Ancient Oaks Cellars hopes to open its tasting room in Corrick’s Stationery Store on Fourth Street. What’s the story behind this winery, and just exactly when can we start swirling, sipping and shopping? Here’s a Q & A with co-vintner Melissa Moholt-Siebert to catch up on progress. The Ancient Oaks Tasting Room could be a game-changer for downtown Santa Rosa.
Q: If your Ancient Oaks Tasting Room is approved how will it change “the culture” of downtown Santa Rosa?
Moholt-Siebert: I think it will enhance the culture that exists. There are strong family-owned businesses that offer the best that Sonoma County has to offer in their various settings. We’ll add to that. What I do think that we’ll be able to be a part of is bringing a renewed sense of vibrancy to the downtown. It’s been a hard time to be a small, family-owned retail-oriented business. What we can do is help to bring more folks – tourists and locals alike – into downtown, where they’ll stay to do some shopping, have a bite to eat, and discover or remember what downtown Santa Rosa has to offer.
Q: Where are you in the process? What hoops do you still have to go through to make this a reality?
Moholt-Siebert: There have been neighborhood public meetings to give folks a chance to give feedback to the city staff. All of it has been very positive. The next step is the Planning Commission hearing in mid-July and then it will go to City Council. We’re really hoping that can happen in August, but it may be early September. That would have us opening near the end of harvest or shortly thereafter.
Q: What’s your back story? What don’t the uninitiated know about Ancient Oaks?
Moholt-Siebert: We are a small family operation – with just the two of us (Ken and Melissa), our winemaker Kent Barthman, and a few full-time vineyard workers. We are very hands-on and do it all ourselves. Our vineyards are Ken’s top priority. As they say, great wine starts in the vineyard. Melissa has been focused on developing national sales, which is now established to the point that she can turn her attention to starting this tasting room and introducing the wine to California. We hope to have the wine in more of the fantastic local restaurants and retail outlets soon.
Q: How did a property ignite your love affair with wine?
Moholt-Siebert: For us, the wine is rooted in the land. We began working with Ken’s grandparents many years ago to help on the vineyard. And Ken spent much of his childhood coming up here from Berkeley. This has always been a “place of the heart” for Ken, and developed into that for the rest of the family as well. So when we had the chance to take over the vineyard, we did so. Ken and I both grew up in families that cared deeply about growing our own food, cooking as a family, eating well, and enjoying wine. We want to educate and share with others the importance of a direct connection with the land and are passing this on to our kids in a very immediate way.
Q: Do you expect more tasting rooms to follow your lead and try to move into downtown Santa Rosa?
Moholt-Siebert: We absolutely expect – and hope – that more tasting rooms will follow into the Fourth Street area of downtown Santa Rosa. The city is working hard to create an environment that is conducive to tasting rooms and brew pubs. We can’t wait to have additions to those who have paved the way, and to be a part of the thriving community that is forming.
Q: If your tasting room gets the green light, what labels will you be pouring? What are their price points?
Moholt-Siebert: This will be a showcase for Ancient Oak cellars. We offer a Russian River Chardonnay for $20, a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir for $25, an Alexander Valley Cabernet for $25, a highly-rated single-vineyard (Pagnano Vineyard) Russian River Valley Zinfandel for $32, and a single-vineyard (Siebert Ranch) Russian River Valley Pinot for $35. We will have some amazing single-vineyard (Berger Vineyard) Sonoma Mountain Cab in another year or so.
Q: What will this synergy between wine and commerce do for downtown Santa Rosa?
Moholt-Siebert: Santa Rosa is the capital of the Sonoma County Wine Country. It has a charming downtown with amazing merchants – many with such a rich history of generations of civic involvement in Santa Rosa. Being able to publicly celebrate the great wine we make here in Sonoma County will be such a pleasure. And the increased number of tourists we draw will be fantastic for the restaurants and shops downtown.
The California Visitor’s Center and Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce tell us that they expect 52,000 visitors to the Welcome Center this year. Of those 52,000, about 85% are coming in and seeking information regarding wineries and tasting rooms, and of that number, 55% are specifically asking for referrals to wineries and tasting rooms in the City of Santa Rosa. What a great opportunity to bring this wide group of new visitors into downtown to share not only our wine but also the fantastic art and local products at Corrick’s, great coffee, exciting local restaurants, and small shops that form the heart of downtown Santa Rosa.