In 1849 the world, all in a rush, discovered California. Among the fortune seekers were two brothers —Giuseppe and Pietro Simi. They didn’t find gold in the New World, but they did find the Alexander Valley where they established a winery and planted vineyards.
When the Simi brothers both died unexpectedly during the flu epidemic of 1904, Giuseppe’s 16-year-old beauty queen daughter, Isabelle, took over. The youngest winery owner in history, she proved more than capable of successfully running the business. By the 1920s, wines made by the Simi family were highly sought after in San Francisco. Isabelle held onto the winery through the
tough years of Prohibition, and once the law was repealed, tirelessly pursued distributing and selling the wines she made. By the time she retired and sold the winery to Russell Green, Simi wines had found distribution nationwide and won prestigious awards.
Russell, originally a grape grower, focused on viticulture and also oversaw substantial renovation within the winery walls. Throughout the 1980s, Simi purchased and planted vineyards to make it possible to exert greater control over the fruit being produced and to ensure ongoing quality, vintage after vintage. Cabernet Sauvignon and other red Bordeaux varieties were planted, along with Chardonnay.
In 2003, Steve Reeder came on board as Simi’s winemaker. Steve loves the fact that he works in a place that’s an historial landmark, yet also a winery that continually seeks out modern techniques and equipment to stay on top of winemaking in today’s world.
Simi Winery embraced innovation from the beginning with the construction in 1890 of the stone cellar – still being used at the winery today. The cellar’s hillside setting allowed the gravity flow of juice to fermenting tanks—a practice far ahead of its time. Its hand-hewn basalt also kept the cellar at fifty to sixty degrees year ’round.
The winery was sold to Russ Green in 1970. In 1979, Zelma Long took over as winemaker and immediately dove into a decade-long renovation of the winery’s fermentation and barrel rooms. Out went old redwood tanks. In went 6,500 French oak barrels for fermenting and aging wine. She had a new fermentation cellar built, and a must chiller—one of the industry’s first—installed. Zelma also introduced malolactic fermentation and lees stirring in making Chardonnay: Ground-breaking techniques back then.
She took her quest to produce world-class wines to the fields and redefined fruit ripeness far beyond sugar levels to look at flavor development. She also oversaw the 1982 acquisition of the Landslide Vineyard in the Alexander Valley, and quickly realized that in truth it encompassed three very separate vineyards. Simi then planted Landslide mostly to red Bordeaux varietals, experimenting with row spacing and trellising to achieve ultimate vine balance in each of the three blocks.
Over time, Zelma grew fascinated with field selections and clones as a way of building a more complex wine— a revolutionary idea at the time. To carry out that idea, she orchestrated the 1989 purchase of pastureland in the Russian River Valley that Simi planted to a variety of Chardonnay root stocks, field selections and clones taken from some of the best and oldest vineyards in California.