Leonhardt Vineyards History
Leonhardt Vineyards established in Dry Creek Valley in 2000 is 100% family owned by Howard Leonhardt and his son Ryan. Howard Leonhardt, an inventor and entrepreneur with over 20 patents for treating cardiovascular disease, merged his company World Medical Mfg. Corp. with Arterial Vascular Engineering, Inc. (AVE) of Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, California in April of 1998. He first came to Sonoma County in 1990 after a heart disease conference in San Francisco and visited the Ferrari-Carano winery at 8761 Dry Creek Road. It seemed to him as he gazed out over the surrrounding terraced hills perhaps the most beautiful landscape he had ever seen. At the time he never dreamed in a million years that he would just 10 years later be owning the 15 acres directly across the street @ 8500 Dry Creek Road with a vineyard, tasting room and his own Leonhardt Vineyards wine brand. Just five years before that he and his family were living out of their hatchback Mercury Capri car in a campground with only $600 in savings. He had always loved California as his parents had moved to Visalia for one year when he was 10 and he remembered fondly walking through vineyards to his classes at Mountain View Elementary School. He always knew he would come back to California someday. Leonhardt founded World Medical in 1986 in the bedroom of his modest apartment home with only $3000 in savings. By the time of the merger with AVE in early 1998 World Medical Mfg. Corp. employed more than 550 people with sales in 60 countries. In early 1999 the combined companies were acquired by Medtronic Vascular and still today employ more than two thousand people in Sonoma County. Leonhardt shortly thereafter in January of 2000 bought 15 acres in Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County with an old farm house @ 8500 Dry Creek Road near the towns of Healdsburg and Geyserville. There were no vines planted on the property at the time, it was all sheep grazing land. The site however was historic as the actual cornerstone site of the very first winery in Sonoma County in the 1800’s. Relic remains of that original winery are found throughout the property. The Taheri-Leonhardt (TALENT) patented stent graft for repairing aortic aneurysms without surgery by 1999 had captured 70% of the world market share for thoracic type aortic aneurysms and 35% share of the abdominal market. The Leonhardt Ventures team has invented and developed numerous other products including the first percutaneous heart valve, the first intravascular lung catheter, the first stem cell delivery catheter – Pro-Cell, the first biological pacemaker, the first stem cell recruiting heart failure pacemakers and women’s bras, the first implantable stem cell pump, the first device for decalcifying heart valves without surgery and the first wireless energy devices for directing stem cell therapies and for inhibiting plaque formation in arteries. The Leonhardt led team completed the first non-surgical stem cell repair of a damaged heart in May of 2001 and has advanced to the first Phase III clinical trials for stem cell treatment of advanced heart failure. Over 200,000 patients worldwide have been treated with Leonhardt inventions. Leonhardt innovations have created more than 75,000 jobs. In 2012 Leonhardt launched The California Stock Exchange the first conscious capitalism (lists only social good impact companies and promotes local investing) stock exchange in the world. Leonhardt is an active member GoLocal Sonoma and Local Investing Sonoma and has participated the past two years in going town to town speaking on the merits of local investing and crowdfunding. He serves on the Board of Directors of Sonoma County’s University of Northern California. He is co-leader of Startup California www.startupcalifornia.org and state spokesperson for The JOBS ACT and Crowdfunding for the White House initiated Startup America Partnership www.s.coIn 2000 Leonhardt Vineyards began clearing the land, following environmentally friendly standards, in preparation for the planting of rootstock and vines (over 60% of trees on land left intact), wood poles produced from old railroad tracks used instead of iron. Fences and a fire barrier were established around the property and a water preserving slow drip irrigation and water pump system were installed. Jack Florence Jr. and Rick Klein were our original consultants. They introduced us to Ulises Valdez whom became our vineyard manager and to Kerry Damsky whom became our first winemaker. The entire Valdez family including Ulises’ wife Adelina has been so kind and helpful to us over so many years. We owe whatever success we have had in the wine business to them. In 2001 rootstock was planted. In 2002 vines from St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Cloverdale (the oldest Zinfandel vines lineage in Sonoma County) were grafted. It took until 2005 for our first usable harvest that resulted in our first produced wines. We made our first vintage via a contract crush at Everett Ridge Winery in Dry Creek Valley in 2005. We had an incredible first harvest party at the vineyard that fall of 2005 organized by Brenda Leonhardt with guests from all over Sonoma and Napa counties and friends and family from around the country. We have been producing ever since between 1000 and 2500 cases a year. In 2006 we hired the award winning wine maker Michael Dashe of Dashe Cellars (formerly of Ridge-Paul Draper, Far Niente) as our wine maker and moved production to his facility in Alameda County, California. In 2008 we expanded by leasing an additional 8 acres of planted old vines Zinfandel directly adjacent to our 8500 Dry Creek Road property. In the fall of 2009 we entered our first medals competition at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair and won a Gold Medal for our 2007 estate grown Leonhardt Vineyards Zinfandel. In 2010 we began our first year of wine sales (registered officially Leonhardt Vineyards as an LLC) and we attended more than 44 wine festivals nationwide to introduce our brand.We also were an official wine sponsor for the San Francisco Giants in 2010 with a behind the home plate two panel ad. Before our ad the San Francisco Giants had never won a World Series in San Francisco and the franchise had not won since 1954 when they were in New York. We would like to think our Leonhardt Vineyards logo brought them some luck as they won their first World Series championship in San Francisco that year. That same year we launched Wine Country Old Fashioned Baseball and The Leonhardt Cup Wine Country Baseball Classic Tournament (WCB) www.winecountrybaseball.com showcasing college players from around the nation to MLB scouts. Wine Country Baseball also serves to bring affordable family fun to Sonoma and Napa counties with tickets only $5 for adults and $2 for kids. We hire local handicapped workers to help with the league. We have donated thousands to local parks, umpires, local media & charities. In total Leonhardt Vineyards has provided over $500,000 in funding to help support the league. John Goelz the legendary Coach of Sonoma State University baseball serves as consultant of baseball operations. The league and tournament has featured up to as many as 12 teams each season including the Sonoma Grape Crushers, Napa Knights, Petaluma Piratas, Windsor Wonders, Healdsburg Owls and Santa Rosa Gnats. Five WCB players have been signed to pro contracts so far now in our 5th year of play.In 2010 we hired Drew Bayer a college roommate of Howard Leonhardt’s son Ryan at the University of Florida/Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, Florida to serve as our first Sales Manager. He in turn hired Sarah Morgenstern as our first Tasting Room and Wine Club Manager. Nikki Novak (currently host of the Young Hollywood TV Show, and an actress movies such as The Bucket List, Any Given Sunday, The Holiday) served as our first Spokesperson and worked morning til night our wine tasting booths at all the major festivals that year. In 2010 Drew Bayer our Sales Manager and Howard Leonhardt had a dinner with Dr. Kent Rosenblum and his wife Kathy at the ZAP Zinfandel Advocates & Producers Festival in Hawaii that served to change the course direction of our business plan. Kent and Kathy had built Rosenblum Winery to over 250,000 case production and a market leader before selling to Diageo for north of $100 million. We asked them for their advice on how we should grow our wine business and then we listened to every single word carefully. They told us to put all the attention, investment and effort into four things 1. Make and thus delight customers with a super great wine at a fair price. 2. Building human real relationships with people involved in all directions – the grape growers, as many wine buyers as possible, the vineyard management teams. 3. Sell 80 to 90% of your production to high end grocery stores and only 10-20% to high end boutique stores and restaurants direct. 4. In the end recognize that the only thing that lasts is the customer relationship with your label. They also advised on a big important what NOT to do = do not spend millions on building a fancy winery and tasting room. There are enough of those already. Put that same money instead into making better and better wines at a fair value price and relationship building. In 2010 based on Kent and Kathy’s recommendation we launched our special relationship with Trader Joe’s and their 120 stores in California that lasts through to today with special help from Lori Florence the sister of Jack Florence Jr. our original vineyard consultant. Since then over 90% of our wine has been sold through Trader Joe’s. We absolutely love our partnership with them! They are the nicest people on the planet and care so much about their customers, employees and suppliers. Also in 2010 we completed a complete renovation of our tasting room at 8500 Dry Creek Road and invested heavily in landscaping of the property.
In 2011 Ryan Leonhardt moved to Sonoma County with his now wife Kelly and joined us full time as partner in our wine operations while he also attended the viticulture, wine business management and wine making course programs at Santa Rosa Jr. College. Ryan led the effort to produce our first vintages of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in 2011. Ryan also led efforts that initiated our first wine exports to places like China. That same year we moved primary production from the Dashe Cellars facility to Valdez Family Winery in Cloverdale. Maurico Soto their winemaker took Ryan under his wings as Assistant Wine Maker in the production of both our first Chardonnay and Cabernet wines. Now in 2012 Ryan Leonhardt has moved up to the position of Winemaker still consulting regularly with his teachers Mauricio Soto and Frane Franicivic. In 2012 we launched a special partnership with Frane and Janae Franicevic of Sunce Winery in Santa Rosa. There we work together to produce in joint venture additional Gold Medal and Best in Class award winning Chardonnays and Zinfandels. In 2012 we sold the old farm house at 8500 Dry Creek Road to three couples from Texas (investment group) and arranged an agreement that year to have first right of refusal to purchase grapes from that property. Ryan and Kelly Leonhardt shortly thereafter were married in Sonoma County and moved from the old farm house at vineyard at 8500 Dry Creek Road to a new more modern home in Rincon Valley nearby in 2013. With the proceeds of the farm house sale to buy more grapes Howard and Ryan have been busy together visiting many local grape growers in the area and have established a number of great relationships sourcing some of the highest quality fruit available for upcoming wines. In 2014 in order to meet the needs of going national with Trader Joe’s to over 430 stores nationwide requiring 7000 cases minimum annually we established a joint venture partnership with the Brutocao family in Hopland. They have hundreds of acres of planted grapes and help us with overflow production assistance. In 2014 we will release our first Cabernet Sauvignon vintage produced in collaboration with Valdez Family Winery from grapes sourced from farmers in the hills above Cloverdale in northern Sonoma County. In addition to the Valdez family we owe a special thanks to Mauricio Soto, Michael and Ann Dashe, Kerry Damsky and also Jack Jr. and Lori Florence for their help over the years. We also wish to thank Michael Sr. and Diane Sulawske, Ryan’s grandparents, and his mom Brenda that came out and helped so much at the vineyard over the years. Jennifer Leonhardt and David Leonhardt, Howard Leonhardt’s sister and brother (Ryan’s Aunt and Uncle) have been steady advisors to Leonhardt Vineyards over the years and are considered honorary co-owners. Jennifer a lawyer has helped Leonhardt Vineyards LLC with legal counsel. David with his college diploma in International Trade has helped us navigate through the processes to develop our export sales and make export shipments. We are grateful to them both. Both have been the most valued advisors in the design of our labels over the years. Jennifer has called dibs on designing our first Pinot Noir vintage label coming in 2015.
As we move into our 15th anniversary year we remain so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this beautiful land and people in Sonoma County and to be able to build a family business working together. For all of you that have become fans of our wines and to all the staff at all the Trader Joe’s stores that help promote our wines to visiting customers, we are so so full of gratitude.
Our Winemaker ~ Ryan Leonhardt
Our Vineyard Manager ~ Ulises Valdez
From a remote village in Michoacan, Mexico, to the vineyards of Sonoma County, this is the story of Ulises Valdez’ pursuit of the American Dream, culminating in the first releases of Valdez Family Winery, on July 8, 2006. This year marks twenty years in the vineyard business for Ulises, first as field worker, then as a partner in the vineyard management business, and now owner of Valdez and Sons Vineyard Management. Working on several hundred acres of vineyards has enabled Ulises to select some of his favorite blocks for his first wines. Collaborators include such acclaimed winemakers as Mark Aubert, Jeff Cohn, Paul Hobbs, Kent Rosenblum and Rolando Herrera.