JD Crayne/Daily Journal
Woodside Vineyards is the oldest winery in San Mateo County.
The phrase "Northern California winery” might bring to mind images of the vineyards in Napa Valley, but San Mateo County has a winery legacy of its own. And it started in Woodside nearly 50 years ago.
Woodside Vineyards is the oldest winery in the county and, despite its long-standing success, the priority is to keep the business local and personal, said owner Louis "Buff” Giurlani.
"Everything about Woodside Vineyards ... it’s all local, period,” Giurlani said.
Officially begun in 1963, Woodside Vineyards was the 120th winery in the state, Giurlani said. Now there are more than 3,300, he added. Founder Bob Mullen had started making wine in Woodside several years before just as a hobby, but soon he had more than he and his friends could drink, Giurlani said.
While Giurlani, 68, is no stranger to the food industry and is a native Bay Area resident, he hadn’t intended to get involved with Woodside Vineyards. He was planning to open an automobile and wine storage business in Menlo Park when he met Mullen, who convinced Giurlani to also take over control of the winery in 2010. Giurlani’s storage business, AutoVino and Woodside Vineyards, now share the same space in Menlo Park.
"[Mullen]’s a better salesman than I am,” Giurlani said.
Though the winery became official in 1963, some of the vines date back much farther. One of its cabernet sauvignon wines is made from the original world-famous La Questa grapevines, which were brought from France and first planted in Woodside in 1884. At that point in time, there were more vines here than in Napa Valley, Giurlani said. Though the vines are still harvested by the winery today, only about 50 cases of La Questa wine are produced every three years or so, Giurlani said, because they’re "very tired vines.” In addition to the La Questa cabernet wine, the winery produces two other cabernet wines as well as zinfandel, chardonnay and pinot noir. In total, the winery produces about 3,200 cases of wine every year, Giurlani said. Prices range from $25-$40 per bottle (except for the La Questa Cabernet, which will set you back $100).
Woodside Vineyards is described on its website as one of the first "boutique wineries” in the state, and Giurlani said that term means they are "very small all the way through.”
"Robert Mondavi spills more wine than we make,” Giurlani said. "Gallo evaporates more per day than we make.”
But staying small is intentional. While it is not the smallest vineyard in the area and its production has grown since Giurlani took over, it doesn’t want to get too big and lose its identity, he said.
"It would certainly be a shame ... if it sold to someone who had multiple wineries around and it just became another brand,” Giurlani said.
After Mullen started his vineyard, others with small vineyards in the area started asking him to take care of and buy their grapes, Giurlani said. And the winery’s production began to grow, Giurlani added. Today, Woodside Vineyards grows its grapes on 36 pieces of land throughout Woodside, Atherton and Portola Valley.
And the winery still helps people with private vineyards by doing one of three things: simply buying the grapes, trading the grapes for the resulting wine or helping the owner do a "custom crush” and produce their own wine. The maintenance and picking at Woodside Vineyards is all done by hand, Giurlani said.
Business relationships are another priority for Giurlani in running Woodside Vineyards. If he doesn’t like a customer, he said the vineyard won’t do business with them — although he added that doesn’t happen too often. And there are criteria that customers must meet, he said.
"I don’t want a customer so big we rely on them,” Giurlani said. "And I don’t want them further away than I can personally take care of ... it’s gotta be fun.”
San Mateo County residents reap the benefits as a result. Customers can find Woodside Vineyards wine at many local grocery stores and restaurants.
"Everyone wants to buy local,” Giurlani said. "I’ll go in for lunch, and I might as well go somewhere that buys our product. It’s fun. You know the people, you have fun with the people.”
The winery does ship their products around the country as well, but Giurlani said most customers who take advantage of this are those who used to live in the area and remember Woodside Vineyards wine. The winery also holds tastings throughout the year and they’re free if you’re a member of their La Questa Wine Club.
"It’s all about the personal touch,” said Giurlani, who added their wine is a good value. He doesn’t want to work with a distributor or broker, he said, because Woodside Vineyards would be just another name. They like the fact that people know them personally.
"Here it’s, ‘Oh there’s Buff, or Bob’... the winemaker goes out to dinner, and they know him, they appreciate the fact that we give back. That’s what we want to preserve,” Giurlani said.
205 Constitution Drive
Menlo Park CA 94025