Sonoma County Wine Library a Haven for History Buffs

Books at the Sonoma County Wine Library in Healdsburg (Photo by Melanie Wynne)

Millie Howie blamed the moon for convincing her to move to Sonoma County.

It was the mid-1970s, and the publicist and wine writer was about to head home after an event at Geyser Peak Winery. As she made her way across the parking lot, her gaze lingered on the expansive view of Alexander Valley at dusk.

“I stopped and turned to get into my car, and the moon came up like a jack-in-the-box,” Howie recalled in an oral history recorded by the Sonoma County Wine Library in 2004. “It was the golden harvest moon … and it was perfectly round and enormous. I said, ‘Yup, this is where I’ve got to live.’”

Millie Howie, pictured at home (Sonoma County Wine Library Collection)

Millie Howie, pictured at home. (Sonoma County Wine Library Collection)

Over the next 30 years, Howie became one of the most passionate promoters of the Sonoma County wine industry: The region’s first wine publicist, co-founder of the Wine Road, creator of the first Sonoma County wine map, curator of wine history and prolific wine writer.

But perhaps Howie’s greatest achievement was the Sonoma County Wine Library, which she envisioned and fundraised for over the span of 20 years.

Millie Howie at the “Come Up to Simi” 10K run on Aug. 30, 1981, with Simi’s vice president of public affairs Gracelyn Blackmer (left). The event raised money for the Wine Library and Millie is holding up the check (Photo by Lenny Siegel)
Millie Howie at the “Come Up to Simi” 10K run on Aug. 30, 1981, with Simi’s vice president of public affairs Gracelyn Blackmer (left). The event raised money for the Wine Library and Millie is holding up the check (Photo by Lenny Siegel)

What is the Sonoma County Wine Library?

Dedicated in 1989, the Sonoma County Wine Library doesn’t serve wine. But don’t let that stop you from a detour to this fascinating archive of wine history.

Located at the Healdsburg branch of the Sonoma County Library, the wine library’s collection features 5,000 wine books, including 1,000 that are rare, and one astonishing tome dating to 1514.

Bookplate for Libri de rustica. Dating to 1514, Libri de re rustica is the oldest book at the Sonoma County Wine Library. Author is Cato, Marcus Porcius, 234 B.C.-149 B.C. (Sonoma County Wine Library Collection)
Bookplate for Libri de rustica. Dating to 1514, Libri de re rustica is the oldest book at the Sonoma County Wine Library. Author is Cato, Marcus Porcius, 234 B.C.-149 B.C. (Sonoma County Wine Library Collection)

You’ll also find a generous collection of historical wine ephemera, local wine artifacts and a glut of historic photos, maps and posters. The library carries current subscriptions to 40 wine periodicals and trade publications and plenty of current research material.

However, perhaps the library’s most valuable collection is Howie’s brainchild: A compendium of 26 oral histories with Sonoma wine industry pioneers like Davis Bynum, Merry Edwards, Saralee and Richard Kunde, Mike Tedeschi and Howie herself. (You can find physical copies of the transcribed interviews in the library and digital copies online at digital.sonomalibrary.org.)

“All it takes is one generation to lose historical information about your family or an industry,” said Jeff Davis, the Sonoma County Wine Library Association’s oral history chair. “These oral histories are important to preserving Sonoma County’s wine history and making the information available to the public.”

In 2018, Davis began producing “visual oral histories,” or video interviews, for added engagement and insight. So far, he’s captured interviews with wine industry icons Helen Bacigalupi, Jim Pedroncelli, Joe and Tom Rochioli, Gary Heck and others.

fundraising event for the Sonoma County Wine Library
Thursday, June 9th will see this fundraising event in honor of Millie Howie

Premiere screenings of the interviews serve as fundraisers for the wine library association and include a Q&A with the guest. The next event is scheduled for June 9, 2022 with Hank and Linda Wetzel of Alexander Valley Vineyards. (Tickets are available online at sonomawinelibraryassn.org/events.)

“The 30- to 45-minute visual oral histories appeal to a younger generation who wants information quickly,” said Julie Pedroncelli, board president of the Sonoma County Wine Library Association. “Video is a format they understand, and that’s one of the main reasons we’re doing this.”

A New Generation

Compelling a young adult audience to visit and use a brick-and-mortar library is not a new challenge. So Peg Champion, the Sonoma County Wine Library Association’s media manager, is turning to local colleges and universities for help.

“We’re lucky there are so many wine studies programs in our area,” Champion said. “An internship program would be a great way for the library to connect with a younger audience who can carry on our work.”

But the legacy of the Sonoma County Wine Library doesn’t rest solely on the shoulders of younger generations.

“We have a vision for the future of the library and need the community’s support,” Champion said. “The library is a key component of wine history overall, not just in Sonoma County. We have an incredible resource in our community, and we want to expand our reach, educate students and continue to grow our treasure trove of information.”

Early Russian River Wine Road Map. (Sonoma County Wine Library Collection)
Early Russian River Wine Road Map. (Sonoma County Wine Library Collection)

Howie’s Legacy

Howie, who died in 2011, remains an integral part of the Sonoma County wine history she fought to preserve.

In June 2022, on the 100th anniversary of Howie’s birth, the Sonoma County Wine Library Association will celebrate her legacy by launching the Millie Howie Century Fund, a campaign to enlist new members and gain financial support for library services.

“Many people don’t even know there is a Sonoma County Wine Library, and our biggest challenge comes down to spreading that information,” Champion said. “There is history embedded in every rock and every brick in Sonoma County. We just want to share that with the greater community.

Sonoma County Wine Library

  • What: Archive of Sonoma County wine history, including 5,000 wine books, historical ephemera, photos, maps, wine periodicals and more.
  • Where: Healdsburg Regional Library, 139 Piper St., Healdsburg
  • Information: 707-433-3772, ext. 0416; sonomawinelibraryassn.org
  • Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday and Thursday to Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday
  • Oral histories: Read transcripts of the oral histories at bit.ly/3FWA1Ty

Written by Sarah Doyle 

You Might Also Like

Comstock Wines, Healdsburg
Wineries

As you plan your upcoming Sonoma County excursion, you imagine that your Wine Country ramble will unfold in a certain…

Hamel Family Wines, wine tasting and non-alcoholic tasting
Wineries

With a massive flood of zero-proof beverages recently hitting the market, it’s become fairly easy to find nonalcoholic alternatives on…

handmade pizza at Glen Ellen Star
Trip Itineraries

As a Sonoma local, I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing Sonoma County’s finest offerings and generally end up with the…

Movie Prop Car On Display at Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Occidental
Activities

As you meander the wee 60-yard block of downtown, strolling its wooden sidewalks past 19th-century, false-front buildings, you’ll feel as…

Winter scenery at Luther Burbank in Sebastopol CA
Outdoor Activities

Lush greenery, foggy coastlines, seasonal harvests and unique wildlife sightings – Sonoma County in winter is a place where visitors…

Hot air balloon ride in sonoma county
Sightseeing & Tours

Without a doubt, Wine Country is one of the world’s most breathtaking regions to travel through whether you are looking…

Girls Getaway in Sonoma County
Food & Wine

Winter might be considered the off-season for many of the world’s hottest travel destinations, but a Wine Country visit between…

Wine tasting at sunset.
Trip Itineraries

Fall is a busy time in Sonoma County — from colorful hikes to the perfect pumpkin patch, discover what locals…

Farmhouse Inn exterior
Food & Wine

From Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow to Justin and Hailey Bieber, you may bump into a few celebrities at Sonoma…

Pig at Charlie's Acres
Sustainable Travel

Need a pick-me-up? These nonprofits offer ways to spend time with cute animals — you could even try some goat…

See What’s Happening

Share your experience using #SonomaCounty or #LifeOpensUp