoy it. It is all about who we are. 


MARCH 10, 2017

Meet a Farmer: Joy Sterling of Iron Horse Vineyards

Meet Joy Sterling, CEO of Iron Horse Vineyards in Sebastopol, CA. As a second-generation farmer, she's proud of the wine her family's vineyard produces. Learn more about her, why she says agriculture is in her DNA and how wine has become her passport in life!


CA GROWN: Tell me about the history of the company and what your role is. 

Joy: My parents bought Iron Horse Vineyards 41 years ago in 1976 and we are a completely estate-bottled winery, so we use our own grapes exclusively. We make Sparkling Wine, which is what we're best known for, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

CA GROWN: What does a typical day look like for you?

Joy: No two days are alike. Right now from a farming standpoint, we are just getting bud break in the vineyards, so that's a very exciting time even though it's a little early for us. So we're rushing to get the pruning done as quickly as we possibly can and then we'll be on alert because we're subject to frost as late as June 1.

We have some new releases that I'm excited about for spring. On March 20, we're going to release a new limited production Sparkling Wine called Spring Rose.

I'm also working on a major event called Celebrate Earth Day in Green Valley, which will take place on Sunday, April 23. The keynote speaker is California Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross. The theme of the day is the Future of Food. There will be eight wineries from Green Valley, which is our special growing area, pouring delicious Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. We've enlisted a Silicon Valley start up called Copia, a phone app that restaurants and events can use to get volunteers to come and pick up any excess and leftover food and get that to people in need instantly.

CA GROWN: What are you most proud of that your winery has done or participated in?

Joy: There are so many things, but what started it was the historic Reagan-Gorbachev Summit Meetings in 1985 that ended the Cold War. As you can imagine, to this day, my family takes complete credit for ending the Cold War. It's the pillar of our prestige and incredible point of pride for us. 

Another was New Year's Eve 1999. The White House ushered in the new millennium with Iron Horse wines. They've been served at Supreme Court dinners, to the Queen of England and the President of China. And we make a special cuvee in partnership with National Geographic, which the State Department has served on a number of occasions called Ocean Reserve. We give $4 a bottle to National Geographic's ocean initiative to help established marine protected areas and support sustainable fishing around the globe. 

CA GROWN: What are some ways your company gives back to the community?

Joy: In addition to the National Geographic partnership and the Earth Day event, we contribute to charitable organizations and I serve on the State Food and Agricultural Board, appointed by Jerry Brown.

CA GROWN: What drew you into the farming profession?

Joy: I am very lucky that it's a family business. Before I joined the winery, I was a journalist for 10 years. When I had my annual review with my immediate superior at the time, he told me I was right on track to be just like him and I went home and cried. The last thing on earth I wanted to be was like him and so there I was with a decision to make. I came home and started off doing sales and marketing in 1985 and I became CEO in 2006.

I pinch myself every single day and I don't take any of this for granted. Our winery is so incredibly beautiful and I am absolutely 100% certain that the deliciousness of our wine is a result of the grapes knowing they're growing in such a beautiful place. 

I also believe that as Californians, it's part of our DNA to have a love of the land and an inclination to agriculture.

CA GROWN: What are your hobbies or pastimes when you're not farming? 

Joy: I'm a writer. I've written four books. I love to be outdoors. I love to hike and walk. And I'm a big traveler and adventurer. In June, I'm going to Uganda to see the mountain gorillas and I'm beyond excited about that. First I'm going to London where Decanter Magazine, which is a very prestigious British wine publication, is hosting an international Sparkling Wines of the world event. Once I'm in London, I'm halfway to Africa and I really wanted to see the gorillas, so I'm going. It's going to be a fantastic trip and I'm really looking forward to it.

CA GROWN: What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a farmer?

Joy: First of all, I encourage people to become farmers. It may not be the most fashionable thing people think about, but it is so incredibly gratifying. In the wine world, there are so many different ways to get involved, but the most important thing you can do is to just get an entry level position and learn from it. There are some wonderful learning institutions you can go to and learn about the industry and the science. Or you can gain hands-on experience too because nothing beats getting your hands dirty. That's agriculture. And the most important element in fine wine grape growing is walking the vineyards so you can be in touch with what's going on. 

The thing about fine wine grape growing is that there is so much opportunity. You've got geology, you've got chemistry, you have soil science, plant science ... so many different facets. 

I read a quote the other day that I really loved and it said "Someone who works with his hands is a laborer. Someone who works with his hands and his mind is a craftsman. Someone who works with his hands, his mind and his heart is an artist." There's no doubt in mind that the entire Iron Horse family is made up of artists because they put their hearts into grape growing and wine making every day.

CA GROWN: What is something that's unique about your business or makes it stand out?

Joy: I think the fact that we make sparkling wine makes us special because there are very few sparkling wine producers in California. The barriers for entry are very high because when you're making sparkling wine, you age them so long and as anybody in business will tell you, holding onto inventory is the most expensive thing you can do. 

Another thing that makes us stand out is being estate-bottled and strictly using our own grapes. It's the foundation of our belief system that our vineyard is capable of producing unique, distinctive, top-quality flavors and the only thing that's proprietary to us are the grapes. That really leads our marketing concept - we make those distinctive, delicious wines so that when you wake up at 3 a.m. with an undeniable thirst for Iron Horse wines, absolutely nothing else will do. 

Iron Horse is not only my family's business, but it's our home. We have three generations living on the property ranging in ages from 22 to 87. So we have a kind of "Waltons" type of thing going on, which is fantastic. We are a model of an agricultural layout in the sense that the property is crisscrossed by the natural, riparian corridors. The property is beautifully broken up and it's not wall to wall vineyard.

CA GROWN: What has contributed to your past success and what are you doing to ensure continued success going forward?

Joy: To ensure our continued success, we aren't interested in consistency at all. We're interested in doing better and better and better. At every meeting, we're talking about what we can do to take the wines to the next level. Being estate-bottled means that our growth is not in quantity, but in quality. So we have a very specific vision of making wines that speak to our home place.

CA GROWN: What's the most rewarding part of your job?

Joy: The people I meet. First of all, people who like wine are the most gracious, generous, hospitable, fun-loving, sharing type of people. I think of wine as my passport, I can go anywhere and talk to anybody and when I say I'm in the wine world, they just can't wait to talk about wine. 

Everybody loves to talk about wine and part of the beauty of that is that everybody is right when it comes to wine, there is no right or wrong. We all taste differently and it's like lying on your back in the grass and looking at the clouds. You might see a horse and I might see a ship and we're both right. So it has an amazing ability to bring people together, which is why wine has historically been a diplomatic drink.  It's common ground. 

CA GROWN: As a California farmer, we know that you have a long list of activities you undertake on your farm to care for the land and its resources. What are one or two ways that you're most proud of or you feel are innovative ways you care for your land?

Joy: When my parents bought Iron Horse in 1976, the first thing they did was build a reservoir. As Californians, they understood that they had to have water storage. Then in 1990, my brother brilliantly entered into an agreement with the neighboring town of Forestville to recharge our reservoir with tertiary-treated water. So we're using recycled water for all of our frost protection, for the vegetable gardens, etc. Irrigation isn't a giant thing for us, but frost protection uses a huge amount of water, so we're ahead of the curve on water use. 

Also, our property is bisected by Green Valley Creek which is a tributary to the Russian River and we are working with local engineers and Fish and Wildlife to restore the creek and make it better for the salmon.

Time Posted: Mar 13, 2017 at 9:59 AM