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Day December 3, 2012

The History of Dry Creek Valley, Lake Sonoma, and Rockpile: Meeting the Mauritson Family

Honestly? This is part of why I follow the project of this blog–meeting the Mauritson family, and making contact, in a sense, with history, and regard for family, is a genuine honor for me. The Mauritson’s were generous enough to share some of their historic family photos for me to post here. I am deeply grateful. Thank you.

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Meeting the Mauriston Family

The Hallengren-Mauritson Family Homestead, now under Lake Sonoma

The vitality of the Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley AVAs depend partially on the the creation of the Warm Springs dam, which controls the flow of Dry Creek, one of the tributaries of the Russian River. As described by the Army Corps of Engineers, the purpose for creating the creek containment was to reduce the flow into the Russian River, thereby reducing serious annual flooding along its drainage into the Pacific Ocean, and in less common instances further inland as well. The reservoir resulting from the dam also guaranteed a supply of water (needed for irrigation in an otherwise fairly dry area), and the production of electricity for portions of Sonoma county. Greater development and planting along the waterways then became possible.

Warm Springs dam proved controversial at its beginnings for a collection of reasons. To create the reservoir west of Healdsburg, the U.S. Army Corps reclaimed land that had been homesteaded through the area, paying as little 9 cents on the dollar for the lands’ value.The Pomo tribe, that had resided through the Dry Creek area also fought creation of the dam due to the loss of archaeological sites it would cause by flooding the valleys North of the containment. Additionally, the dam was built through an area of significant geological activity–it crosses a fault line–with the safety of the engineering feat regularly called into question.

The Mauritson family, reaching back through the Hallengren side, had settled significant portions of the land now under Lake Sonoma, with four generations establishing their livelihood on the family’s estate through sheep ranching, grape and prune growing. As recently as 1960, 3300 acres of the Hallengren-Mauritson estate were reclaimed under assertion of Eminent Domain to allow production of the dam. The family was able to retain smaller portions of their original land grants on what are now the hillsides above Lake Sonoma, at the overlap between Dry Creek Valley AVA and Rockpile AVA.

Tomorrow I’ll post photos of the Mauritson family site today. Today, I am so grateful to share photos from the Mauritson family’s archive. They have given me permission to share photos of their family estate from the early part of the 1900s, far prior to the creation of the county’s reservoir.

Clay Mauritson‘s grandfather, Edward, who lived much of his life on the family property, shares notes about life on the estate handwritten around the following two images.

Looking Under Lake Sonoma

Looking into the valley of the Hallengren-Mauritson Homestead, notes around the edges handwritten by late Grandfather, Edward Mauritson. Click on image to enlarge.

Reads: May 2, 1983 — This is the old Hallengren home area (as you can see by my mother’s penmanship below). This picture taken about 1912 or 1913 (pretty good camera those days). They had all the area in vineyard down in the middle and winery run by a steam engine, no electricity in those days. My uncle Lloyd used to go down to said winery and build up lots of steam in the steam engine on December 31 and at midnight tie the whistle down. Uncle Lloyd (red hair, everybody called him carrot top) was quite a boy. This vineyard in those days was taken care of by all Japanese people that lived right on the ranch, no Mexicans in those days. Later this vineyard was taken out and put into prunes. Next door neighbors, Rickards, took their vineyard out also (grapes only $4 or 5 a ton).”

The Mauritson family established their initial homestead in 1868, with progression of their estate occurring through homestead based land grants from 3 different presidents, culminating in a 4000 acre property.

Documentation shows the family establishing grape vines on the valley floor, and up some hillsides as early as 1884, with clear harvest records from as early as 1893. As a result, the Mauritson family has included six generations, over 140 years, of vineyard farmers.

The History of North Dry Creek Valley, and the Southern Rockpile AVAs

The Hallengren-Mauritson Homestead. The front portions of this photo are all currently under Lake Sonoma. Portions of the ridge along the back are not under water. Text handwritten by grandfather that lived most of his life on the Homestead property. Reads: May 2, 1983 — My Aunt Lily, sitting on the rock, a former school teacher (old maid, never married) and a super super cook as I can remember. Aunt Lettie, sitting on the horse, had all the financial brains. Everything she touched turned into money, and was Ed Thompson first wife. Eleven years older than Ed and could out talk Ronald Reagan. On the wagon is Ed Thompson (on the inside) and old “carrot top” Uncle Lloyd. Lloyd was quite a politician and even run for State Senator one year, didn’t get enough votes to even become the dog catcher, quote “Hay” [can't read]. Lloyd was always broke and borrowing from his sister.”

Though the land was reclaimed by the government in 1960, the family was given a few years to move from their property. In 1968, the title to the original land was pulled, and the family purchased a smaller parcel in Alexander Valley with the money given in exchange. Though the new property was originally planted in prunes, it was immediately turned to vineyards.

The remaining land in the Dry Creek Valley/Rockpile overlap, overlooking Lake Sonoma (and shown in the photo above), as well as newer parcels through Dry Creek Valley have since also been planted in vines by the Mauritsons.

In 1998, Clay Mauritson became the first winemaker in generations of vineyard owners. As Clay explained to me, growing up taking care of vineyards he wanted little to do with the activity. But, after leaving the area for college his view of the quality of life in Sonoma County improved. He wanted to return to the area, and live closer to his family, but shifted out of vines and into wine.

Clay began by first taking harvest internships in other Dry Creek Valley wineries, and then working full time for other winemakers. While helping other wineries crush, Clay developed his own label in a custom crush facility. After 5 years, showing that Mauritson wine could offer a viable business, the family built their winery located at the entrance of Dry Creek Valley, focusing on their own Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel and Bordeaux-style wines, alongside offering custom crush services.

Tomorrow, I’ll post notes from a Cabernet Sauvignon tasting I was lucky enough to attend with the Mauritson family. Clay is passionate about soils, with the family growing in 17 different registered soil types.

To show how great the difference of expression soil can offer, Clay has created his Loam series–4 Cabernet Sauvignon wines, each grown on the same root stock, the same clone, and vinified the same way, but from different soils.

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Thank you to Kyrsa Dixon.

Thank you to Ashley Mauritson for taking time to meet with me, show me Rockpile and taste me on the family wines. Thank you to Carrie Mauritson for sharing the family photos with me.

Thank you especially to Clay Mauritson for taking time to talk with me.

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Part 2: Visiting the Dry Creek Valley, Rockpile AVAs Overlap: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/12/04/visiting-the-dry-creek-valley-rockpile-avas-overlap-the-mauritson-family-vineyards/

Part 3: Tasting the Soil: Meeting Clay Mauritson’s Passion for Loam and Cabernet: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/12/05/tasting-the-soil-clay-mauritsons-passion-for-loam-and-cabernet/

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