If you have started a new venture you know of the challenges. You are “all in.” You appreciate every victory and you learn to grow in the struggles. Now imagine doing that with your own family, actually with four different families. That is why we are so thankful that our family and business not only survived two decades but thrived. As part of four generations of Wilsons, I am thankful we will be celebrating our twentieth anniversary in October 2020. This is also the year when both my parents, Rosie and Gerry, celebrate their 90th birthdays.
The story of how we started the winery is so crazy that last year I decided to write it all down. My project ended up being a large coffee-table book that documents in photos and text the story of our adventure of starting a winery with no experience. It is entitled. THE WILSON CREEK STORY—How a Daring Family Venture Became Southern California’s Most Popular Winery. It starts with how Rosie and Gerry met on a train then started a family in Minnesota. I describe our move to South Pasadena and how our home became the gathering place for youth and adults alike. I tell about the time in 1996, when my brother, Bill, called my folks and asked, “Do you want to buy a winery.” Whereas Rosie responded, “Are you crazy? We have never made wine!”
Bill then convinced me and my sister and her husband, Craig, to join in this family project. We soon bought 20 acres of vines on Rancho California Rd. in 1996. We thought the parcel was too far from the other 14 wineries, but we took the chance. It took three difficult years to build the tasting room but eventually opening the winery in October 2000. Back then, our tasting room consisted of a 25-foot tasting bar, two restrooms with one toilet each, one small cash register, and a parking lot with 40 spaces as we estimated around 250 guests a week. When we opened three Wilson families lived in mobile homes on the property. I bought a used a single wide (with slide-outs!) and Bill and Jenifer lived in a double-wide. Rosie and Gerry purchased a triple-wide manufactured home that they still live in on the hill above the winery.
In the story, I try to be transparent as I describe how the rapid growth in the winery caused some family tension and how we brought in family consultants to help us wade through the issues. Yet today, our family and business continue to thrive? Why? I think it is in part due to strong core values that run deep such as genuine hospitality, valuing people, passionately caring, and joyfully giving back to our community. No one lives these out better than my parents. They are so down-to-earth and their lives exude gratitude, generosity, love, and grace. For those of you who have met them your heads are probably nodding in agreement. Even their motive in starting Wilson Creek was about loving others—to reunite the family and create a change of lifestyle for us all. Thankfully this love has also held our families together over the last two decades.
Recently we have been keeping afloat during COVID as we can do outside dining and tasting. We are back to about 2000 visitors on a typical Saturday and our wine club remains strong. Our Creekside Grille is doing well and interestingly, the most popular item these past months has been our tasty sparkling wine slushies sold in our Courtyard Bar and Grill. Hopefully, we will soon be able to open up our new Reserve Room where guests can enjoy a wine and food pairing experience. This Fall, we are also opening up a satellite tasting bar in Garden Grove in the SteelCraft food area.
Lastly, I am so thankful how the local community has so graciously supported our family business in this pandemic. Rosie and Gerry are healthy and we hope we can somehow celebrate our 20th anniversary with numerous friends and family, even with the social distancing. How do you throw a big party celebrating 20 years? That is a challenge we will have fun figuring out in the next few months. We hope you can join the celebrations as we navigate how to safely party during a pandemic.
Mick Wilson is a co-owner of Wilson Creek, Certified Sommelier, and author of The Wilson Creek Story (available on Amazon or at the winery). He is currently writing his second book tentatively titled, “Wine, Vines, and The Divine.”