Lives & Times of Valley Folks: Allan Green
by Steve Sparks, November 24, 2010
I met with Allan at the Greenwood Ridge Vineyards tasting room on Hwy 128, a couple of miles north of Philo.
Allan was born in Los Angeles in 1949 to parents Aaron Green and Jean Haber, with a younger brother, Frank, coming along in 1952. The Greens were originally from Russia, Allan’s grandfather coming to the States in the early 1900’s and settling in the south – Allan’s father being born in Mississippi and growing up in Florence, Alabama before moving to Chicago and staying with an aunt for his final two years of high school. Aaron then went to Cooper Union School of Art in New York City’s East Village to study architecture and that was where he was introduced to the work of renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The Haber’s were from Germany and had been in this country since the mid-1800’s and Allan’s grandmother’s family were all native San Franciscans. “Her maiden name was Pauson and I spent a lot of time around that side of the family. My grandmother and her two sisters were artists whose talents were supported by a brother who was an oil and real estate investor.”
Aaron had not yet finished college when hometown friends, the Rosenbaum’s, asked him to design a house for them in Florence but he said he was not qualified yet. He suggested they ask F.L. Wright, they agreed, and so, with nothing to lose by asking, he wrote to the great architect and asked. Wright said he would as long as Aaron would help with the on-site management of the project. After the house was completed, Aaron was invited to be an apprentice to Wright at the master’s foundations at Taliesin East (Wisconsin) and West (Scottsdale, Arizona). A while later, Allan’s artistic great aunt, Rose Pauson, hired Wright to design a house for her in Phoenix. She visited the job site with her niece, Jean, and working on the job for Frank Lloyd Wright was Aaron Green. Jean and Aaron met and their romance began.
After serving in the Air Force in World War 2 in the Far East, Aaron returned home and decided he wanted to move on from the Foundation. He got a job in Los Angeles for an industrial design firm, working primarily on department store interiors, getting his architectural license in the process. Jean went to medical school in San Francisco before moving to Los Angeles and marrying Aaron in 1947. Then Aaron opened an office in San Francisco and Frank Lloyd Wright suggested they make it a joint office. “My father was thrilled and opened Aaron Green and Associates at Grant and Sutter Streets in the City. He and Wright shared the office but had separate businesses. However being right there meant that my father took care of Wright’s projects on the West Coast, including one of the most famous – the Marin County Civic Center, for which my father was in charge.”
Allan grew up in Los Altos, 30 miles south of San Francisco. “It was a great place to grow up. We lived on a rural property in the middle of an apricot orchard although more and more houses gradually surrounded it. I went through all my schooling in the area, graduating from Los Altos High in 1967. My father was at his office in San Francisco and mother worked as an anesthesiologist at Stanford Hospital and El Camino Hospital. I loved sports and played baseball and basketball in particular. I enjoyed school and was a well-behaved kid. Like most others at that time though I was into the new rock music but not the drug scene that came with it. I went to see Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix in San Francisco at the Fillmore and the Avalon Ballroom, and collected the posters from lots of the shows at those venues – I still have them.”
After graduating high school, Allan attended UC Riverside in southern California for two years – ‘it was far enough away from home and I had an uncle and cousins down that way” — before transferring to UCLA from which he graduated with a degree in painting and sculpture. He also took graphic design courses and it became clear to him that his abilities were better suited to that field rather than fine art. He went on to get his masters in Industrial design and ended up spending a total of six years in the Los Angeles area. “I played a lot of intra-mural basketball in those years and I was at UCLA during the years when John Wooden was the basketball coach and they had a great team. It was a very exciting time and the peak of my own career was probably hitting six straight free throws to win an intra-mural game at Pauley Pavilion where the university team played. I also went to watch them many times, getting a student season ticket — $4 for 16 games, 25¢ a game. Not bad to watch the best team in the country.”
“I never had the intention of staying down south and knew that I would return to the Bay Area after getting my masters in 1974... Meanwhile, back in 1971, with my brother at Stanford near to home, he talked my parents into looking for some property for a rural retreat. They had driven north of the Bay Area and at one point picked up a hitchhiker. He was heading for Anderson Valley so, not knowing exactly where they wanted to look for property, they took him there and came to Boonville. They found a local realtor, T.J. Nelson, and he showed them a place about seven miles off Hwy 128 up on Greenwood Road. They loved it. They were shown a few other places but ended up buying that first place.”
One of the first things Allan’s parents did was to engage a caretaker, Steve Wood – “Now there was a coincidence – our name is Green, his name was Wood; the property was on Greenwood. It was a good omen.” They had bought what was an old sheep ranch with the remains of an old vineyard that had been in operation during prohibition, up on what was euphemistically known as ‘Vinegar’ Ridge, 1400 feet above sea level. The adjacent property was owned by Tony Husch who in 1971 bonded his winery in the Valley where he grew the grapes best suited to the climate there – Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Noir – cooler weather varietals. Up on the ridge next to the Green property, above the fog, Husch’s eight acres were better suited to Riesling, Merlot and Cabernet. Tony Husch realized he had too much going on with his vines and winery on the Valley floor and so in 1973 he sold the vineyard to the Green’s.
“I was still in college at that point and had nothing to do with any of this, apart from occasionally visiting the property in the summer time. I did love being there and had some vague interest in the vineyard, as did my brother, who was also still in college. We both graduated in 1974 and he decided to travel a little, which ended up with him getting jobs in Asia and staying for eight years. I opened a little graphic design studio in a cabin on the property in Los Altos and occasionally did some work in my Dad’s office, but I was spending more and more time at the property up here. Then in 1976 I had to make a big decision. I had been offered a job as assistant Art Director for Sunset magazine which would mean quite a commitment, leaving little time for being up here. I turned down the job offer and moved up to the Valley.”
Once here, Allan realized that he needed some sort of career and began to get involved with the vineyard. “The first year saw the entire crop eaten by birds. In 1977-79 we sold our grapes to Edmeades, although by that time I was doing some home winemaking and had built a small facility to do that in 1978 with the help of a couple of local teachers, Brian Schreiner and Jeff Miller, and a student, Richard Palmer. My homemade Riesling even won a gold medal in that category at the Orange County Fair. I falsely thought ‘this is easy, anyone can do this.’ I took some classes at UC Davis, read a lot, learned on the job, and when Jed Steele (the winemaker at Edmeades) spoke, I listened. The 1979 Riesling was not so good although the Cabernet was. I should mention that in 1980 I was married for a year but the statute of limitations is up on discussing that... That year, I bonded the winery and went commercial. I have been through many learning stages of what works and where and in fact the whole business is still a learning process and our Cabernet remains an ongoing experiment up on the ridge.”
Through the seventies, Allan met many Valley folks through playing softball. “There was a viable league in the Valley at that time. We were the Philo Winos, and there was also Hiatt Logging, the Iteville (Navarro) Clams, and a team from Summit Painting. It enabled me to meet local people from entirely different and frequently opposite philosophical points of view; those who I would not have met otherwise, I’m sure. Let’s be honest, there was a big disconnect between the local logging community and old-timers and the new immigrants to the valley — the city folks and back-to-the-landers. Softball helped to bridge that gap. It was a huge deal in the Valley and lots of fans came to watch. It was a big day of entertainment here.”
By 1980, Allan was spending all of his time growing grapes and making and selling wine, and the winery’s reputation for good Riesling began at that time. In 1985, he noticed the AVA’s ‘Eyesore of the Week’ photograph of an old mobile home on seven acres of Hwy 128 frontage. The property was for sale and Allan immediately thought that this would be a good place for a tasting room so he bought it. His father designed the unique octagonal pyramid tasting room, taking advantage of the prominent and visible location. “Jim Boudoures was the contractor on the job; I think it was his first big job as the Philo Saw Works. We milled a fallen redwood on our property and that provided all of the wood. The ranch was too far off for a tasting room and there were only three or four tasting rooms at the time – people could stop at them all. There is a big difference now – this has become significant to those of us who traditionally have sold a high percentage of our wine out of the tasting room. There must be twenty or so now, yet traffic has not increased five fold.”
In 1984, Allan had hired Fred Scherrer as a winemaker. Fred had grown up on a family vineyard in Alexander Valley where the Zinfandel vines are now ninety-five years old. “Those were the only grapes we used that were not from the Valley. After Fred left I hired Van Williamson who was to later move on to Kendall Jackson in 1993 when they bought out Edmeades. I had learned a lot from those two guys and so I took over the winemaking duties at that point and have been doing it ever since. We have expanded our line and try to have something for everyone so we planted Pinot Noir and Syrah on the ranch, which is where we have all of our grapes; there are none grown at the tasting room site.”
In 2003, Allan received a jury summons. “I did my civic duty and was selected to serve on the jury for a two-day domestic violence case. We convicted the guy and were told that the prosecuting attorney would be available for questions on the trial afterwards. I wasn’t really interested in that but I did ask the attorney out. She said ‘no’. After some persistence on my part she said she would discuss the trial over lunch. I never brought up anything about the case and then asked her out for dinner. She said ‘no’ once again. It turned out she had a boyfriend. Anyway, about four months later she called me. They had broken up and we started dating, getting married in 2006. Her name is Marianna Lehr and she has now moved from the Mendocino County District Attorney’s office to Sonoma County in Santa Rosa. We have a house in Healdsburg and I am up here a lot of the time so for the time being we maintain two households.”
In 1999, a friend recruited Allan to play in the Santa Rosa hardball league. He joined midway through the season and they never won a game the rest of the way. They went 2-18 the next year with Allan in center field. The following year Allan began to sponsor the team and they became the Greenwood Ridge Dragons, playing in the Over-28 Division. “After a couple of seasons we started the Redwood Empire League’s Over-48 Division. We began to recruit players from Mendocino County, such as Tom Rodrigues (Maple Creek Winery), Dennis McCroskey, and Jesus Renteria. This past season we moved up to the Over-55’s...
“We enter tournaments all over the place including the Senior’s World Series in October/November in Scottsdale, Arizona where we play on the beautiful fields that are used by the major league teams in spring training. We’ve won the Men’s 50-Plus title twice there and also won the 52-Plus in Florida in 2009. This year in Arizona we were runner-up in the 55-Plus Division, out of thirty-two competing teams from all over the country.”
“Meanwhile, our league here negotiated with the Giants to play games at A.T. & T Park and I have played about eight games there now. I have also played at the Padres’ stadium in San Diego and twice at Wrigley Field in Chicago, where I went 4 for 6 – I own it! We have a good team and we have a lot of success but they are a good bunch of guys and we enjoy each other’s company and that is very important too of course. Baseball has become a big part of my life now, although my wife is an avid golfer. I play in a casual way and have fun. I also realize that golf is something I will be able to play when my baseball days are finally over, although they do have a World Series for the Over-70’s!”
I asked my guest to respond to a few of the topics that often crop up when Valley folks get together.
The wineries and their impact? “I believe that people here who are involved in the wine and grape business would consider themselves to be environmentalists, and they generally are. They really appreciate the environment here. The Farm Bureau does not represent the sentiment of the Anderson Valley grape and wine industry. Just because you have vineyards or wine does not mean that you are unconcerned about the environment. Wineries get a bad rap because ultimately we do not use much water. Irrigation is minimal and the ponds are full after winter and that is what we generally use. Little is taken out of the creeks except in winter to fill the ponds and at that time there is plenty of rain available. For me personally at Greenwood Ridge, we are above the frost so we do not use the frost protectors that have upset many people.”
The AVA? "I used to play softball with Bruce a long time ago. I like the AVA much better now that it contains fewer personal attacks.”
KZYX radio? “I was one of the founders along with Sean Donovan and others and did a show on there for eleven years – ‘Straight Ahead Rock ‘n’ Roll’, although I played upbeat blues and country as much as rock. I stopped when baseball took over all of my spare time. I still listen a little bit but it is disappointing that it cannot reach a larger audience. My other complaint is that the talk shows on there are preaching to the converted; it would be more interesting if more debate was held with arguments from both sides. I’m afraid that the station’s image prevents a large part of the moderate population from tuning in. Too many remnants of their agenda remain and are pushed, sometimes at the cost of providing good radio”... Changes in the Valley? – “Despite the proliferation of vines and wineries, the Valley is still very isolated from the population centers. I do think that there’s been a shift from the old-time population and they have become overwhelmed by the new arrivals. It has caused some issues but we can solve these over time I’m sure.”
To end the interview, as I do each week, I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions to Allan and asked him to just reply off the top of his head.
What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Crossing projects off my list. I am very goal-oriented and love getting things completed.”
What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Egotists who are all talk and don’t know when to listen.”
Sound or noise you love? “Rockabilly music. I still listen to the same stuff I’ve always listened to.”
Sound or noise you hate? “My mother tried to indoctrinate me with classical music. I just do not like it. I also really dislike commercials on television and radio.”
Favorite food or meal? “Chocolate chip cookies, hands down. I could live on them.”
If you could meet one person dead or alive, one-on-one for a conversation, who would that person be? “My great aunt Rose Pauson. I am publishing a book about the house that she had Frank Lloyd Wright design. I have the correspondence that went between the two of them. I would love to talk to her and working on this book has given me lots of questions I’d love to ask her.”
If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, but with unlimited provisions, what three possessions would you like to have with you? “Drawing or painting materials, a book collection to keep my mind active, family photographs and archives. I did take them out of my home for safekeeping during the Valley fires of 2008.”
A smell you really like? “Well, what comes to mind is the odor from fermenting red wine that I smell from the open tanks when I do the nightly punch-down of the grapes. It is a wonderful deep plum jam smell.”
Favorite hobby? “Baseball. Producing books – my book design background helps.”
Profession other than your own would you like to attempt? “Graphic designer. I still do some as a sideline occasionally.”
What profession would you not like to do? “Coalminer. That would be so brutal and claustrophobic. It might be fun to go to the moon but sitting in a space capsule is not for me, so astronaut is out too.”
What was the happiest day or event in your life? “My wedding day.”
The saddest? “My father dying at 84 in 2001. We were close and had planned to work together the next day. We would spend time together working on various projects. My mother is still living in Palo Alto at the age of 91.”
Favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? “That I am good at looking at the positive side of everything. I ignore the negative.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “We’ve got some room for you if you’ve brought some of that good wine with you.” ¥¥
(To read the stories of other Valley Folk, visit the archives at www.avalleylife.wordpress.com. Next week the guest interviewee from the Valley will be Jim Nickless, veteran of WW 2 and known locally as one of the ‘Airport Crowd.”)