History, Tradition, Excellence
Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley was mostly prune orchards and pastures when, in 1962, Maggie and Harry Wetzel purchased a large portion of a homestead built by Cyrus Alexander, the valley’s nineteenth century namesake. Here, in a rural community of family farms and ranches, the Wetzel family settled. They raised livestock, cultivated bountiful gardens and restored Alexander’s original home, making it the center of family life. With an eye to their neighbors in nearby Napa Valley, the Wetzels boldly planted premium grape varieties, among the first in the area. Then the family built a small winery.
Hank Wetzel, oldest son of Maggie and Harry, produced Alexander Valley Vineyard’s first wine in 1975. His wife Linda set up the books and managed the winery office. AVV quickly established a reputation for estate grown wines with distinctive varietal character. Acclaimed for crisp Chardonnay and luscious Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley Vineyards brought recognition to the appellation and became a leading winery in Sonoma County.
Hank’s younger sister, Katie Wetzel Murphy, joined the family business in 1979. An enthusiastic ambassador, she travels the country, fueling the family-owned winery’s reputation. Today the Alexander Valley is a prominent appellation known worldwide as the source of elegant, age worthy wines. The Wetzel Family Estate now grows fourteen grape varieties, on diverse sites stretching from the banks of the Russian River up onto the hillsides. Each grape variety is matched to a specific soil type and exposure. Vineyard Manager Mark Houser and Winemaker Kevin Hall work as a team to maximize fruit flavor in the vineyard and to create balanced wines that capture the grapes’ varietal characteristics. Hank Wetzel oversees the vineyard and winery operations, and his wife Linda continues to oversee administration. Now the third generation of Wetzels has joined the winery. Harry Wetzel, IV is assistant winemaker while younger brother Robert is the National Sales Manager.
Alexander Valley Vineyards produces 100,000 cases annually, 17 varietal wines and proprietary blends. Seventy-five percent of AVV’s production is red wine. Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon constitute roughly half of total production. Other varietals include Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Gewurztraminer, Syrah, Sangiovese, Viognier, and Cabernet Franc.
CYRUS, a limited production, proprietary red wine, named in honor of the pioneer Cyrus Alexander, is AVV’s benchmark, honoring the past while signaling the future. Hank Wetzel explains, “Cyrus is a statement, our ultimate achievement. With this wine, we express our history, tradition, and excellence.”
Linda & Hank Wetzel
The Wetzel Family Team
Harry and Maggie Wetzel originally acquired their Alexander Valley property for a summer home, a rustic country residence where their four children might discover the simple joys of nature. “Coming from the coast of Southern California," Maggie once said, "I wanted my children to experience swimming in a river."
It wasn’t long before the summer home became a family business. “I loved our property from the first minute I came here,” Hank Wetzel remembers. “As a boy, I spent summers on the ranch, working in the vineyard, and I gradually saw my future here. By the time I was a teenager, I had chosen my career.”
In 1974 Hank earned a B.S. in Fermentation Science from the University of California, Davis. For his senior project, he developed a plan for a small winery, which became the blueprint for the AVV winery.
As winery construction commenced in 1975, Hank’s wife Linda set up AVV’s accounting system. She and Hank were the only employees, so she helped with the first harvest later that year. With the arrival of her first child in 1976, Linda assumed dual roles, managing the office while raising her family, balancing the needs of business and babies. Linda’s and Hank’s four children grew up with Alexander Valley Vineyards, in their home next door to the winery.
Hank and sons Harry and Rob
Katie Wetzel Murphy joined Alexander Valley Vineyards in 1979, shortly after completing a B.A. degree in Agricultural Economics from the University of California, Davis. “Hank and Linda needed assistance with sales and marketing,” recalls Katie. “At that time, AVV’s production was 10,000 cases annually, and we had just entered national distribution.” As winery ambassador, Katie travels throughout the United States. “We enjoy long-standing relationships with our distributors,” she notes. “It is important to spend time in their markets, to see how our wines fit in.”
With over thirty vintages behind them, the Wetzel family is philosophical about the success of Alexander Valley Vineyards and the wine business in general. “This is a way of life for us,” Hank says. “We have all learned to be patient and plan for the long term.”