Non-stop re-invention | News | Almanac Online |


Non-stop re-invention

Woodside's Jerry Anderson is a physicist by training and a computer hardware and software developer by vocation, but he's used retirement as a chance to branch out

At the peak of his career as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Jerry Anderson had a heart attack and decided to slow down. But the desire to stay active won out when he and his wife, Anne, bought land next door to their home in Woodside and started a vineyard called Chaine d'Or.

Anne Anderson had a background in wine sales and marketing in her native England, and Jerry knew about tractors and agriculture from his youth in a small town in Texas, so the division of labor was clear: Jerry would tend the vineyard and Anne would make the wine.

The Andersons were able to purchase the 2-acre vineyard property in foreclosure on the steps of the San Mateo County courthouse in Redwood City, said Jerry Anderson, 82.

After they bought the land, they began clearing it by removing the overgrown poison oak and weeds before plowing the hillside and planting a cover crop to improve the soil, he said.

After clearing the cover crop, they planted chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon grapes, as well as cabernet franc, merlot and petit verdot as blending grapes used to soften the cabernet, and built an addition to their house with a wine cellar underneath.

They bolstered their winemaking skills by taking courses at University of California at Davis, and received help and advice from other local vineyard owners.

The name Chaine d'Or, or Golden Chain, comes from the name local wine pioneers such as Paul Masson and Martin Ray gave to the region on the east side of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

"The old winemakers around the turn of the century thought that this was the best place in California to make wine, so they called the group of winemaking estates Chaine d'Or," Anderson said.

At about 350 cases a year, Chaine d'Or is one of the smaller wine growers in the area, compared with Portola Valley producers such as Thomas Fogarty Winery and Neely Wine.

"We've maintained a strong commitment to keeping prices moderate so that more people can enjoy our wines," Anderson said. "It's too big to be a hobby and too small to be a business."

Harvest and winemaking

Nicolas Vonderheyden, who was raised at Chateau Monbrison, his family's estate in Margaux in the Bordeaux region of France, has served as the winemaker and wine grower since 2015, Anderson said.

"I did it for 30 years, but now he's responsible for it all," Anderson said. "Mostly I sit around and try not to say 'I don't think I'd do it like that.'"

Chaine d'Or harvests the chardonnay grapes in September and the cabernet generally in October. In both cases, the grapes are picked in one day and then put in a crusher.

For the chardonnay, the grapes are put in a press that extracts the skins and seeds from the grape juice before the juice goes in a tank and ferments for a couple of weeks.

The next step is called "racking" the wine, which removes all the solid materials that are left in the juice.

After that, the chardonnay juice is put in French oak barrels, which are stored in the wine cellar for eight or nine months.

Chaine d'Or follows the same process for the cabernet, except that the skins and seeds are left in during the fermentation process, which gives the wine its red color. The cabernet ages in the barrels for about twice as long, 18 to 20 months.

"We just harvested the cabernet grapes on Monday (Oct. 14), so they're just crushed, and we're just starting the fermentation process now," Anderson said.

Once the wine is bottled and the bottles packed in cases on site using a mobile bottling service, the wine bottles are taken to an air conditioned storage warehouse in San Jose and distributed to retailers from there.

The Andersons' winemaking equipment, including their tank, crusher and press, were made in Italy, and the French oak barrels, which cost $700 to $800 apiece, come from a cooperage in Napa, Anderson said.

The barrels affect the smell and taste of the wine because the oak contains compounds that leach into the juice, Anderson said.

"The newer the barrels, the more the oak affects the taste," Anderson said. "Some people only use the barrels for three or four years, while others use them longer."

The heavy oak style tends to be more European, while California chardonnay tends to have a crisper, fresher taste, Anderson said.

"Our wine is more on the crisp side," he said. "It does have oak, and we use oak barrels, but we try not to over-oak."

Local wine pioneers Bob and Jim Varner, who make wine under the Varner Wine and Foxglove labels, helped the Andersons get started by dispensing help and advice.

"Everyone back then tried to help each other to benefit the (Chaine d'Or) appellation," Bob Varner said.

Although he hasn't tasted the wine recently, Bob Varner says that now that the vineyard is mature it should reflect "a combination of flavors and textures that are unique to that site."

"The vineyard is partway up the mountain and pretty far north in the appellation," he said. "I think it's similar both in both soil and exposure (to the sun) to Thomas Fogarty."

Chaine d'Or wines are sold through the Roberts markets in Woodside and Portola Valley.

Roberts wine buyer John Akeley said the wine is a great value, with the chardonnay priced at about $20 and the cabernet under $30.

"If (Anderson) needed to make a profit, it would be a different circumstance," Akeley said. "I've been here for 25 years, and we may have carried all of his vintages."

An enterprising life

Anderson has been coming up with new projects and products since he moved to California from Texas to get a doctorate in physics from University of California at Berkeley and did postdoctoral work with Luis Alvarez, the Berkeley professor who received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1968, at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.

He worked on a major project with Alvarez in 1967 when he was a member of a team that used X-rays to try to find hidden chambers in one of the Egyptian pyramids.

Anderson later moved down to Silicon Valley and founded a string of startups in computer hardware and software, including Valid Logic Systems, which was bought out by San Jose-based Cadence Design Systems.

He's been a Woodside resident for about 40 years.

While in Silicon Valley in the 1980s, he invented and patented, along with a former Lawrence Lab colleague, a hybrid hearing aid that made use of both analogue and digital technology.

Ever the enterprising inventor, Anderson put on his thinking cap once again about five years ago after he became concerned about the vulnerability of his home and community from wildfires.

He said he stewed about the problem for about five years before the Northern California wildfires last year crystallized his thinking.

"So many homes where I live have swimming pools," Anderson thought. "Why not make use of the water in the pool to help protect the house?"

Anderson decided to put a twist on an idea that he says has been around for a while: Take a sprinkler system, which is usually installed indoors, and put it on the roof.

Anderson's system, which he has mounted on the roof of his house, sucks water from his swimming pool through a 2-inch-wide pipe and then pumps it at high pressure through the sprinkler system, creating a kind of aerosol water fog that "envelopes" the house.

"A wildfire creates a blast of heat that is just enormous," Anderson said. "When tiny water droplets get hit with heat, they turn into steam and take the energy out of the heat.

"The droplets are swirling around the house, wetting everything all over the place."

A large swimming pool has about seven or eight hours worth of water in it, keeping the house wet and allowing for enough time for the wildfire to pass, he said.

The pump operates on a propane-powered generator that keeps working after PG&E lines shut down.

"You just turn the system on and then leave, and it keeps operating until the water runs out in the pool," Anderson said. "I even talked with the pump people about installing an automatic shutoff, but my current view is to just let it run."

Jonathan Cox, the San Mateo County division chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), said he is unable to endorse products he hasn't had a chance to look at closely.

However, he said, structures typically burn in a wildfire when embers fall on the roofs.

Jurisdictions have responded by enacting stricter building codes requiring roofs to be made of noncombustible materials, Cox said.

Cox said many new fire-suppression methods are unregulated, but "there is a lot of innovation out there" in developing them.

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