Fritz Maytag owns York Creek Vineyards and an evening with Fritz is a unique experience. Fritz is member of the Maytag Appliance family but has never been active in the business. He has however been very active in the wine and spirits world.
He is from Newton, Iowa, where all the family endeavors began. He graduated from Stanford University and as a young man bought the failing Anchor Brewing Company. The microbrewing business has never been the same. Anchor Steam is now world-renowned and has been the model for the legions of microbreweries that have followed.
A man of many interests Fritz has studied Chinese and Japanese literature and speaks Japanese. He breeds horses, grows apples and olives, and makes olive oil. He is an owner of the Maytag Blue Cheese Company arguably the best blue cheese made in America.
Years ago Fritz and Paul Draper of Ridge tried to set up a wine business in Chile to help develop agriculture in the country. It was a good idea, but too many years before its time and it failed. Chile's wine business is now flourishing,
About the same time, almost 40 years ago when the brewery was acquired, Fritz purchased 700 acres of land rising between Napa and Sonoma. It was name York Creek after the creek that flows through it. The Napa side is the Spring Mountain area. There are now over 100 acres planted in 15 grape varieties.
Until recently, he just sold grapes to a group of wineries. Petite syrah, cabernet and zinfandel were used by Ridge for over 30 years. The vineyards are planted in and out of the existing forests on the hillside property. The York Creek label depicts the 24 trees that grow on the acreage.
Talented Cathy Corison began making York Creek wines under the York Creek label in the '90's. Fritz however is a hands on guy. He likes to experiment and do it himself. He wants to see what happens and needs to make it happen. He brews his beer and now is the winemaker for the only winery in San Francisco. The winery is across the street from the brewery. He likes to make small lots and to that end he designed 10 open tank fermenters that are temperature controlled. Each tank is large enough to make 100 case lots.
Maytag is having a lot of fun making wine out grapes that are usually used to blend. Cabernet franc and petit verdot are bottled as stand alone wines. Touriga nacional, the principal grape in port, is made into a unique and delicious rosé. Tempranillo, a varietal almost no one grows in California, is also a single bottling. Port is made from several traditional port varieties plus zinfandel and syrah and then fortified by his own "pot" spirits. Mountain grapes tend to have more color and are perfect for port. his port is dark, has huge flavors and is great paired with cheese and you guessed it - Maytag Blue is a perfect match!
The spirits are distilled at the brewery in pot stills designed by Maytag. They were first released in 1996. Single malt ryes are the specialty replicating whiskies made in the 18th and 19th centuries and there is a high-class gin named Junipero. They are bottled under the "Old Potrero" label. Another Maytag enterprise and I am sure there are many more!
Steve Hicks is a wine consultant who lives in Los Altos Hills