The phrase “hidden gem” is overused. But Hans Fahden Vineyards, an often-bypassed destination marked by a large roadside barrel on Petrified Forest Road between Santa Rosa and Calistoga city limits, definitely qualifies.
Arriving a bit early for our appointment, we’re given a glass of sauvignon blanc and invited to wander the lush Monet-style garden while we wait. Lovely. There, we meet Lyall, the (we presume) gardener, who’s fixing a sprinkler head. He affably tells us all about the garden’s inspiration, hidden nooks and event areas (Hans Fahden is permitted to host up to 50 weddings per year).
After a genial conversation, we’re greeted by winemaker David Sundberg to begin our formal visit (the winery offers three different tasting experiences, including a private tasting with Sundberg; same-day appointments are welcome as available). We take the wandering way back to the tasting room, now with a glass of rosé, as Sundberg tells us about the history—and future—of Hans Fahden.
A heritage property
In 1913, the 104-acre property was purchased by namesake and German immigrant Hans Fahden. Much of the estate remains wildland, though a small portion of the land was originally planted to grapes; during Prohibition, that shifted to walnuts and French plums (prunes). In the late 1970s and early ’80s, 22 acres of land was planted to cabernet sauvignon grapes. By 1986, the winery was bonded. The first bottle of wine was produced in 1987, and the winery began hosting public tastings in 1996. By then, the property was under the management of Hans’ grandsons, Antone and Lyall.
That’s right: Lyall, our friendly gardener, is actually the owner.
Antone focused his time on planting the gardens and developing the wedding business, Lyall on the winery and vineyards. When Antone retired in 2017, the whole shebang fell to Lyall and his wife, Karen. The weddings and events were the more profitable arm, so that’s where focus necessarily went.
With several Insta-worthy indoor and outdoor spaces (including a wine cave, covered bridge, multiple ponds and a sunlit and scenic tasting room), the Hans Fahden property is a popular destination for weddings, parties and corporate events—all thanks to an expansive early county permit. “We’re lucky to have entered the event business when wine country weddings were just becoming popular nationally,” says Karen Fahden.
By 2015, the wine program was in dire need of a refresh. Enter Sundberg, a consulting winemaker, who has slowly added new varieties and blends to the program. Awards and acclaim have followed, and now Hans Fahden is ready for reintroduction.
Wine program revamp
Today, in addition to estate cabernet, Sundberg sources fruit from vineyards across Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties to produce more than 10 different wines annually, including a sparkling that is only available to wedding parties.
“I like the wine to express its varietal characteristics, rather than creating big bombs,” says Sundberg. “Luckily, the trend has swung back that way, so that’s nice.” Picking at a lower brix (ripeness) means “the wines are so much brighter and less cumbersome, with a different fruit profile too.” Every wine we try bears this out, from the crisp and refreshing sauvignon blanc to the deep, lush reds.
“It’s been a cool transformation since I came in,” Sundberg says of the efforts to reestablish the winery.
“It’s been growing naturally,” he says of the work. “The wine club isn’t huge [about 500 members] but it is growing, and we’re starting to host pick-up and release parties again.” Just another step toward a thriving and robust wine program.
Having survived the one-two punch of wildfires (that took out several acres of vineyard) and the pandemic, Hans Fahden is ready to welcome visitors back. Whether you plan ahead or squeeze in, you’ll be greeted warmly and treated to some really good wine.
Don’t forget to wander the gardens while you’re there. You might meet a friendly gardener named Lyall who’s happy to share a few stories.