Handley Cellars: History Making Wine Pioneer Passes on Winery to Her Two Daughters
After making her mark on the wine world for over four decades, Handley Cellars matriarch Milla Handley, is passing the torch on to the next generation to take over. Milla Handley, winemaker and owner of Handley Cellars, is retiring to make way for the third generation of family vintners. Milla started making wine in the basement of her house at the same time she was raising her daughter Megan. This would eventually lead to making her own wine brand.
In 1982, Milla made history when she made 250 cases of Chardonnay and she’s been crafting gold medal-winning, environmentally sustainable wines ever since. Milla was the first woman winemaker and owner to establish a wine label with her own name in the US. She has since served as a role model for female winemakers and entrepreneurs in a highly charged, highly competitive, and male-dominated industry, while always staying true to her art. Milla Handley spent 36 years creating a wine brand that was true to a place and a set of values.
She was one of the first female graduates in Fermentation Science at the University of California at Davis in 1978. After working with Richard Arrowood at Chateau St. Jean and Jed Steele at Edmeades, she decided to start her own brand from the largely uncharted winemaking territory of Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley. Milla and her late husband Rex chose the Valley, which had always been considered too cold for growing wine grapes, because of the area’s independent spirit and fresh possibilities.
“I realized at a young age that I wanted a rural lifestyle, tied to the environmental cycles, and Anderson Valley captivated me from the moment I arrived here with my husband Rex. I could see that the people of Anderson Valley possess an independent spirit and I felt I could follow my own path, somewhat removed from the entrenched winemaking culture.
“I have always wanted the wines to capture the essence of this extraordinary place. I think we have a wonderful and diverse community, always willing to step up and help each other when in need. We at Handley firmly believe in caring for our social and environmental community through sustainable and organic farming. Our goal is to preserve the land for future generations. I am proud and happy that my daughters want to be that next generation to continue farming this land and giving back to our community.” – Milla Handley
Third generation family vintners and Milla’s daughters, Lulu McClellan and Megan Handley Warren, are taking over the reins. The sisters will serve as co-owners of the winery and Randy Schock will be promoted to lead winemaker.
“My sister and I are thrilled to be carrying forward the legacy that my parents started, and as Handley Cellars enters its 36th vintage, we could not be more proud of our past and excited for our future. My mom has made extraordinary wines with Handley Cellars, and her principles have led her to do so much more with her winery.
She has fostered an atmosphere here that supports dynamic and creative people while making beautiful wine that respects and celebrates our environment. Our vision for Handley Cellars is that it always continues to be more than just a winery – we are a family, part of a larger community, and stewards of our land.” – Lulu McClellan, Co-Owner
Milla’s wines are unique because her style is not so much about her, as much as it’s about the place where the grapes are grown. Each year and with each wine, Milla has sought to capture the essence of the weather, soil, and varietal, allowing her to create wines that transmit the Anderson Valley terroir. Milla’s conviction that the balanced methods used in organic farming help develop a wine’s expression of regional and varietal character led her to pursue organic certification for the Handley Estate Vineyard in 2003 (granted in 2005), long before such practices were popular.
Today, every wine the winery produces is crafted from grapes grown in the Handley family vineyards or sourced from trusted small family growers in Anderson Valley or other Mendocino appellations whose practices are in keeping with Handley’s farming principles. Most of the grapes they use fully ripen at lower brix, resulting in wines with lower alcohol levels and dynamic flavors that bear the signature of their individual, carefully tended, and exceptional sites.
To carry on the legacy of what Milla started, the family has promoted Randy Schock from Co-Winemaker to lead Winemaker. Randy has played a significant role in the winemaking since the 2012 vintage, and his influence has brought forth wines that demonstrate the essence of Milla’s style. His focus on letting the grapes each year speak through the wine is true Handley Cellars’ winemaking.
“During our walks through the vineyard, she would suddenly slow down to marvel at the smallest things that most of us never notice. She is a guiding hand, keeping me open to new ideas and excited about what nature and life provide,” reflects former co-winemaker and now lead winemaker Randy Schock. “She has taught me so much more than winemaking. Her motherly nurturing has helped me to be a better father, husband and member of the community. I have been very lucky to work with Milla Handley.” – Randy Schock, Lead Winemaker
Milla, Megan and Lulu are entrusting Randy with continuing the standard of Handley Cellars gold medal-winning wines. Their whites, which have been free of animal products since the 2012 vintage, are created with minimal intervention to provide a clear expression of vintage and site. Barrels are used to provide structure, softness, and to contribute to the overall texture, with Chardonnay and Alsace varietals being particularly fond of Anderson Valley’s cool climate. Handley is also known for their fruit-driven Pinot Noirs, which have balanced ripeness and acidity and minimal oak influence. The cool coastal climate is perfect for producing superior sparkling wines. Handley is excited to announce that in honor of Milla’s retirement, they are releasing a Vintage 2015 Estate Blanc de Blanc.
Newly promoted Associate Vice President Travis Scott, who has managed the business side of the operation for two years, discusses how Milla has shaped him:
“I have only worked with Milla for four years, but she has already profoundly influenced me, both professionally and personally. Her quiet attention to detail and mastery of every facet of this business, along with her skill at instilling core values in all aspects of her company, is inspiring. While Milla’s most public role has been as a winemaker, as in the case of most family businesses, she has had many roles in the winery’s operations, from vineyard management to supervision of her characteristically down-to-earth tasting room staff. She has left her mark on every aspect of Handley Cellars and every one of her team members, setting an incredibly high standard for me to strive for. As Handley Cellars matures into its middle age, I look forward to our continued growth not only as a business but as members of our community. “
Lulu, speaking on behalf of the entire family:
“It is an honor to live, farm, and make wine here in this community and beautiful valley. At the core of my mother’s and this family’s history is a love of Anderson Valley and a desire to connect people with this beautiful place we call home.”
About Handley Cellars
Founded by Milla Handley in 1982 with the support of her parents and husband, Handley Cellars is an artisan wine estate located in the Deep End of the renowned Anderson Valley winegrowing region. Situated off Route 128, eighteen miles from the coast, Handley has been producing small-lot award-winning wines for 35 years, including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Syrah and Zinfandel. The tasting room, garden courtyard and folk art gallery are open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the Summer (May-Oct) and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., in the Winter (Nov-Apr). Handley Cellars is located at 3151 Highway 128, Philo CA 95466. To contact Handley Cellars, please call 800.733.3151, and to learn more about Handley Cellars, visit www.handleycellars.com.
This post is sponsored by Chalkboard Communications