Labor of love

The idyllic vineyards and vistas of Northern California's wine country inspire a dream house built against the odds

Healdsburg house

Andy Katz and Ellen Riendeau's home in Healdsburg CA capitalizes on its vineyard views with soaring windows on three levels. An expansive two-tiered deck provides entertainment space overlooking the couple's 3 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.

Thomas J. Story

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Five minutes into their first conversation, Andy Katz and Ellen Riendeau knew they were destined to be a couple. "I told him my dream was to live in Sonoma County," Riendeau says of that fortuitous encounter at a Christmas party in Colorado, where they both lived. "And he said, 'That's my dream too!' "

Katz, a fine-art photographer who has published books on such places as Tuscany, New Zealand, and the Burgundy region of France, had long felt a connection to wine-country landscapes, in particular those of Northern California. Riendeau, a freelance graphic designer, had made multiple visits to Sonoma and had fantasized about moving there to stomp grapes. Six months into their relationship, they were visiting friends in the Alexander Valley, just outside the Sonoma County town of Healdsburg, when fate intervened. "I looked out at the view and said, 'I'd love to live here,' " Katz recalls.

Half-jokingly, his friend suggested the home down the hill: a dilapidated house that stood on an unkempt 4.8-acre parcel. "There were shot-out cars and cans of oil all over the place. It was straight out of Deliverance," Katz says. Even so, he went over the next day and asked the owner if it was on the market.

Neither Katz nor Riendeau had any experience building or remodeling a home, and they freely admit they had no idea what they were getting into when their offer was finally accepted. Still, armed with a combination of blissful ignorance and blind faith, they set out to build the home of their dreams.


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