Chris O'Neill, Owner & Proprieter
Chris comes to Wildwood after a long tenure in the Wine Industry. In 2008, he led a team of investors who purchased a moribund winery known as Russian River Vineyards, which by then was little more than a poorly tended, fallow plot of land. The inception of Russian River Vineyards began Chris’ association with Anthony Austin, a visionary, award-winning winemaker who once trained under winemaking legend André Tchelistcheff. It took an enormous effort and all of Austin’s wine making magic to revive the winery. Fifteen years on, Russian River Vineyards is now a successful and popular boutique Forestville Winery, producing award-winning wines that bear the distinct signature of the world-renowned Russian River Valley winemaking region.
During his tenure at RRV, Chris had the pleasure of sharing the winery’s success with deserving community-based organizations. But he did not simply make donations on behalf of the winery. Chris believed he could amplify the giving by having those organizations mobilize their member/donor rolls to purchase wine that would in turn generate a financial contribution with every purchase. His plan worked like a charm. Several local organizations were able to successfully raise money through the sales of RRV wines. To his pleasant surprise, Chris discovered that this was a win-win proposition. RRV produced incremental sales (albeit at a reduced profitability), and worthy organizations were able to raise money selling a popular, premium product. This was a more powerful form of giving, an economically sustainable process in which a winery could partner with another organization to organically generate cash for a worthy initiative, rather than just write a check.
Early in 2022, it occurred to Chris that this form of giving was quickly becoming his new passion, and he saw enormous potential. So when the time came for him to leave RRV, Chris had an idea to create a new kind of winery. Therein began Wildwood Wines, a winery devoted to the great things that wine can do. With Anthony Austin joining as the winemaker, Chris is now devoting his time to building this new venture.
Anthony Austin, Winemaker
“My philosophy of winemaking is to take billions of tiny life forms and make art with them."
Anthony Austin is one of those fortunate few who have successfully turned their passion into a profession. He is a fourth-generation Sonoma County native, born and raised in Healdsburg, California, who’s family winemaking heritage dates back to the 1800’s.
Anthony studied enology at UC Davis, where he first crossed paths with legendary winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff. He studied for some time under Tchelistcheff, who was impressed enough with Anthony’s budding talent to recommend him to businessman Brooks Firestone, who was planning the creation of Firestone Vineyards in the Santa Ynez valley. Anthony became the first Winemaker at Firestone Vineyards, and thus began a career of creating wines that have consistently garnered critical acclaim and awards. He went on to create his own Winery, Austin Cellars, which achieved international recognition for the quality of its wines.
About a decade later, Anthony was drawn back to Sonoma County, looking to take on the challenge of making Pinot Noir on the Sonoma coast. He was part of the team that created Sonoma Coast Vineyards, a winery dedicated to tackling cold-climate winemaking along the Pacific coast west of the Russian River Valley. It was there that Anthony nourished his love of Pinot Noir, which has become a specialty.
In 2008, Anthony joined the founding team at Russian River Vineyards, where he and Chris O’Neill began their long and productive association, making a series of award-winning wines with fruit from a revived RRV estate as well as select grapes from all over the Russian River Valley. Anthony has joined the team at Wildwood with a mission to continue his tradition of making exceptional wines.