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.’"
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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