Meet Bill Nachbaur, Vigneron at ACORN Winery

Meet Bill Nachbaur of Acorn Winery in Sonoma as part of a series of winemaker interviews I am doing for California Winery Advisor.

An acorn symbolizes prosperity and potential. And little acorns grow into mighty oak trees. That was the inspiration for the name of Acorn Winery in the Russian River Valley. Acorn Winery was established by Bill and Betsy Nachbaur after they purchased the Alegría Vineyards in 1990. The historic 32-acre property had eight-and-a-half acres planted to heritage grapes dating back to 1890.

The little winery has grown and has 26 acres planted today and there are approximately 40 different grape varieties are grown at Alegría Vineyards. There are the heritage grapes, such as Zinfandel, Petit Sirah, Carignan and Alicante Bouschet, as well as Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, and Dolcetto. They also have many other lesser-known varieties, such as Freisa, Graciano, Plavac Mali (from Croatia) and Liatiko (from Crete), to name a few. The diverse grape varieties grow together, are harvested together, and are crushed and co-fermented. The resulting wines are field blends which are Acorn Winery specialties.

What made you choose the region you are in to make wine?

We have always loved the wines from the Russian River Valley, and I have family roots in Sonoma County that go back to 1868. Our Alegría Vineyards (first planted in 1890), is just south of Healdsburg and is an easy drive from almost anywhere in the Bay area. The proximity of the Pacific Ocean moderates the climate, which makes it possible to grow a diversity of grape varieties.

Is there something specific that you love about the region you are in?

Since I was a boy, growing up in Vallejo, I wanted to be a farmer. I liked that Sonoma is more about farming, and less about lifestyle, like Napa. I enjoy working in the vineyard, seeing the results of my labor, observing the wildlife in the vineyard, and the changes of the seasons. I especially like that the fog coming up the Russian River Valley from the ocean keeps the vineyard relatively cool. It turns out that the sort of weather I like is also great for grapes.

What is your favorite wine variety? Why?

Zinfandel, particularly in a field blend, is my favorite. The diversity of a field blend like our Heritage Vines Zinfandel makes the wine complete and complex. Zinfandel became California’s most widely planted grape in the 1860s, and I like the story of Zinfandel as a successful immigrant that was not a “noble” grape back in the old country.

Is there a wine variety that intrigues you? Have you worked with it or do you have plans to? 

We recently planted Gruner Veltliner and Alvarinho in field blends with other Austrian and Portuguese grapes. I am looking forward to making wine from them. They represent the Austrian and Portuguese part of my family’s heritage, and we have not produced a white wine at ACORN, so it is an exciting new venture.

What are you drinking right now?

Our field blend Rosato. It has more color and flavor than many rosés, more like a French Tavel in style than a rosé from Provence. It’s a year ‘round rosé that goes well with salmon, Thanksgiving dinner, even spicy Asian food. (The blend is a little different each year. The 2019 includes Sangiovese, Syrah, Zinfandel, Dolcetto, and Cabernet Franc.)

What was the moment or experience that piqued your interest in wine?

Back in the early ’70s, we ordered a bottle of Chateau Carbonnieux from Graves at a fancy French restaurant in Washington DC. It was a real eye-opener compared to the jug wine we had been drinking and it incented us to explore a diversity of wines.

If you were not making wine, what would you be doing?

I would probably still be growing grapes, but maybe I would have more time for woodworking or painting. Maybe some volunteer lawyer work focusing on social justice and equality. We have a diverse vineyard of grapes growing together harmoniously and we sometimes call it the United Nations of Grapes. It would be nice to bring that to our community.

As a winery, how do you typically reach your customers? What are you doing to increase DTC sales outside the tasting room?

We are fortunate to have many people visit, or order ACORN wines after tasting our wine at a local restaurant, or with friends at home. We are active on social media and communicate frequently with our extended ACORN family. Our private sit-down tastings often followed by a vineyard walk are the best introduction to our wines. They are also our favorite way to share our wines and our passion for field blends, and farming, with visitors.

In the “new normal” of the COVID world, how are you doing? How are you adapting? What is working for you?

We are starting slowly and keeping in touch with our guests and members. We are revamping how we do tastings in the era of COVID, to be sure that visitors have a safe and enjoyable experience. We’re cautiously optimistic. We have been offering customers the opportunity to order wine and pick it up at the door. Some have taken the opportunity to go for a walk in the vineyard to get some fresh air and exercise or even enjoy a picnic.

What is the one tip you would give the average wine buyer about finding great value wines?

Be curious: try it you might like it. We suggest folks actively seek out and try grapes they are unfamiliar with, from producers and regions they do not know, and to trust their palates.

Read the original story in California Winery Advisor.