Amy Thorn stands at the edge of the air-conditioned tasting room, a glass of Thorn Hill’s Big Magic blend in one hand and a half-filled bottle in the other. She spends a few minutes talking about the wines, sharing a few memories. “Thank you for coming to this tonight,” she tells the crowded room.
“And thank you for honoring the memory of Jonathan.”
“To Jonathan!” a guest toasts.
“Here, here!” another replies, raising a wine glass.
Amy smiles, eyes hiding her sadness, and lifts her glass. “To Jonathan.”
Amy Thorn was drawn to Lake County years ago when she worked as a wine judge. At a competition, she tasted an unnamed Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon and was hooked. “I thought, this is the place where we need to start a winery,” Amy says. “The volcanic soil brings it such a unique flavor.”
On her first visit, Amy went to Konocti Harbor, watched Credence Clearwater Revival play, then came to look at the property where Thorn Hill’s tasting room currently sits. The night was dark, and the stars shone brilliantly. “I felt like I was in the Sound of Music!” Amy continues. “We walked around and could see the stars like I could reach out and touch them. I’d never seen anything like it before. I knew this was the place.”
But that was just the beginning of the process. “It really took my son Jonathan to see the vision and run with it,” Amy continues. “He told me, ‘Mom, we can do this.’” And Jonathan did make it a reality. He camped in Clearlake for three months until the winery was up and running.
And Amy created some excellent wine in the process. Take Thorn Hill’s Volcanic Rock Cabernet Sauvignon. Lake County’s well-known for its great Cabs, and Thorn Hill’s brings all one would expect. It’s got delightful minerality, a mark of Lake County’s unique volcanic terroir, but the full-bodied depth one would expect from any good Cab. Bring in notes of boysenberries and hints of caramel, and it’s a perfect food pairing wine, good with everything from ribeye to pizza.
But things changed following Jonathan’s untimely death in a car accident last year. Then Amy Thorn had a tough decision to make. This branch of their winery was their son’s vision. How could she keep it alive?
That’s where Helena Welsh and Buffy Thomas stepped in. “I went to Amy and told her that I really wanted her to keep this winery open,” Helena explains as she pours yet another tasting. “And I offered to come work to help make the transition.” She pauses. “This is Jonathan’s legacy. We can’t let it end.”
Amy chats with all the guests throughout the evening. After leaving one conversation, she swung by the firepit where Trudy and I talked with some friends, carrying a half-full glass of Chardonnay.
“Usually, on cooler nights, we light the firepit,” Amy smiles. “You probably don’t need it now!” The summer sun, while rapidly descending, has still left the evening with hundred-degree temperatures.
“Thank you for having this event,” Trudy says. It’s been a huge turnout. “And thank you for honoring Jonathan’s memory.
“I see marks of Jonathan everywhere,” Amy says. “His fingerprints are all over this place. Take the olive trees, for example.” She points to the olives lining the highway. “He picked up his favorite varietals and planted them himself.”
She takes another sip of wine, caught up in thought.
“You know, this Chardonnay won 99 points,” she says, somewhat distractedly.
“Do you mind if I get a photo of you?” I ask, getting up from my seat by the unlit firepit.
“Of course!” Amy replies. “Let me get his favorite things.” She heads inside for a second and returns with a bottle of olive oil and their Brut Cuvee de Prestige, and a smile on her face. “Jonathan loved this olive oil and the bubbles.”
We wander over to the fountain, surrounded by massive lavender and rose bushes. The evening sun highlights the bright colors of the roses. Laughter rises from the patio to the left. A clink of glasses comes from the kitchen.
“This is good,” she says, posing for the photo. “He would have liked this.”
Thorn Hill Winery’s hard to miss. It’s on Highway 29 between Lower Lake and Kit’s Corner. Swing by for a tasting, or spend a weekend in one of their beautiful villas.
Thorn Hill Winery
Lower Lake, CA 95457