I had a pivotal moment 25 years ago when I was talking to some friends who were moving to California and they said that they were going to work in the vineyard or start a vineyard.
I had a thought I want to work in a vineyard, or own a vineyard.
In 2012 I went up the hill to cut weed vines growing up the trees that we’re killing them and I look at all this space behind us and realized, … maybe there’s a possibility that I could do a few rows here.
The ground from the tree line up was totally impassable. You literally could not walk through it. I took a chainsaw and cut a path from one side to the other and then after numerous calls, I called and called and finally got and asked Scott Rich who is a vintner for Moraga, to come and look at the hill.
We literally have to climb handover knees crawling up the hill to be able to get to this place.
There was absolutely no access. I had gone up there holding onto vines or bushes to get my way up there. We got up there and he said,” wow I’ve never seen the other side of the hill from this vantage point. It is beautiful. “
Scott said, here’s what you need to do. Go get a soil sample, you need to get a geological guy up here, you need to find out if it’s doable, and you need to bring somebody up here to see would they even install up here.
And I sent the soil sample away. I got a geologist. He had a bad knee and I literally had to pull him up the hill so that he could take a look at the hill. He decided it was Santa Monica Shale and it was doable.
I had to bring another fellow whose name I gotten from three different people and he said sure I’ll do the installation, but the very first thing you need to do is create access.
Then I started to clear the hill with a couple of guys I hired and in three months we had cleared the entire area.
I started to create access some of the steps. Some of which took between 1 ½ to 2 hours to create a step with a shovel and pickax to cut through the stone. It was backbreaking work. But with each step that I made up the hill I felt like I was actually creating something. It was exhilarating, hard, exhausting, and my sweat and blood definitely went into it.
And in three months I brought the guy back he walked up the steps. He said, “ great this is good access. “ It was a traverse kind of stairway. He got to the top of the steps and he looked at the entire area that was cleared. He looks back at the walkway, he turned around about two times and then he said, “ you are F..ing crazy, but since you have done this, I am in.”
This gentleman is B. Alan Geddes. He arranged to have an installer of a vineyard come in, go up the hill, measure, and actually put the wires and the posts and to dig the holes for the installation of all the vines.
We put in 431 vines. 287 Malbecs and 134 Cabernet Sauvignon’s.
This was in March / April 2013. We had cleared an area of over twelve thousand square feet. I had chipped everything that was able to be chipped and spread over the hill as a compost, and we did it all in three months. An extraordinary feat by anybody standards.
I then started to bring in railroad ties to create steps and rebar that I had cut to order. We had to carry each one of those, up at least 40 feet to get to the bottom of the Vineyard and then it went up another 60 feet from there.
For the steps each of the steps were 3 to 4 feet in length and about 9 inches deep. The weight of each of the steps was between 12 and 20 pounds depending on the amount of creosote that was in the steps in how old they were and how dry they were.
There were no paths to begin with. It was just posts and holes on the hill so that we could plant the vineyard. Over the next two years they were six iterations of paths. I started from going one foot in front of the other, to the length of my foot sideways, to 2 lengths of my feet, to finally taking the shovel and pickax, and creating a real pathway on which to walk on.
In the beginning you would slide down the hill because of all the rocks and sand and it was very, very difficult to walk on the paths and to tend to the grapes. And now it is a beautiful way to walk and work on each of the rows of the vineyard.
So I started to bring up 8 foot and 9 foot railroad ties, each of them weighing between 40 and 60 pounds.
The 8 Footers were way easier to work with, as they were only about 40 pounds. The nine footers were impossible. They were between 50 and 60 pounds and too heavy for me, thank goodness for my helpers.
All in all the vineyard is 12,000 ft.² and there are between 400 and 450 Railroad ties and steps on the entire hill. Each one of them brought up on the shoulder and each one of them supported with rebar.
In two years time we had the hill is essentially set up for the Vineyard. From there for the next year it was constant improvement. We used waddle that is used on the freeways to help stop soil erosion. We cut wooden boards and painted them so that they would last, to put them in front of the railroad ties to stop soil erosion.
For the first two years we just watched the vines grow. Each phase of the Vineyard planting, creating the paths, and watching the growth was thoroughly beautiful and unbelievable.
I would go up there in each phase. Even when it was just the polls and the wires and there was this sense of beauty, of synchronicity, of exacting lines. Vertically and horizontally and diagonally. The lines of the polls and wires establish their own sense of beauty, of perfectness, and of creation.
By the end of the second-year, with the growth of the leaves, we started to see our first full foliage, as the leaves turn color and then fell off. We realized we had created fall, autumn, in southern California.
The beginning of the third year, 2016, we cutback the vines and we had the hope that we would start to see our first growth of grapes.