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October 14, 2005

By Raven J. Railey

A couple from Wisconsin seeking to "get out of the day-to-day rat race of corporate jobs and city life" plans to fix up Hidden Mountain Ranch Winery in Adelaida, west of Paso Robles.

About six months after deciding to purchase the winery, Richard and Aurora Gumerman of Wisconsin closed escrow about two weeks ago. The three local families that previously owned it sold it to the Gumermans for just under $2 million.

Built in 1975 with the name Hoffman Mountain Ranch, the winery holds a key place in the history of the Central Coast wine industry. It was one of the first modern winemaking facilities in the region, built by Beverly Hills cardiologist Stanley Hoffman. He brought international attention to Paso Robles when his 1976 Pinot Noir beat Romanée-Conti in a blind tasting in Europe.

"HMR was one of the legendary wineries and one of the first in the North County," said selling agent Pete Dakin, owner of ReMax Parkside Real Estate in Paso Robles. "It's a big winery. It has the ability to make and store a lot of wine."

But since its glory days, the winery and other buildings on the property fell into disrepair. Richard Gumerman is particularly concerned about saving what he can of the original vines Hoffman planted more than 25 years ago.

"After four years of not watering, they are awful stressed," he said. "But they are hearty. I'm attempting to save them. I think it's important for history's sake."

Like most "mom-and-pop" winery owners, the Gumermans are "dreamers," said their real estate agent, Jenny Heinzen, the director of winery and vineyard sales for WineryX Real Estate in St. Helena.

"But they have the drive and determination," Heinzen said. "It seems like they got a good deal. It had been on the market for a long time and it needed a lot of work."

She estimates about three or four winery sales like this one occur each year statewide. The $2 million asking price is on the low end, she said.

The former owners -- Jean and Heidi Changala, David and Audrey McHenry, and Randy and Georgia Vignola -- put the winery on the market for $2.1 million in early 2002. They purchased it from a Japanese corporation in 1997.

When the property first went on the market, the Changalas - who could not be reached Thursday -- said the partners' individual careers were heading in different directions.

The Gumermans made a tidy sum in the corporate world -- she in pharmaceuticals and he as an IT consultant, said Aurora Gumerman. But they both had a strong interest in winemaking.

"We had very successful corporate careers," she said. "But there comes a time when you want to be in charge of your own destiny. After 20-plus years, it was time to stand on our own two feet."

And they took possession of the winery just in time for one of the busiest grape harvests the Central Coast has seen in many years. With an extraordinarily large crop, wineries are busier than usual as some growers struggle to find tank space to ferment their wine.

"The phones have not stopped ringing with local growers and wineries looking for production capacity," said Richard Gumerman. "I've turned away about 700 tons of business this week. Cabernet is the biggest grape in this area and it all came ripe this week."

Is the reality of a hectic harvest denting his romantic image of life in a vineyard? "I'm actually having a good time even though I'm exhausted," he said.

He expects custom crush services -- processing grapes for client wineries, growers or hobbyists -- to make up a large part of the business, Richard Gumerman said. He also plans to replant five acres in the spring.

They also plan to produce wine under three labels. The Hidden Mountain Ranch (HMR) Winery brand will continue to sell the zinfandel, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and muscat canelli it has been known for, charging $12 to $30 a bottle.

He's targeting the San Luis Obispo Wine brand used by the Japanese corporation that previously owned the winery for "more fun-style" wines in the $8 to $15 price range for mass production and national distribution.

They will also continue the Twilight Cellars label they had produced under in the past, he said. That brand will specialize in Rhône-style wines, using varietals such as mourvedre, viognier, grenache, syrah and roussanne, selling in the $15 to $30 range.

Aurora is focused on fixing up the tasting room, which will reopen for weekends starting Saturday. She plans to renovate it in a Roman style, she said, and eventually intends it to be open daily.

The sale includes 115 acres, the 13,000-square-foot winery, equipment with a capacity for more than 25,000 cases, wine inventory, a tasting room, two houses, a pool, a pond, a barn, stables and buildings for wine storage. The winery has produced about 3,000 cases annually in recent years.

Original article here.

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