by Heidi Cusick Dickerson
“There is something in my blood that attracted me to grape growing,” says the affable Kurt Schoeneman who, with his wife, Heather, owns Ferrington Vineyards. The vineyard, located just north of Boonville in Anderson Valley, has a reputation for premium quality grapes.
Schoeneman, a native of Oakland, spent the last thirty years building apartment houses in the Bay Area. Kurt was born and raised in the East Bay, “A real city slicker,” he quips. Heather, tall and attractive with short hair, is from Sydney, Australia, and speaks with that cheery inflection associated with her native country.
Their daughter, Sarah, found this vineyard and Kurt dimly saw its potential. “I didn’t know a thing about grape growing,” he smiles. He knew enough to hook up with people who are professionals. First he connected with Norman Kobler, son of the late Hans Kobler, legendary Anderson Valley winemaker who, with his wife, Theresia, founded Lazy Creek Vineyards. “He brought hands-on experience,” says Kurt. Kobler, his wife, and their two sons live on the property. Kurt also worked with one of Mendocino County’s renowned vineyard managers, Mark Welch, who helped develop the replanting of the entire 75 acres. “It was dumb luck to find Norman and Mark,” says Kurt. When Welch moved on, Kurt hired Anderson Valley’s Paul Ardzrooni. “Mark was smart and got us going. Now Paul is doing a wonderful job,” says Kurt, who is clearly proud of his team. Rounding out that team are seven key vineyard workers who, with their families, also live on the property.
A communal spirit surrounds Ferrington Vineyards. “It is my intention that everyone feels part of the place,” says Kurt. The philosophy embraces that everyone pitches in if something needs to be done. They have a herd of sheep, natural “lamb mowers” they call them. They raise a couple of steers that are butchered to stock everyone’s freezer.
The Schoenemans now live here full time. They still manage their apartment buildings. “How do you think I can afford to be a grape grower?” Kurt laughs. At Ferrington Vineyards forty-four acres are planted with six different clones of Pinot Noir grapes, eighteen acres are in Chardonnay, a dozen in Gewürztraminer and an acre in Sauvignon Blanc. The reputation for quality and the number of wine labels that tout Ferrington Vineyards as the grape source is growing. What makes the grapes here so great? “Terroir combined with vineyard practices,” says Kurt. He explains that the rocky soil in his vineyard is not conducive to high yields. “Since I can’t go for quantity, I go for quality,” he explains.
Wine made from grapes grown at Ferrington Vineyards consistently gets high scores by noted wine rankers such as Robert Parker, and also the Wine Spectator. Wineries that buy grapes from Ferrington have included Anderson Valley’s Foursight, Handley, Husch, Londer, and Philo Ridge, Sonoma’s Arista, Flowers, and Napa’s Twomey. McPhail’s 2005 Ferrington Vine- yards Pinot Noir was listed in the San Francisco Chronicle’s top 100 wines. Wines such as Williams Selyem and Londer Pinot Noir consistently rate more than 90 points out of a possible 100.
Kurt is proud not only of the success of his vineyards, but of Anderson Valley as well. “Of the top twenty Pinot Noirs in the Chronicle competition, five are from Oregon, fifteen are from California and of those, six are from Anderson Valley. That’s pretty remarkable considering Anderson Valley grows about one percent of the Pinot Noir in the state,” he says.
Currently a new project is growing out of Ferrington Vineyards. The family has decided to bottle a small release under the label Fathers & Daughters Cellars. Guy Pacurar, husband of Sarah, is bottling a new vintage in honor of the fathers and daughters of the vineyard. The first release commemorated the birth of Guy and Sarah’s daughter, Ella. Now four years old, Ella does not yet realize the legacy that is being created for her, but the fathers and daughters don’t end there; Kurt and Sarah started it all and now Taylor, Guy’s older daughter is involved as well. “ We are embarking on a multi-generational adventure, exploring three of the best things in life: fathers, daughters, and wine.” says Pacurar. “We had no idea how much this name and the concept behind Fathers & Daughters would resonate until we started pouring the wine, first at the Anderson Valley Pinot Festival, then at the LA WineFest.” We at Word of Mouth magazine agree. A bottle of Fathers & Daughters Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc would make the perfect gift for the fathers or daughters in your life.