A Sip Wines "Winelight"
John Sweazey & John Michael Sweazey, founders and proprietors
I’ll be honest, I’ve never quite understood the appeal of Bob Dylan as a singer. And it’s not because I don’t appreciate music from the 60s; I totally love Joni Mitchell and I mean, who doesn’t like the Beatles? (Except for their weird trippy experimental drugs music phase, I’m not quite open-minded enough for that.) It’s just that every time I hear Dylan sing, I can’t get past how odd his voice is—but I do have mad respect for Dylan as a poet. I have to assume even Will Dubs would agree to share the poetry pedestal with the man, because his words are profound.
For John Sweazey, founder of Anaba Wines, Dylan’s words turned out to be prophetic. At the risk of sounding too poetic myself, it was the wind that took John all the way from his birthplace of Chicago, the “Windy City,” to where he is today: founder and owner of a winery that is literally powered by, and named for, the wind. Kind of hard not to believe in destiny when you hear something like that.
How many roads must a man walk down?
A few, in John’s case. A former computer hardware salesman who left his job to travel, John arrived in the Rhone Valley region of France in the 1970s and fell in love with wine. Not just the beverage, although I’m sure that too, but the entire culture and process of wine, which resonated with him so deeply that he knew it was his destiny. Eventually, anyway—although Kathleen, his then-wife-to-be, was on board with the idea, she also knew that they had to make a few more stops along the way before reaching that goal. (To give you a sense of her timing, Kathleen told John at the time that they needed to hold off on opening a winery until their kids were out of college. At that time, those kids were purely hypothetical/aspirational, so she was definitely playing the long game.)
And so it was that 30 years passed. The Sweazeys moved to San Francisco to be closer to wine, those hypothetical kids did manifest and go to college, and when their youngest son (John Michael) entered college in 2015, John and Kathleen decided that the finish line was close enough to start looking for some wine land. Sonoma was the goal, a region in Northern California whose wine varietals closely mirrored those of the Rhone Valley, where John had first fallen in love with wine. Interestingly, it wasn’t just the types of wines coming out of the Rhone Valley that resonated with John, but in fact the entire culture of the region, which was populated largely with family-owned wineries rather than grand wine estates.
Four years later (which was an entirely reasonable and expected time to finish college but if I were the one waiting to open my winery I would have been like HURRY UP KID WHAT’S TAKING SO LONG), John Michael finished college and Kathleen’s requirements had been fulfilled. IT WAS WINE TIME.
Well, actually first it was WIND TIME.
A brief lesson: The Mythical Mistral
I’m not going all educational just for funsies (although, as I like to say, A DAY WITHOUT LEARNING IS A DAY WASTED), but rather because the unique characteristics of the Rhone Valley in France are pivotal to understanding the evolution of Anaba Wines—and why they’re so darn tasty. And it all boils down to “The Mistral,” which is a mythical, fabled, powerful… wind.
The Mistral is a wind that blows from northern and northwestern France straight across the Rhone Valley on its way to the Mediterranean, most commonly in winter and spring, and it can be a DOOZY. This is no breeze we’re talking about: by the time the Mistral reaches the southern Rhone region, it’s blowing upwards of 50 mph. As a point of reference, tropical storm winds are between 39-73 mph, so I imagine it gets pretty intense. And unlike a tropical storm, which passes through relatively quickly, the Mistral can blow incessantly for days; apparently it’s a thing for people in the region to suffer from Mistral-induced depression, which I can understand (even if it's mostly a myth), and farm houses in Provence are constructed with a windowless wall facing north to protect from the brunt of it.
On the plus side, the grapes LOVE it, for the effects that it has on other aspects of the climate. Most importantly, the Mistral ensures that there’s virtually no cloud cover for much of the year, creating bright, sunny days perfect for happy little grapes to sunbathe. It also normalizes temperature, avoiding spikes that could impact grape flavor, and the relative lack of humidity is a huge help against diseases. Without the Mistral, the Rhone Valley wouldn’t be a wine powerhouse. And the world would be a sadder place.
Anaba: It’s all in the name
Remember when I said that the Sweazeys gravitated towards Sonoma for their future winery because of its similarity to the Rhone region? Well, as it turns out, Sonoma has more in common with the Rhone Valley than culture. It also features many of the same varietals of wine that thrive in the Rhone Valley due to similarities in climate, including its tempestuous tendencies. Or, to be less alliterative and more blunt, it’s straight up WINDY in Sonoma, and especially at Anaba…
…which you would know if you a) have a background in anemology (the study of winds, and yes of course I looked that up, apparently it's not even an actual term anymore) or meteorology; and/or b) you are quite proficient in Ancient Greek and know that the word “anabasis” means “going up” or “ascent”; and ALSO if you already knew the tern “anabatic wind” (from, like, being a weather channel geek or something).
Which is all to say, the name “Anaba” refers to the “anabatic winds” that are characteristic of that particular region and property, which are a particular type of wind that blow up steep hills or mountains. These winds, which can be almost Mistral-esque in their intensity, cause the grapes at Anaba to ripen more slowly and evenly, allowing them to develop a uniquely rich and robust flavor that explains why Anaba’s wines are delicious to the point of decadence.
If you can’t beat it, join it—and make it sustainable
Let’s not forget one of the other great things about powerful wind: it’s POWER-ful. Like, it can generate a lot of power! John almost immediately saw this added potential and became the first winery in Northern California to install a wind turbine (specifically a 45-foot Skystream Turbine, if that means anything to you), harnessing all that bluster and using it to power much of his operations. It’s quite a beautiful harmony, with the same wind responsible for producing such delicious grapes then being harnessed to turn those grapes into delicious wine—AND to operate a sustainable winery.
Yes, it should come as no surprise that Anaba holds a Sonoma Certified Sustainable Winegrower certification, particularly given that they operate with 100% renewable energy thanks to both their wind turbine and their 465 solar panels. They even have four EV car chargers in the parking lot!
Their commitment to green initiatives goes so far beyond just the wind and solar power, including minimal intervention farming, maintaining and promoting diversity of ecosystems, and extensive water recycling. And more, but I’m running out of acceptable blog length space and I haven’t gotten to the other cool thing about Anaba. Sigh. Moving right along.
The grape doesn’t fall far from the vine
In this case, the grape I’m talking about is John Michael, that darling youngest son (who probably really did take an entirely reasonable amount of time to finish college but I projected my own imagined impatience to open a winery onto his dad, John). Yep, THAT John Michael, who graduated from college with no plans to join his parents in the wine business and ended up turning Anaba into the exact type of multi-generational family business that had so enamored John when he visited France in the 70s.
It seems perfectly wrapped up with a bow now, but it didn't start out quite so gift-wrapped back when John Michael first got a job at LinkedIn, where he stayed for 6-ish years until Microsoft came along and bought LinkedIn. The timing seemed right for a break, so John Michael and his girlfriend planned a trip to Europe with the intention of city hopping… until they reached Slovenia, specifically a winery in Slovenia. And, as can happen when one visits a winery in Slovenia (I think, at least based on the one person I’ve talked to in my life who has been to a winery in Slovenia), or at least as can happen when someone from a wine family visits a Slovenian winery, John Michael and his girlfriend were treated like royalty. In other words, the wine bug bit them hard.
City-hopping became wine region-hopping, and John Michael quickly fell in love with the exact same aspect of wine that his father had decades earlier—namely, the family aspect of so many of the wineries he visited, whose romance and mystique instilled in him a longing for a similar life. If only there were a way for him to be part of a winemaking family and carry on the tradition of earlier generations…
Well, obviously there was, and so he did.
So there you have it. Anaba is a winery with an embarrassment of riches, so to speak: born from a dream, a product of patience and dedication, carrying on Old World traditions in new ways, harnessing natural resources to sustain our planet, and modeling the beauty of family business—and ALSO producing wine so good that I’ll probably just need a subscription service, because if I run out, I think I’ll cry.