Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley has become known for producing world-class pinot noir wine, and Norman Kobler has spent much of his life in that cooler, coastal valley, becoming a go-to manager of its vineyards.
For the past 20 years, Kobler, 51, has been vineyard manager for Ferrington Vineyards, which has 75 acres of vines near Boonville, half of it planted to pinot noir and the rest gewürztraminer, chardonnay and some 5-decade-old sauvignon blanc. In 2003, he also started managing another 75 acres of grapes in the valley for Ardzrooni Vineyard Management, which farms nearly 500 acres of vines, mostly in Anderson Valley as well as for Schramsberg Vineyard in Napa Valley.
“Most of the markets we sell pinot noir (grapes) to are high-end markets, and some go into $100 bottles,” Kobler said.
Ferrington sells grapes to nine wineries, two based in Anderson Valley as well as ones from Sonoma and Napa counties, such as Arista, Williams Selyem, Flowers, Twomey and J. Davies.
North Bay Business Journal will be recognizing Kobler in the Vineyard Manager category of the Wine Industry + Spirits & Beer Awards at an event Nov. 28.
The Kobler family have been Anderson Valley wine trail-blazers. His parents, Hans and Theresa, immigrated from Switzerland, waited tables in San Francisco, purchased the 90-acre Spinolli plum and grape homestead at Lazy Creek near Philo in 1969 and moved there in 1973. At age 7, Norman Kobler was working after school until dark in the vineyards. His parents, he and an employee planted 20 acres of grapes, making an early bet on pinot noir, which the late wine icon Robert Mondavi is said to have advised them against.
Lazy Creek Vineyards grew to produce about 3,000 cases annually of chardonnay, pinot noir and gewürztraminer. In 1998, the Chandlers bought the then-95-acre property and winery, and Don and Rhonda Carano of Ferrari-Carano purchased it in 2008.
After Norman Kobler graduated high school, he flexed his dual citizenship to work at a small Swiss winery with 20 acres of vines. A season later, he returned to Anderson Valley and worked vineyard-management and winery stints at Handley Cellars, Edmeades, Pepperwood Springs and Philo Ridge. He was working in Potter Valley for Welch Vineyard Management when Ferrington owner Kurt Schoeneman hired him to further develop the property he had just purchased.
After grape seasons end, Kobler usually is prepping for crab season, which starts Dec. 1 and runs until spring frost becomes a problem that needs his attention in the vineyard. He started working with Paul Ardzrooni, owner of the vineyard-management company, on various grape projects in 1991 and in the latter part of that decade joined the crew of his crab boat. After 10 years on the crew, he purchased the boat. His best crab season hauled in 100,000 pounds, sold to North Coast Fisheries of Santa Rosa.
“With crab fishing, you have to go 24 hours a day, with sodium lights it is like night harvest (of grapes),” Kobler said. “You’re always dependent on mother nature, and in that way it is similar to farming.”
His two sons also are interested in wine-related careers. In high school, they worked in the vineyards for Ardzrooni. One is a sophomore at Chico State University, majoring in business with an eye toward how it’s used in fishing and farming. The other is a high school senior, thinking about studying viticulture at University of California, Davis, or California Polytechnic State University.
Jeff Quackenbush (email@example.com, 707-521-4256) covers the wine business and real estate