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Wine with Horses on the Labels

by Joy Sterling | Published June 28, 2022

How Iron Horse Got Its Name and Why We Have a Rampant Horse on Our Labels

Among the most frequent of frequently asked questions are: How did Iron Horse get its name? What is the significance of the horse on the label? And do we have horses on the property?

The name Iron Horse come from a train. Native Americans called the steam locomotives iron horses in the early 1800s. Our street address today is Ross Station Road, which was a train stop for a narrow gauge train that took people to the Russian River. The last few miles of track were picked up and turned into a bicycle/walking trail.

Long before the Golden Gate Bridge, you would take a paddle-wheeler from San Francisco to Petaluma, hop on the main line to Santa Rosa and then a passenger spur to Sebastopol and Forestville. Much of the redwood to rebuild San Francisco after the 1906 Earthquake and Fire was transported on that same route in reverse.

Our logo, the rampant horse on a weathervane comes from an actual 19th century weathervane we unearthed when leveling the ground to build the winery. It stood on top of a horse barn that sadly burned before we got here. So, there were horses on the property. Naturally, horses were the primary means of transportation when the original house was built in 1876 by a South Carolinian named Austin Carlton. This was a much larger estate, a typical gentleman’s farm, where they grew grapes for wine, hops for beer, all types of fruit and vegetables, raised chickens and livestock and is listed in 19th Century Sonoma County almanacs, which my father collected.

An old 1920s redwood cattle corral still stands on the southern edge of the property, now encircled by Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

My parents, Audrey and Barry Sterling purchased Iron Horse in 1976. They rehabilitated the vineyard, put in a reservoir, restored the old house, which was listing on a foundation of beer cans, and built the winery. Their friends thought they had lost their minds. Many assumed that they would change the name to something more elegant… or at least translate Iron Horse into French – chemin de fer. But as native Californians they felt very strongly that we don’t have that much history and must hold onto all we can.

Today of course the name Iron Horse stands us in such good stead as all American, strong, powerful, and most importantly, authentic. My mother still lives at the heart of the property in the original Victorian.

Our first Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wine labels showed the house, the winery, the rolling hills covered in vines and a stylized version of the weathervane. Over the years, the horse on the label has become more refined, more detailed, more deeply embossed, and gone from iron black to bronze, silver and gold… and replicated everywhere, even on our glassware.

I gather that wine labels with horses are highly collectible, specially by equine lovers. We naturally get invited to be the Sparkling Wine sponsor for equestrian events, polo matches, and our label has earned us coveted placements like on the wine list at the Jockey Club in Louisville, KY because of the obvious tie in. Any collectors out there looking for wine labels with horses, please let me know, and I will happily send you some.

With all my very best, Joy