2022 End-of-Year Reflection
Since our founding 12 years ago, we sure have learned a lot. From the early beginnings of starting a business and learning the ropes of running a tasting room, all the way to building what the Lula brand is today (both in person and online), we reminisce on the past with pride and look forward to the future with excitement—as there is still much to learn!
As we wrap up the end of 2022, join us in taking a look back through a brief history of how Lula Cellars began, along with the pivotal stages that brought us to today!
The Early Beginnings
2009 was when it all began. Jeff Hansen, a prominent Napa Valley winemaker, with nearly 30 years of experience at the time, was looking to expand his expertise into Mendocino County. Wanting to share the adventure with his good friend, Ken Avery (now our fearless Proprietor), a partnership began. And thus, Lula Cellars was born.
Named after Jeff’s late grandmother, Lula was initially brought to life in 2010 as a “virtual winery” with a tasting room in The Madrones in Philo, CA and grapes bought under contract and custom crush at a winery in Ukiah. It was an exciting time and they were thrilled to be living the dream!
Getting Some Footing
Just a year later, Jeff and Ken became aware of a property in the “Deep End” of the Anderson Valley, and by summer of 2012, Lula was the official owner. First things on the to-do list? Clean up the property, plant some vines, and open a tasting room on-site.
They quickly learned that planting grapes was the easy part—in addition to planting the first 5-acre block to three Pinot clones, they also found what would be later called the Rescue Block: ~1,000 vines that had been left to survive on their own that they decided to keep and see what would develop (and were pleasantly surprised!).
Opening a tasting room turned out to be substantially more difficult. Running into complications around zoning and permitting requirements contributed to a total of 18 months to complete the entire process. On October 1, 2014 Jeff and Ken officially opened the tasting room on the Lula Estate.
As the years went on, there was growing and learning across the board. Continuing to plant more grapes (one being our now-beloved Gewürztraminer), the Lula team had harvested their very first small crop off the property in 2016! Then in 2017, Jeff decided to retire, while staying on as a temporary consultant, and Matt Parish came on board as Lula’s new winemaker—bringing a well-established background and a vision to develop award-winning wines that would expand the Lula portfolio.
Speaking of expansion… soon enough, Ken and Matt were upgrading to a new custom crush facility, scouting for new vineyards with new varietals, and experimenting with the estate vineyards—one of the fun advantages of being a small winery!
By 2018, with an elevated rebranding in place, the first of Matt’s wines (Rosé of Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay) were released, and soon followed by his first vintage of Pinot Noirs in 2019—all well-received and with the Pinot’s claiming mid-90’s rating by Wine Enthusiast.
The World Stopped, But Lula Continued
At the start of 2020, Lula had high hopes to find a California distribution partner to further the reach of the brand and develop a stronger online presence. Covid-19 had other ideas. With the tasting room shut down in mid-March, priorities shifted to online sales. With the support of Lula’s loyal fanbase, we stayed afloat and were able to re-open the tasting room by mid-June.
Then lightning struck when a chance meeting with a tasting group quickly developed into Lula obtaining the California distributor she had been seeking. That, coupled with a revamping of Lula’s website and digital marketing efforts, made 2020 the best year ever by far for Lula. Pretty incredible when one looks back to the start. And along the way we learned that wine is considered essential!
Come 2021, Lula was back on track with portfolio expansion (Sauvignon Blanc, another Chardonnay, and two new Pinot Noirs), a new Vineyard Manager, Norman Kobler, and new weather-based tasting room additions to increase comfort through year-round outdoor tastings.
What Lies Ahead
2022 was another eventful year. We continued to expand our production and distribution while acquiring another vineyard contract near Boonville and securing a Texas distributor to sell our wines starting in 2023. In addition, our long-time Tasting Room Manager, Dan Reed, retired at the end of November. While he enjoyed a long and eventful 12 years at Lula and is proud to be part of our success, he felt it time to be closer to his grandchildren. We know we have not seen the last of him.
Now what does 2023 have in store for Lula Cellars? The growth continues! The outdoor tasting area is soon to be due for some permanent structural upgrades, and Kim Badenhop–current Tasting Room Host–will be taking over as Lula’s Hospitality Manager. With his extensive culinary experience, the plan is to start creating special tastings that pair with Lula wines… more to come on that!
Until then, whether you’ve recently discovered our brand or have been a loyal fan for years, we thank you for joining us on this journey and wish you well for ringing in the next. Cheers!