A Welshman’s thriving vineyard in sunny California could soon be exporting its AmByth wine from the USA back to Wales.
Phillip Hart emigrated to the USA from Bangor, North Wales, in the 1970s.
And after meeting his horse-rancher wife Mary, he established an organic vineyard and winery at Templeton in central California, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
He now leads an idyllic life on the AmByth Estate – named after the “Wales Forever” slogan Cymru Am Byth – with cows, sheep, rabbits, cats and dogs for company.
The most famous resident in the small town in the wine growing hills of California is actor Josh Brolin, son of Amityville Horror star James and stepson of Barbra Streisand.
The temperature in the town, founded in 1886, ranges from a chilly -9C in winter to a sweat inducing 45C in summer.
Speaking from the AmByth Estate Mr Hart told the Western Mail: “I was born in Bangor, North Wales and raised on a sheep mountain farm [Llanerch] near Porthmadog.
“I went to school at Borth-y-Gest, and Ysgol Eifionydd.”
Asked how he came to name his estate and winery AmByth, he explained: “The name has a tad more to it than first glance. “My brother Mark and I emigrated to California from Wales in 1978 after two years in South Africa and two years before that in Australia.
“We opened a rug store in Newport Beach, California called Hart’s Rugs & Carpets with the corporate name of Cymru Trading Inc.
“When my wife, who grew up on a horse farm in Oklahoma, bought and moved to our farm in central California and planted grapes we had to come up with a name for the vineyard and winery.
“We researched many Welsh names but as you well know the average ‘Anglo’ has a bit of a problem with Welsh names, Llanerch for instance.
“I remembered my childhood in Wales where the black steel railway bridges had been spray painted with graffiti declaring ‘Cymru Am Byth’.
“After trying the words Am Byth on several people and finding out that by and large they ‘got it’ we modified it a little and joined them together but kept the caps, hence ‘AmByth’.
“Perhaps because Mary and I grew up in ‘natural’ environments we decided to farm in an organic way.
“We are certified organic and certified bio-dynamic. I make natural wines with no additions beyond some tiny sulphur additions in some wines – absolutely nothing else gets added except grapes.
“We foot stomp everything, native fermentation, natural lactic acid et cetera.
“Our farm AmByth is indeed a farm and we hope that after we are dead and gone it will continue forever in good health.” Mr Hart said the AmByth Estate was looking to produce cider and that there are plans to export to the UK over the next few years.
“We have 65 apple trees [for cider], 60 other fruit and nut trees, a total of 540 producing olive trees, vegetable gardens, cows, sheep, rabbits, chickens and of course dogs and cats,” he said.
“A wonderfully alive place to belong to.
“Last year we had a young chap from Wales here as an intern, Jack Teifi Evans from Aberaeron, Ceredigion who is studying viticulture in Brighton College.
“His father is starting a vineyard in Wales.
“We are currently in talks with a London importer called The Sampler in Islington.
“If we can come to some arrangement then our wines would be available for purchase in the UK and of course Wales.
“If not then our current plans would be to possibly pour at UK wine festivals, possibly in 2014.”
Despite California’s reputation for sunshine, the AmByth Estate’s production has been hit by unusually cold weather.
“Because of severe frost in April 2011 our production from that year will be just 6,000 bottles,” said Mr Hart.
“Farming’s the same whether we are in Wales or California and full of pitfalls.
“Our current market is California with distributors in Quebec, Chicago, Massachusetts and North Carolina.
“Of course, online sales go on throughout the United States too but it would be wonderful one day to export back to Wales.”
Nearly three-quarters the size of France, California accounts for nearly 90% of the entire wine production of the USA.
Production in California alone is one third larger than that of Australia and if California were a separate country, it would be the world’s fourth-largest wine producer.
The state’s wine producing history dates back to the 18th Century Spanish missionaries who planted the first vineyards in the region so they would have red wine for Mass.
Taken from WalesOnline.com, by Robin Turner, April 20, 2012