Baseball, as it turned out, was a grind.
After growing up on Boyles Hill Road, where he raised cows for 4-H and skated on Spring Creek on winter days when it was “damn cold” enough to freeze, Anthony Schroth moved to San Diego to attend high school at La Costa Canyon High School. In Jackson he’d always loved baseball, and it was no different in California. He played at La Costa and then went to college, transferring about five times during his academic career to chase his ballfield-field dreams.
But Schroth kept getting hurt.
He sustained a stress fracture in his right leg after running without the correct shoes. At one of the colleges he attended, Washington State University, he dove off a cliff and broke his scapula in three places. And then there was the time he broke his wrist.
A pitcher he was batting against in Los Angeles had a really good fastball and was throwing cheddar all over the plate. Schroth nearly hit the first ball out of the park. It bounced off the top corner of the fence dead center in the back of the outfield.
The next pitch was a curveball. Schroth fouled. The last pitch was an inside fastball.
“It hit me right in the wrist, and it broke my damn arm,” Schroth said.
The baseball player’s final academic transfer landed him at Sonoma State University, where he didn’t get along with the coach. At that point he was tired of the transfers, tired of being injured and tired of recovering.
“Baseball is a long shot,” he said. “You dream and it’s just a grind.
“I was like ‘It’s time to move on. Hang ’em up.’”
And that’s exactly what he did, striking out on another path.
A decade-plus later Schroth is the sort of guy who rents a car and drives between Denver or Salt Lake City and Jackson rather than connect on his flights from Sonoma County, California. But the former baseball player isn’t the sort of guy who’s coming in from some swanky second home tucked up high in the heart of wine country.
He’s a winemaker and co-owner of Jackson Hole Winery along with his parents, Bob and Linda Schroth.
When he’s traveling home from California, the younger Schroth is coming back to the business he’s been building on his parents’ property, the same land he raised cows on as a kid.
Now, at the helm of a winery churning out about 4,000 cases of wine a year, he’s got a lot on his mind. That time in the car is good for processing and figuring out his next moves.
“I call it therapy,” Schroth said.
It’s especially helpful when he has some puzzles going on at the winery.
Business-oriented winemaking puzzles are more or less the name of the game for Schroth. He’s been solving them for years, starting after budget cuts at Sonoma State changed course offerings, causing him to consider wine making. He took the college’s wine making 101 class, read Jeff Cox’s book “From Vines to Wines,” and landed an internship 45 minutes away at Harvest Moon Winery. That, and getting thrown straight into the vineyard on the first day of his job, was more or less all it took.
“I was like, ‘Whoa, this is awesome,’” Schroth said. “There’s the chemistry side of it, there’s the artistic side of it, and” — kind of like baseball — “it’s just hard work. I just loved it.”
From there the puzzles began. One of the most important ones he solved later turned out to be a business plan he put together for one of his classes.
Working for Harvest Moon, he realized that between the outbuildings for barrel storage and the blacktop he’d crush grapes on, the winery was set up almost identically to his parents’ place in Jackson, where he’d always wanted to return.
Schroth drew up a plan for turning the local property into a winery, but it would be a few years until he got it off the ground.
First he had to prove himself.
Schroth crushed grapes and barreled wines in his garage, traded his own labor for the opportunity to use Harvest Moon’s equipment in his free time, and made a deal with the owner of a somewhat ramshackle vineyard to clean it up in exchange for grapes.
Once all that was in the bag he asked one of his employers to allow him to sell some homemade wine of his own at a Sonoma wine fair.
He did, unsure how it would be received — up until that point he’d shared only with his friends and family. When the first two people came up to his table he realized he would be watching strangers try his product and react in real time. It was a dizzying thought.
“It was this ‘Oh s---’ moment,” Schroth said. “They were going to tell me what they think.”
They did and they loved it. They’re still customers today.
Now, Schroth splits time between Sonoma County and Jackson. The success of his first business, Premonition Cellars, which he still runs, convinced his parents to convert their property into Jackson Hole Winery. Both have worked with their son from the beginning, building the business from a small, hand-powered operation that produced about 200 cases a year, into the multithousand-case operation it is now.
Sitting just outside the tasting room, which is on the land that’s been home to the Schroths’ 4-H herd as well as a test vineyard (the cold meant the winery eventually chose to import grapes from California and process them in Jackson), Schroth said it wasn’t always an easy ride.
The winery is celebrating its 10th year, though the vinter said that “it feels like 15.” There were long nights spent lying in bed wondering if it would work out, and he still fights misconceptions about a Wyoming-based winery: that the climate is too cold, that the drive from California is too far or, worst of all, that Jackson Hole Winery imports finished wine and bottles it.
Ten years on, none of that is true. Importation works. The dry climate means Jackson Hole Winery can use less sulfites than competitors in places like California, and it processes, ferments and bottles all of its grapes at home.
For Schroth it’s a project without an end goal. Between the chemistry, artistry and hard, physical labor, the former baseball player is enjoying the ride as much as he can.
“It’s always fun, and it’s always challenging,” Schroth said. “And Mother Nature is always throwing curveballs, so you’re always on your toes.”