Briceland Vineyards: Celebrating 30 Years of Organic Growth
by Andrew Morris, Winemaker
In 1985, my mother Maggie Carey and stepfather Joe Collins founded Briceland Vineyards as a bonded commercial winery. It grew out of the back to the land movement and their vision to make quality wine with their friends from locally farmed, sustainable/organic grapes and offer it at a fair price so that friends could afford to drink it. Though the formal beginning of the winery was in 1985, the story starts in the mid 70’s as they experimented with beer making, fruit wines and then home winemaking with grapes. In 1977, Collins planted vines and started collecting temperature data. At that time, there were a couple of existing vineyards in the county, but none in commercial production. Local wisdom was that it was too wet and cold to grow grapes in Humboldt County. The temperature measurements taken by recording the high and low each day between April 1 and the end of October on our front porch showed that it was slightly warmer in Briceland than Burgundy that same year. I often joke - “So we all concluded… I guess you can’t grow grapes in Burgundy either.”
Starting before the winery was commercial in 1983, Collins helped several friends lay out and plant small vineyards on nearby hillsides. In this article on AppellationAmerica.com, there is more background. Production started small. Only a few hundred cases were produced in the early years, most of which came from Lake and Mendocino County Vineyards as we waited for the newly planted Humboldt Vineyards to reach full production. Several of these early Humboldt Vineyards continue to produce some of our most delicious and well received wines. Slow, steady growth continued until production and sales reached around 1500 cases per year in the early 2000’s. Since Collins was self employed as an architect, he had the freedom to devote his energy to winemaking when needed and gradually build up production in response to consumer demand. Supply and demand remained in balance as Collins refined his winemaking and kept a close eye on how his wines were received the market. This differs from many startups that are pressed by economics to produce large volumes and find a market for them.
In 2008, my wife Rosie and I, along with our daughter Stella, moved up to Southern Humboldt to work in the winery and help Maggie and Joe retire. I grew up in Briceland at the winery and attended UCSB and UC Davis. I returned to UC Davis to study winemaking through the Extension Program there before I apprenticed with my folks to learn the ins and outs of Briceland’s winemaking, winery operations, and compliance. In 2011, Rosie and I began the process of buying the winery and my childhood home from my folks. Since our first vintage in 1985, Briceland’s wines have earned dozens of awards in prestigious competitions around the state. In recent years, the Humboldt Pinot Noirs have earned accolades including numerous top reviews and scores ranging from 90-95 points.
While our list of fans from around the country is growing, the vast majority of our wines are still sold and consumed inside Humboldt County. On a Tuesday morning, I send out an email to our list of ongoing store and restaurant customers. There are a few who I need to call. On Thursday, we load up the truck and it heads north to stock stores and restaurants from Fortuna to McKinleyville, most of which have carried our wines for 20 years or more. Our strong local reputation supports our growth outside the area. So do wine review websites like PrinceofPinot.com, and Cellartracker.com. With the addition of organically grown fruit from the Orleans area in Northeastern Humboldt, our production has increased to around 2000 cases. With a small increase in outside the area sales, supply and demand remain in balance.