As we turn the page to a new year, let’s stop and ponder the significance of 2020. Will we finally achieve perfect vision? Will we get better at interpreting and handling the profound changes happening around us?
Let’s face it: California is, largely, a desert. In an increasingly warm, more arid climate, fire danger has become a primary concern. We can take some comfort in the fact that vineyards act as firebreaks—their stalwart ramparts of greenery arresting the spread of flames with their natural vitality—but planting more vineyards isn’t the answer to curbing the inevitable ravages of wildfire.
We’re currently in the middle of a big fat grape glut. More grapes than ever went unharvested in 2019, as stockpiles of bulk wine and unsold shiners bloated warehouses everywhere. And yet, vineyards are still going in.
Why do people plant? Here are just a couple of stories.
Last year was the 25th anniversary of Burrell School Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It was also the 25th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake. Coincidence? Nope.
In 1973, Dave Moulton and his late wife, Anne, moved to the site of the historic 1890 schoolhouse on Summit Road in the Santa Cruz Mountains. They fixed up the dilapidated one-room schoolhouse, which dates to 1890 and was named for Scotsman Lyman Burrell. Here, they raised their two daughters, and dreamed of planting grapes one day.
The massive jolt was enough to prompt Anne to finally plant the vineyard, which she did, by hand, the following spring. As she toiled in the sun on the steep slopes, she kept telling herself that, one day, she would look out over the vines, a glass of chardonnay in hand, and feel victorious. She did—appreciating every spectacular sunset over those vines until her last day in 2016.
Another story comes from Ken Burnap, the legendary founder and former owner of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard. His tale begins as a teenager in Texas. “I was smitten by this girl, Mary Ellen, but her mother didn’t think much of me. I decided to impress her, and take her to the fanciest restaurant in town.”
Naturally, the meal came complete with one of those super snooty somms.
Burnap butchered the name of the fancy French wine he ordered and the somm snootily corrected him. The next morning, Burnap was in the library, reading everything he could about French wine. He traveled to France, befriended vignerons, falling hard for the charms of Burgundy. Looking for the perfect spot to grow pinot noir in the west, he discovered the Santa Cruz Mountains.
He bought Dr. David Bruce’s vineyard (in a divorce sale) on Jarvis Road (Scotts Valley) and was in heaven. Decades later, Burnap retired, selling the brand to his longtime winemaker, Jeff Emery, and the vineyard to a group of investors, who failed miserably.
Burnap, now 89, was asked if he could have a vineyard again, where would that be. “Jarvis,” he answered, without hesitation. “I would want my old vineyard back. There is no place like it in the world.”
The romance of winegrowing is hard to resist.