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January 30, 2023

Perfect Pairing

Anaba Wines and Pickleball Organized offer a first-of-its-kind wine and pickleball experience.

By Drew Wathey

Anaba Wines, named for Sonoma Valley’s upward-moving “anabatic” winds, is pickleball’s newest partner. The winery sits on a picturesque 16 acres, 35 minutes north of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. In 2005, Proprietor John Sweazey knew he’d found his dream landscape, reminding him of the valuable time he spent in the Rhône Valley in France cultivating the love for his new enterprise after successful careers in computer sales for IBM and in commercial real estate.


“France was still considered the primary home of fine winemaking, so my travel focus was the numerous different French wine regions mostly to just develop a better understanding of their methods,” said Sweazey, a Chicago native and Stanford graduate who, along with his college buddies, was quite familiar with the wine country in and around Napa and Sonoma.


Beyond the vineyards and tasting gatherings at Anaba Wines, another aspect is gaining in popularity and earning rave reviews from its participants: pickleball. Can you think of a better way to sip your favorite Chardonnay or Pinot than while basking in the warm California sun on the pickleball court at Anaba Wines?


“Four years ago, during the development of our new hospitality facility, my son convinced me (we had always been a tennis-playing family) that we should build a paddle tennis court in addition to our bocce court, because that sport was really going to take off in Northern California, like it had in Southern California,” recalled Sweazey. “Well, we were half right that a small court sport was going to take off, but it turned out to be pickleball, not paddle tennis. Fortunately, all it took was a higher net and different lines to pretend we knew what we were doing all along!”


Someone who certainly knows what she is doing around a pickleball court is Krishna Raichura, owner of Pickleball Organized. Raichura contacted Anaba and offered the winery the idea of serving up pickleball while satisfying one’s palate with wine. Sweazey and company liked the idea, and Anaba Wines has quickly become a favorite spot for pickleball and wine enthusiasts.


Raichura started playing pickleball during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and found that her passion for the game led her to become a Certified Pro Instructor: “I found people’s enthusiasm for pickleball matched my own, and this led me to start Pickleball Organized.”


Pickleball Organized recently partnered with the City of Sausalito and Cañon Swim & Tennis Club, along with Novato Park and Recreation—all in Marin County—to organize their pickleball programs starting in January 2023. Through the partnership with Pickleball Organized, Anaba Wines offers numerous “experiences” for patrons. “Our first experience includes an exclusive 90-minute pickleball lesson while enjoying a bottle of wine next to our Picpoul Vineyard. The second experience offers a 90-minute pickleball lesson followed by a wine educator, led wine tasting and a cheese board. Lastly, for guests seeking something more elevated, they can enjoy a 90-minute pickleball lesson and then finish the experience with a food and wine paired lunch,” said Lindsay Knox, Event Coordinator for Anaba Wines.


As the only wine and pickleball combo attraction in Wine Country, there most likely will be more vineyards and wineries taking Anaba’s lead, and Raichura firmly believes that the experience at Anaba will be unmatched. “Sonoma Valley, which is adjacent to Marin County, is world-renowned for its wine and vineyards. Sonoma Valley’s picturesque landscape and beauty attracts visitors from all over the world, and with pickleball now combined with this beautiful vineyard backdrop, [it] simply offers a breathtaking and unique experience,” she said.


Many guests who have experienced pickleball and wine at Anaba enthusiastically echo Raichura’s sentiments. “The setting is absolutely gorgeous, playing pickleball in the middle of vineyards, with views in all directions,” described Kirsten Neff of Novato, California. “Krishna’s clinics are highly instructive, but playful and joyful at the same time. Then we sat outside, wine tasting, talking pickleball and life, relaxing and laughing. The whole day was perfect.”


Introducing the sport of pickleball to his winery is still in the evolutionary phase for Sweazey, but he will be the first one to admit that more fun is on the way at his sprawling Sonoma property while still maintaining high quality and continued admiration from the wine industry: “Though our wines have won numerous awards, earning the respect of both the public and the wine reviewing industry is our ‘reward.’”


Anaba, a family-owned and operated winery, introduced its very first vintage in 2006, creating for John Sweazey a dream fully realized. The family opened a new state-of-the-art production facility in January 2019 and The Vintners House in October of 2019. “We’ve long desired to create a place for visitors to completely relax and escape. This is an extension of our family home, and we want everyone to feel that same warm and inviting atmosphere,” explained Sweazey. “We’re now able to offer a much richer tasting experience and create lasting memories for our guests.”


All the while during development and expanded services and programs for the ultimate tasting experience, Anaba Wines was always focused on the environment and how to create a more sustainable winery.


A little over a decade ago, Anaba Wines became the first Northern California winery to utilize wind power with the installation a 45-foot wind turbine that provides clean energy to handle operations on the estate. That was followed by a solar electric system whereby during the entire life of the overall system, nearly 172 metric tons of carbon dioxide generated by Anaba operations will be eliminated. “This impact is equivalent to removing air pollution produced by over 428,014 miles of driving annually, or the pollutants removed by 225 acres of trees in one year,” said Sweazey.


While everyone at Anaba takes the wine business seriously, there is still an underlying current of fun and frivolity that permeates the Sonoma Valley.


“It’s a lively environment that doesn’t falter when it comes to quality, but we like to have fun too,” said Taylor Clark, Brand Marketing Manager at Anaba Wines. “Most times, wineries are stuck in one category of being elegant, luxurious, moody, fun, unconventional, goofy, romantic, a destination, or a hobby. We like to think all these categories make up Anaba.”


For those who are wine connoisseurs, Anaba’s best-selling Chardonnay is a 2019 Sonoma Coast, while other popular offerings are a 2021 Turbine Rose of Grenache; 2018 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast; 2018 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, WestLands; and 2021 Turbine White, Rhône Blend.


Imbibing in beer and wine or even liquor may not be something new to the world of pickleball, but when you add the element of a picturesque setting and quality instruction, you have the ingredients for an unforgettable experience. “All players would benefit from the wine and pickleball experience. I tailor the classes to any experience level, from beginners to seasoned players. This experience is designed in mind to simply celebrate and get people together to enjoy the fun and thrill of pickleball and wine in one place, and Anaba Wines is like no other setting,” said Raichura.


“Those who are looking for a lively and unique experience benefit most from events at Anaba,” added Knox. “Aside from pickleball, we have a few activities available for our guests at events including bocce ball, cornhole, and wine blending, which gives everyone an opportunity to let loose and have fun. We are also one of the few wineries in the area that are kid and dog friendly. On top of that, our accommodating staff treats all our guests with amazing hospitality, which makes our guests feel welcome and will keep them coming back for more.”


Some of the most popular offerings at Anaba Wines have been the wine blending events along with private pickleball and wine tasting parties and—believe it or not—what Anaba likes to call its “Glazed and Confused” get-togethers that include donuts. Clearly, the staff wants guests to work off the extra calories on the pickleball court. “Who would have thought donuts would be a part of the mix, but those along with our dessert wine pairings with chocolate are a big hit with everyone,” said Sweazey.


At Anaba Wines, they truly love having a good time, especially, of course, if there’s wine involved. The family’s unending passion for high-quality, elegant wines has most definitely influenced those around them. They always like to say, “Why drink something good when you can drink something great?” And now, with the influx of pickleball enthusiasts to Sonoma County, a new vernacular will no doubt be introduced—“Why dink something good, when you can dink something great!”


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Drew Wathey is a published author (“A Season With Hope”) and the first-ever director of communications for the PGA TOUR’s Phoenix Open. Wathey is owner of SportsLink, a Phoenix-based sports public relations and marketing company. He is also a national sports anchor for iHeart Radio. His family lives in Phoenix, Arizona.


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