Land of the Rhône Rangers, the viticultural patchwork quilt of prime terroir between Paso Robles and Ojai has become a hotbed of innovation and creative freedom. One of the most promising newcomers to this area is Walson Holland.
If you want to start making wine in California, it’s easier said than done. Just forget Napa Valley and Sonoma. The competition is not only fierce in Northern California, but the cost of land and grapes is through the roof. So, it stands to reason that many young winemakers wanting to work in California are heading south to Central Coast. Land of the Rhône Rangers, the viticultural patchwork quilt of prime terroir between Paso Robles and Ojai has become a hotbed of innovation and creative freedom. One of the most promising newcomers to this area is Walson Holland.
Walson Holland is a collaboration between young winemaker Benny Holland and investor/vineyard owner Jonas Svensson. Having spent a few years working at ski resorts and restaurants around Lake Tahoe, Holland caught the wine bug in 2016. That year, he went to work for Kosta Browne as a harvest intern and stayed on to do some barrel and lot blending. He left California for New Zealand in March 2017 to work for Amisfield in Central Otago, where he worked for a season as a harvest intern. Then he landed a production assistant position at Sine Qua Non and moved to nearby Ojai in 2017. That’s where he met his future business partner, Jonas Svenson.
“Jonas had an acre planted at his home,” Holland said during our August tasting. “Like me, he is passionate about wine and an entrepreneur. So, I left Sine Qua Non to focus on this project. Jonas and I started in March 2018. We made 600 cases that year.”
Production has grown to about 1500 cases this year (2022). Holland’s skill for Rhône varieties is clear. His 2018 and 2019 Mélange Blanc and Rouge are beautifully perfumed and poised—ripe and not the slightest bit heavy.
“It’s not easy to find growers to work with,” said Holland. “I send out a lot of email requests. Not many Rhone whites are grown anywhere. It can be difficult to find what I need. Camp 4 was the only Marsanne I could find in 2018, but it was good.”
It’s still early days for this burgeoning new label as Holland continues to home in on the vineyards that give him the expression he’s seeking. “I’m most interested in making intensely aromatic wines, but I don’t want to overdo the palate,” he said. “I’m looking for restraint offset by ruggedness. I want to at least give a nod to the classics but embrace the California fruit. For the Pinot and Chardonnay, I know I like working with Duvarita Vineyards near Sta. Rita Hills, which is biodynamic.”
Article & Reviews by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, The Wine Independent
Photos by Johan Berglund