SMART BLEND Local winemakers Phil Truett, left, and Ken Wilson, right, are going into business together. (Photo by Will Bucquoy, courtesy of Wilson Artisan Wines)

About five months after boutique Healdsburg wine brands Truett Hurst and VML went on the market, they found a buyer: the same man who founded them back in 2008.

Phil Hurst sold his beloved brands to a large, Washington-based company called Precept Wine & Spirits around six years ago. When that company put Truett Hurst and VML up for sale last fall, Hurst seized the opportunity to take back what he built—with a little help from his friend Ken Wilson, of Wilson Artisan Wines.

The two well-known local vintners made a joint purchase of Truett and VML in late March. They’re calling it a “groundbreaking partnership” that will leverage Wilson’s vast local infrastructure—including the Rockpile Vineyards tasting room along the roundabout—to help Hurst’s wines thrive.

“Together, Hurst and Wilson plan to invest in crafting world-class, award-winning wines and create a downtown Healdsburg tasting room experience that captures the essence and personality of the wineries,” Wilson Wines said in a statement.

Hurst will collaborate with longtime winemaker Ross Reedy to make the wine. Hurst’s son, Clay, will uphold the family tradition by overseeing the tasting room. The Wilson Wines team will handle operations and brand growth. And Wilson himself will design the tasting room and “create exciting new consumer experiences.”

The new Truett Hurst and VML tasting room at 113 Mill St. is open from 11am to 5pm daily.

“This is the legacy we’ve always dreamed of,” Hurst says.

Truett’s whimsical VML offshoot, which dabbles mainly in pinot noir, is named after one of the winery’s original winemakers, Virginia Marie Lambrix. The brand’s artsy wine labels are equal parts ethereal and steampunk. They’re emblazoned with the phrase, “At equinox fall they planted the first seed and left it in the hands of the moon and the stars”—an “homage to the etheric forces at work in the vineyard” and a nod to biodynamic farming methods.

Not included in Hurst and Wilson’s recent purchase is the former home of Truett and VML—a picturesque, 24-acre rural property in the Dry Creek Valley with farmland, vineyards and tasting experiences for visitors. Instead, another boutique wine brand called Aesthete Wines bought that property earlier this year—and the new Aesthete tasting room at 5610 Dry Creek Rd. is already open for business. Visitors can taste wines creekside or among the property’s gardens and grazing animals.

Aesthete’s winemaker is Jesse Katz, the same Forbes “30 Under 30” wunderkind behind Aperture Cellars on the other side of town. For the Aesthete line of wines in particular, he says he’s focusing on “the unique soils and cool climate at Dry Stack Vineyard in the Bennett Valley AVA,” or American Viticultural Area, near Sonoma.

The Santa Rosa brothers who founded the winery, Jeff and Peter Jones, are focusing on turning the former Truett Hurst and VML property into “a healthy and vibrant estate” where “emphasis is placed on the integration of crops and livestock, recycling of nutrients, soil maintenance, and the health and well-being of the animals, the farmer, the farm, and the earth,” according to the Aesthete website.

For its part, the Truett deal reflects a recent trend wherein winemakers are buying back the brands they founded. Within the past half a year, the same thing happened with both Patz & Hall Winery in Sonoma and Breggo Cellars in the Anderson Valley.

“After significant consolidation of brands over the last 10 years, I believe consumers have lost touch with the people and stories that meant so much to them,” Hurst says. “The wine industry is experiencing a downturn in sales for the first time in 20 years—and it’s up to the founders to rebuild trust and experiences that consumers love.”

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Simone Wilson was born and raised in Healdsburg, CA, where she was the editor of the Healdsburg High School Hound's Bark. She has since worked as a local journalist for publications in San Diego, Los Angeles, New York City and the Middle East. Simone is now a senior product manager and staff writer for the Healdsburg Tribune.


  1. This is an easy question…………I believe there was an ordinance concerning the number of wine tasting rooms in town. Can a City Council member of a person from the City staff please clarify the number of tasting rooms supposedly permitted and how many we currently have.

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