Food & WineTravel

With the Wind at Their Backs

Written by Stefanie Lingle Beasley

Father-and-son team John and Johnny Sweazey blend Old World techniques with cutting-edge technology and renewable energy to produce delicious wines and a safe outdoor tasting experience.

The Greeks use the word “anabatos” to describe a warm wind that moves up a mountainside or steep slope. Anabatic winds are auspicious for everyone from glider pilots to farmers and, in this case, winemakers. The story of Anaba Wines begins long before the Sweazey family discovered a precious piece of Carneros land that benefits from the breezes that rush over the vines from the San Pablo Bay.

John Sweazey recalls falling in love with wine and winemaking during his college days at Stanford. “I grew up in Chicago,” he says, “and came out to California in the ’60s. Palo Alto and the Bay Area were so beautiful, so inspiring—I knew at once that I did not want to return to the Midwest. I remember trips to Napa and staying at the El Bonita Motel for Big Game weekends. That’s when I first tried wine and experienced the vineyards, and my obsession started.” After graduating and going to work for IBM for three years, Sweazey resigned from his sales job and embarked on a nine-month trip in a VW camper van through Europe, exploring wine regions in multiple countries and spending countless hours sipping wines with third- and fourth-generation winemakers. “I knew then,” he recalls, “I wanted to be a part of the wine world, to start and build a winery of my own.”

Back in San Francisco, Sweazey entered the real estate finance business, but his passion for winemaking did not wane. He continued his study of wine production, including making wine at home, and taking wine appreciation classes. With his wife, Kathleen, he would return again and again to his favorite French wine regions, including Bordeaux and Champagne. It was during these personal visits with numerous French vintners that his dream of becoming a “vintner” became indelible. “But,” adds John, “Kathleen pointed out that maybe we should explore that after the kids were paid for—so, I worked in San Francisco and we raised our kids on the Peninsula.” Once the Sweazey children had grown up and were off at college, John started to take a serious look at wine country real estate.

“I basically grew up around wine,” Johnny Sweazey says. “Dad’s love of wine was everywhere. I knew all about the wine tasting wheel even as a kid. When I was a freshman at the University of Colorado, Dad finally found his winery site.”

“It was 2006,” adds John. “Napa Valley is wonderful, but I wanted to be in Sonoma. It just feels like the Napa of 40 years ago. This site at the intersection of Highways 121 and 116 had a great location, charming old farmhouse, and marvelous winds. The winds reminded me of the mistral in the Rhône Valley. I even looked into the idea of naming the vineyard ‘Mistral,’ but the Phelps family had it already, so I opted for “Anaba.”

Harnessing the power of the wind has been at the core of building Anaba. Three years after John purchased these 16 rolling acres, he installed a 45-foot Skystream wind turbine—making Anaba the first winery in Northern California to utilize wind power. Not only does the turbine power many of the vineyard’s operations and irrigation, but it also powers an electric car charger for tasting room guests. With the addition of solar panels this year, Anaba now runs on 100 percent renewable energy.

Johnny has been behind many of Anaba’s green initiatives. “I had no intention of going into the family business after college,” he recalls. “I worked for LinkedIn and had my eyes set on tech. I met my wife at LinkedIn, too. One morning we woke up to find out that Microsoft had purchased LinkedIn and looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s take a long trip.’ We explored Asia for six months and then Europe for six months. We drove a little Fiat 500 through nearly 25 different wine regions, visiting small family-owned vine-yards from Bratislava to Barcelona.” Along the way, Johnny found himself comparing notes with fascinating people whose lives were entwined with the land and had an aha moment. Johnny says, “I was falling in love with this business much the same way my dad had 45 years before me.” It was then that Johnny called his dad and asked if he could join him at Anaba.

Together with award-winning wine-maker Katy Wilson, the father-and-son team embarked on building the vineyard of their dreams, crafting artistic Rhône-style blends and graceful chardonnays and pinot noirs that reflect the elegance of the gently sloping vineyards found in Burgundy. Sonoma’s microclimates are ideal for these grape varieties.

A wine’s journey from grape to glass always begins in the vineyard, where soil, wind, rain, and all the elements of nature combine to weave a rich sense of place. Anaba’s wines do exactly that, evoking sun-kissed notes enhanced by coastal fog. “We only make 10,000 cases a year, but have permits for up to 60,000,” John says. “We’ve had two choices—go big and have Anaba in stores all over the country, or try to be more like Patz and Hall, medium size but great quality. We’ve opted for the latter.” Wine critics and aficionados have taken notice. Many of Anaba’s wines earn top marks and 92+ points. Locals and tourists alike have fallen in love with Anaba’s delicious vintages as much as the experience of enjoying a glass at Anaba’s new tasting room, complete with patios, terraces, bocce ball courts, and paddle tennis overlooking the vineyards.

During the pandemic, John and Johnny have remained optimistic. “We invested in digital from the beginning,” relates Johnny. “That’s definitely paying dividends now. We are actively staying engaged with our wine club and bringing them a variety of virtual options.” But the outdoor facilities have been equally important. “Offering a safe outdoor option for guests has been a real draw,” John adds. Since early June guests have been able to make reservations for a seated outdoor wine-tasting experience that starts with a refreshing splash of Anaba’s 2019 Rosé of Grenache from the Sonoma Coast, before being seated. As of press time, fire season is in full throttle, but the Sweazeys and Wilson are looking on the bright side. Wilson says, “This year as a whole has been full of challenges, but we have a shared goal to produce delicious high-quality wine and we’re committed to that.”

Looking out on his beloved winery and vineyard, John is reminded that “anaba” doesn’t only hail from the Greek. “It’s a Japanese word as well,” he notes fondly. “It translates to ‘a little known or secret, secluded place.’ I think that is fitting.”

It may not be a secret, but Anaba is most certainly a very special place.

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