Bob Mullen, Woodside Vineyards’ Man of Grace

Ξ August 1st, 2008 | → 2 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Interviews, Wine History, Wine News, Winemakers, Wineries |

Bob Mullen (right) and winemaker, Brian Caselden

I recently met Bob Mullen at a wine tasting at Byington Vineyard and Winery. The group Wine Investigation For Novices and Oenophiles (WINO) organized the event. Mr. Mullen had just returned from China, the reason for his trip you’ll read below. Jet lag would have slowed the ordinary soul but not him. Rarely have I seen a winemaker treated with such deference and respect by the participating wineries and winemakers of the Santa Cruz Mtns. AVA of which he has long been a part. An elegant gentleman, he entertained with grace the technical questions of the younger winemakers pouring that evening, and they listened to his every word. Very refreshing. Much of the wine making world is peopled with folks of extravagant means who purchase acreage, plant a vineyard, build a faux chateau, and then aggressively pursue a Parker score. It was a great pleasure to have met someone of such a profound historical character for whom independence of vision remains a central value.

Woodside Vineyards

Woodside Vineyards enjoys a storied history. But without decades of hard work there would be no story to tell. Founded by Mr. Mullen in 1960, bonded in 1963, Woodside Vineyards continues to produce, under his guiding hand, among the finest wines in California, in my humble opinion. I encourage the reader to visit their website linked above. Consider their La Questa Wine Club.


After first agreeing to be brief, I wrote Mr. Mullen a series of questions. I am very pleased with his answers.

Admin Do you still provide the sacramental wine to the Woodside Village Church? Which Woodside Vineyards wine is used?
Bob Mullen Yes, we still provide sacramental wine to WVC as we have for over forty years. Almost without exception the wine has been Cabernet Sauvignon – much of it from the historic La Questa vineyard.
We rarely read about the importance of faith in the lives of winegrowers. Would you care to say a few words about yours?
SanctuaryB.M. Not sure I see a strong connection between my Christian faith and winegrowing, although some years and some vintages have received an extra prayer or two. I have been an active church member all my life – one of my most proud achievements is that I was the chairman of the building council that built our church school in 1958, out beautiful adobe sanctuary constructed in 1960 – 1961 and the remodel of our 100 year old chapel in 1993. I served on the Church Council and Diaconate for many years and served a term as Moderator. I still supervise much of the maintenance for our landscaping. (That’s probably a lot more than you wanted to know!)
Your winery remains small by California standards, 2000 cases a year. Why have you maintained so modest a production?
B.M. Two reasons why we have held our production to 2000 – 2100 cases (5000 gallons): First, that is the capacity of our winery (in fact it’s a little more than the capacity) and that was the quantity limit imposed by the town of Woodside in 1991 when they “legalized” wineries in Woodside.
Historically, the Santa Cruz Mts. have been difficult to farm. The expense of maintaining a vineyard required winegrowers to focus on high quality wines. Do you believe the region is living up to its promise as expressed by its pioneer growers?
B.M. I don’t pretend to be in touch with the plantings that are going on in the AVA, but what I hear about is Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and other appropriate varieties. With the scarcity of space and cost of our land, I can’t imagine anyone intentionally planting anything other than the “right” grapevines.
Should the winegrowers of Santa Cruz Mts. AVA, owing to our abundance of microclimates, consider sub-AVAs?
B.M. I think sub-AVAs would be a serious mistake. We have struggled for over forty years to get recognition of the SCM AVA. To create and promote sub-AVAs would only dilute that effort and confuse our potential customers.
Technology has made substantial contributions to the quality of modern wines. But it has also served to ‘dumb’ down varietal character and overwhelm terroir. What is your opinion on micro-oxygenation, reverse osmosis, color additives and the like?
B.M. I have no opinion – we have never used any of the processes you mentioned and never will!
I have heard you are involved in a new project in China. Would you care to say a few things about this exciting development?
B.M. I am on the board of a group that is planting vineyards and will build a winery in China (near Beijing) that proposes to produce the finest wines in China for Chinese consumption. No exports are planned. We are currently using Australian and U. S. consultants, but over time will hire and/or train a highly qualified viticulture and winemaking team that is 100% Chinese. At that time we will withdraw. Ownership, by the way, is and will continue to be Chinese.
Do you have any advice for the young winegrower?
B.M. Yes, do it right the first time! Most of the problems we have seen in almost fifty years in this business have resulted from poorly planned and ill conceived plans and projects. Attempts to cut corners and economize usually wind up costing more time and money than planning and doing it right from the outset.
Last great book you read?
B.M. I must confess that I read novels for entertainment – thus no “great books” in my recent past. At 82, it’s too late to improve my mind! My favorite author is David Baldacci.
Have you any plans to write a memoir?
B.M. No plans to write a memoir, but at the encouragement of Marsha Campbell, we have recently documented the history of all our 23 vineyards on video, with the help of the Video 4 group.
Thank you, Mr. Mullen.


2 Responses to ' Bob Mullen, Woodside Vineyards’ Man of Grace '

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  1. Tom Kennedy said,

    on June 22nd, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    I worked in the Armstrong Res. Ceilings Div. when Bob was a district manager in San Francisco.

    Do you have a way to contact Bob – I’d like to see if i can buy some of his wine.

    Tom Kennedy

  2. Administrator said,

    on June 22nd, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    Hi, Tom. Bob Mullen can be reached through his winery’s website, Woodside Vineyards dot com. Bob is a remarkable man. He is very near retiring completely from the biz. In his eighties, he needs some rest!

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