We had just been beaten at horseshoes when I joked to my partner who sold farms, "If you ever have a ranch for sale in the wine country..."
That was July 1967 and, yes, he did have one. In Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley. We’d never been there, but two weeks later we visited the one hundred acre farm of prunes, pears and Zinfandel grapes.
On November 1st, the land was ours and many years of hard work began. For the first years we were prune and pear farmers while we planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay vines.
In October 1971, our new vines produced their first harvest and we were officially in the wine grape business. Some of those grapes traveled to Berkeley with us to make wine at home. Most were sold to Sonoma and Napa wineries.
In those early years we were encouraged by the friendly expertise of veteran ranchers and the skilled work of our vineyard manager and crew. There were regular “rock concerts” when our family and friends helped clear stones from the new vineyard. Plus weekends commuting to plow with an old tractor and put out milk cartons to protect the new vines from hungry jackrabbits.
By 1974, the one hundred acres were planted with premium wine grapevines. That put us on the farming calendar: Raise the grapes. Endure weather and battle bugs. Sell the grapes. Survive slumping grape prices. Deliver the grapes to wineries. Pay the banker.
Oldest son Parke Hafner graduated from the University of California at Davis after studying grape-growing and winemaking. Then he worked for two years at Napa Valley wineries. We began to plan our winery.
In late 1981, Parke and bride Sarah returned from working a harvest in France’s Burgundy region. Winery building began in earnest. By September 1982 the winery was ready for our first crush, with Parke as a youthful, but already seasoned winemaker. Four rainstorms during the Cabernet harvest that year christened our first vintage and we handled it well.
With the wine bottled and ready, marketing became our next challenge. Younger son Scott liked our idea of selling directly and exclusively to patrons and leading California restaurants. That winery-to-patron relationship fit perfectly with our desire to be small scale, personal and offering wine at a good value, carrying our commitment to quality all the way from the vineyard to our patrons’ doors.
Following two harvests at a Napa Valley winery, Scott then worked for two years at The Sharper Image headquarters in San Francisco. He returned to Alexander Valley to create our marketing strategy with personal service as its guiding goal. That was 30 years ago and our program has proved to be personal, dependable and successful.
For 50 years, our family has worked together to create this family vineyard and winery. Those early days included our two daughters, Julie and Betsy, now living on the East Coast. Parke and Sarah’s daughter Kate has joined the winery staff to make Hafner Vineyard a three generation enterprise.
Many have written eloquently of the deep feeling that comes from working with the earth. We can attest to that. Work in such a beautiful setting has inspired us and the enjoyment our wines have given to our patrons is deeply satisfying.
Now the second generation is guiding this venture with Parke and Scott as managing partners. Mary and I draw great fulfillment from looking back on nearly five decades of our family working together here. We have a deep sense of belonging to the land and a strong appreciation of those who tend the soil and bring forth its products.