Nestled in the Anderson Valley region of California, largely what began as an unchartered territory for grape-growing and wine making, Randy Schock, winemaker for Handley Cellars is living his dream.
Beginning as an environmental studies and environmental engineer employee, Schock turned toward wine-making after living in the California area for years and immersing himself in the food and wine culture of the state. When he ended his career in environmental engineering, he found himself caught up in a new-found passion.
“I was spending most of my weekends up in wine-country,” Schock said, “ and I convinced myself that I had this transferable set of skills. Timber was on its way out, but wineries were on the rise. I thought, ‘trees, vines, they’re not that different.’”
Schock set to work to build his dream life crafting fine wine, but his dream was a long time in the making. It took ten years – ten years of working in vineyards and cellars and clawing his way to the top – to become the winemaker at Handley Cellar, an establishment started by a pioneer of a woman that was changing the rules of wine, and where you could grow grapes, entirely.
Milla Handley, owner of the company, is what Schock describes as a “character” of a woman. After becoming one of the first female graduates in the Fermentation Science department from UC Davis, Handley set her sights on Anderson Valley, an unchartered viticulture territory.
The rest, Schock says, is history. Though Anderson Valley wasn’t wine-county, necessarily, it was a unique spot that allowed beautiful things to happen. The “ferocious beauty” of the land, as Schock says, is just one plus of the location. It’s also a north-trending valley, one of the only two in California, and because the thin, narrow valley opens the way it does, a thick, hanging fog is able to pass through every night, cooling down the region, and allowing the winery to grow cool-weather grapes and produce unique wines.
Located in what is called the Deep End, Handley Cellars juts up against the redwoods, allowing the rows of grapes to crash into a beautiful view.
Because of the location, the weather, and Handley’s preference, the cellar is able to produce multiple styles of wines, though, its famous for its Pinot Noir, a wine that’s reputation proceeds it within the region.
“We make fruit driven wines that are lighter in style and lower in alcohol,” Schock said. To him, it’s a more refined-styled wine, with a crisp taste that doesn’t overwhelm, and certainly doesn’t keep you from pouring a second glass.
“One thing we say at Handley Cellars is that we make a lot of dirty wine—”
What’s that? They produce dirty wine?
What Schock means is that they use strategies, sometimes forgotten, to give wine character, for example, taking the yeastlings from the bottom of the tank, evaluating them, then adding them back into the clean wine, using them as a tool to break down and add back into the wine, avoiding what may taste like a “canned product.”
Through simple, basic methods, attention to details, and natural tools, Schock maintains the wine’s integrity while keeping their blend special and unique.
For Schock, he knows that grapes are the most important part.
“Rather than making (wine) in the lab,” he said, “it’s really made in the cellar – made in the vineyard.”