August 18, 2015 – Vibrant, energetic and beautiful, Christine Slatter doesn’t look like your stereotypical great grandmother or someone about to “retire” any time soon. When we caught up for a quick chat, Christine and husband Vann had just welcomed their new great grandson, were getting organized for the rush of bottling prior to a very early harvest and had just listed their beloved farm, where they’ve lived for 47 years, on the market. A decision they arrived at after much thoughtful discussion.
They’d already decided not to make wine for the 2015 vintage, and were happy to have sold the lions share of their grapes: just a wee bit of Merlot and Zin were still available as of press (ahem) time.
Looking back on the evolution of what became Hunter Hill Vineyard & Winery, Christine explains that it was her grandparents’ homestead where she loved to spend time during the summers, when she and her cousins would all get together. A few years later, when her husband Vann returned from the Vietnam War, she moved, at age 19 with her two children, into the old house her grandparents had once occupied in Soquel.
“Just ‘til you get your feet on the ground,” her grandmother said. How often have those simple, fatefully apocryphal words cast themselves into a grounding permanency that defies description.
It has been a beautiful run: they never planned to have commercial vineyards, a winery or a tasting room. They were just being stewards of the land, converting pieces of an old apple orchard, as her uncles would allow, to something a bit more interesting, which happened to be merlot at that time. Back in the late 90s, that was a safe bet. They were busy with their thriving construction business, and made wine as a hobby.
Getting some amazing pinot noir grapes from some dear friends who owned the Hellenthal vineyard on the Sonoma Coast (co-farmed with David Hirsch), completely turned their heads, and soon they were busily grafting the estate merlot to pinot, and planting even more vines. They went from 7 to 14 acres, put in a beautiful duck pond, planted 95 avocado trees, started raising chickens and grew a wine club family that is intensely loyal.
Over the years, it became a destination for picnic lovers and their annual Game Feeds became a highlight for the wine club, as the family of hunters shared their bounty with all who would dare eat moose ears, wild boar, squab and venison, prepared in savory sauces that complemented the Lodi Zin and estate Syrah. They were especially proud to bring home the Golden Bear from the State Fair for their truly outstanding 2004 Mesa del Sol Syrah, with grapes purchased from Ann Hougham in Arroyo Seco.
Fast forward a decade and suddenly it was 2015. The newlyweds of 47 years ago decided it was time to simplify their lives.
The property for sale ($2.5M) includes 5.94 acres of mature vineyards with ponds, beautiful landscaping, gorgeous facilities, barbeque area, gazebo, chicken coops, outdoor sleeping porch and in-ground pool. The farmhouse, which was completely remodeled in 1986, includes 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms plus a basement. Some winemaking equipment is included in the price, but the inventory is separately negotiable.
Christine and Vann are now looking forward to the next phase of their lives when they worry less about grapes and more about their great grandchildren.
“It’s really been a glorious time. We went from 500 merlot vines to 14 acres of grapes! It suddenly became a big business. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Where my uncle couldn’t drive his apple tractor, we planted vines. This turned into something we never planned, and I wouldn’t trade the joy and friendship it has brought us for anything.”
Their ideal retirement dream is to spend time hunting ducks at their favorite cabin in Gustine, then look for a place where they can enjoy springs and summers, again on some body of water. There’s not a lot of pre-conception, other than to make time for what really matters now, which is preserving and enjoying their health, and being the most awesome great grandparents possible.
In the end, it’s still all about family, and the ties that bind. Says Christine with her sunny, all-knowing smile, “We’re so ‘On Golden Pond’.”
Laura Ness is a longtime wine journalist, columnist and judge who contributes regularly to Edible Monterey Bay, Spirited, WineOh.Tv, Los Gatos Magazine and Wine Industry Network, and a variety of consumer publications. Her passion is telling stories about the intriguing characters who inhabit the fascinating world of wine and food.