Food & Drink

Meet a Southern Vintner in Sonoma County

How a Texan, her husband, and an adorable Goldendoodle are making a splash in California wine country

Photo: Courtesy of Alison Smith Story

The patio of Smith Story Wine Cellars.

Without a small fortune at their disposal, Dallas-Fort Worth native and Baylor University graduate Alison Smith Story and her husband Eric Story had to get creative to launch Smith Story Wine Cellars about an hour north of San Francisco in Northern California’s Sonoma County wine country. With a promise to create a sustainable winery that would pay fair prices to family grape growers, Alison sold her Austin home, the duo bet their life savings, found an angel investor, and turned to Kickstarter to make their dream winery a reality.

As they faced a long list of the stressful unknowns—business licenses and taxes, not to mention all the natural challenges of grape growing—their giant Goldendoodle, Lord Sandwich, kept them smiling.Within two years, in 2016, their wine industry day jobs were gone, and along with Smith Story vintages of sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, riesling, and rosé, Lord Sandwich had his own wine label. Alison and her popular pooch (currently chasing 73,000 followers on Instagram) also found time to establish a nonprofit called Socks For Sandwich, which donates new socks to the needy.

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Always hustling, Smith Story is successfully writing the next chapter of her family winery’s saga with the recent opening of a new tasting room in Healdsburg, considered by many to be the epicenter of Sonoma County wine country.

photo: Courtesy of Alison Smith Story
The Smith Story team.

What are some of your favorite wineries in Healdsburg?

Many of my favorites all have a common thread—hardworking families behind the wines. There’s Flambeaux Wine with its New Orleans roots; the beginnings of Williams Selyem are very similar to Smith Story Wine Cellars; Aldina Vineyards is owned by a Texan, and then there’s Kistler Vineyards, whose winemaker loves to get away after harvest season to a peaceful ranch outside of San Antonio.

How do your Texas roots show while running a winery?

My Texas roots give me unstoppable superpowers. The last few years have been challenging for all small businesses, but the wildfires in Northern California wine country have been especially devastating. Dedication and persistence have kept our lights on and wine in the cellar. My grandparents farmed outside of Dallas-Fort Worth in a tiny town called Maypearl. I have tremendous memories of my grandmother hosting and entertaining; warm and delicious hospitality runs deep.

How is your lovable Goldendoodle, Lord Sandwich, involved with Smith Story Wine Cellars?

He’s been our employee of the year every year, of course! Greeting guests and having fun as a winery dog on social media is his calling in life. 

Texas wines on your go-to list? 

My longtime favorites include McPherson Cellars and Wine for the People. I believe the best winemaking in Texas is being done by folks who’ve traveled the world and brought their inspiration home.

What California wines would you recommend right now? 

I’m loving our new 2021 Smith Story, BRAVE, our first carbonic red wine meant for summer sipping. I always have bottles of Gros Ventre Cellars Chenin Blanc and the stunning LaRue Sonoma Coast pinot noir close. The new 2021 Lord Sandwich Blanc (a blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, grenache blanc, and Verdelho) is beyond delicious.

Any Texas touches in Smith Story’s new Healdsburg tasting room?

A super fun part of the winery is my small collection of antiques and vintage decor for purchase. I almost always have vintage purses by Texas designer Enid Collins for sale along with the new Opal R. Helm leather bags, too. Wine evokes memories, and the Smith Story sundries shelves are full of nostalgia too.

photo: Courtesy of Alison Smith Story
Vintage glassware and bottles at Smith Story.