History


Soda Rock is steeped in history, and if the mossy old stone walls could talk, we’d hear some colorful stories. We strive to honor what has transpired here over the past 150 years. Many of our wines pay tribute to Soda Rock’s past. The Meeks Merlot is named for Tom Meeks, winery/property owners from 1904-1925, and the Wentworth Zinfandel for Fred Wentworth, the owner of the Alexander Valley store around 1870.

Soda Rock is the original site of the Alexander Valley general store and post office, and was once the central hub of activity for the valley. Historic records provide evidence of the first bonded winery on this property in 1880. Many locals remember Soda Rock Winery from the 1980s, when the Tomka family temporarily revived the old site.

When Ken and Diane Wilson purchased the property in 2000, the charm you see today was just a vision in Ken’s imagination. After years of neglect, this local landmark had fallen into serious disrepair. Recognizing the property’s historic value and appreciating the architecture of the stone buildings and water tower, Ken launched Soda Rock’s long-term restoration plan.

Today you see a decade of a carefully planned restoration using recycled and green materials whenever possible. Ken painstakingly sought out materials that could be reused, allowing the site to retain its essential historic character.

As the restoration of the property continues, we open its doors to share this remarkable site with the surrounding community and visitors alike; watching as it once again regain its place as the hub of activity for the valley.

Early years


Henry Delano Fitch, a wealthy San Diego trader, first privately owned the property we now call Soda Rock when the Mexican government issued him the Rancho Sotoyome land grant in 1841. Cyrus Alexander scouted this area for Fitch prior to him pursuing the land grant. Fitch rewarded Alexander with a grant of 9000 acres and gave him job of managing the Rancho for Fitch. Cyrus Alexander’s share of Rancho Sotoyome is now known as Alexander Valley.

Records from the 1800s are sparse, but we do have one document showing the first bonded winery was on the Soda Rock site in 1880. Records also show that Fred Wentworth built and operated a general merchandise store on the property in 1869. In 1873, J.W. Collins opened a new store in the same location, adding a post office within the store in 1889 and becoming the local postmaster. The Alexander Valley School appears on the property some time around 1900. The local historical society has photos of schoolchildren in front of Soda Rock’s distinctive stone wall.

In 1904 Tom Meeks, the new property owner, purchased and dismantled a wooden building from the Whitton Winery, re-assembling it on the Soda Rock site. Meeks added more buildings, including the gambrel-roof house that still anchors one corner of the property. The Meeks Winery was considered the most up-to-date establishment of its kind in the region, with the latest machinery and equipment.

With the passage of prohibition, Meeks abandoned the wine business and sold his ranch and winery to Abele Ferrari and Frank Fererro in 1923. Ferrari and Fererro concentrated on growing grapes until Prohibition’s repeal, when they established Soda Rock Winery. Leo and Rose (Abele Ferrari’s daughter) Demostene took over the winery operation in 1943. In 1973, the Demostenes built a new winery just a few miles away and closed Soda Rock.

The winery lay dormant for a few years until Charlie Tomka, Jr. bought the property for his parents Charlie and Etza. Charlie Sr. had been involved with the wine industry in Hungary, and now retired could help his son in the new venture. The Tomkas ran Soda Rock Winery for several years, but by the mid-1980s the winery lay dormant again. When Ken Wilson purchased Soda Rock in 2000 the beloved old winery had fallen into neglect and disrepair.  A decade of painstaking reconstruction has returned this historic landmark to life and opened a new chapter in Soda Rock’s history.

See more
Soda Rock's building has witnessed a wealth of history
  • The Tom Meeks house built in 1905
  • Restored water tower
  • This old barn is one of the treasures from the past that remains on the property
click to zoom images