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This wine is grown in Lafayette, a bedroom community of San Francisco, in an area known as Lamorinda - Lafayette/Moraga/Orinda, just east of the Caldecott tunnel. The name Los Arabis, comes from the Arabian Horses that ran the hillside for years prior to the vines being planted in 1999. The Ward Family Vineyard is a microclimate plot where Pinot Noir Thrives in the Warmth of the day and the cool of the night. The vines are planted on the southwestern facing slope just above the fog line. Because of the steep hillside, it is completely hand farmed. Dry and silky, it shows cherry, rasberry, root beer and smoky oak spice flavors.
CONTRA COSTA TIMES: Grapegrowers, winemakers thrive in Lamorinda (By Jennifer Modenessi)
April 27, 2015
On a sunny afternoon in May, Lafayette resident Leslie Ward was busy pulling suckers from the gnarled trunks of her pinot noir vines. As with other Lamorinda residents who grow grapes in their backyards, tending vines is mostly a Do-It-Yourself affair.
It’s something they want cities and towns to understand before the municipalities create new rules, require permits or set standards for what most local growers consider a passionate hobby.
“This is landscaping for all of us,” Ward said about the hundred or so small vineyards proliferating in hilly backyards across Lafayette, Orinda and Moraga. “We’re not turning into Wente.”
Leslie Ward walks among the vines at her home in Lafayette on May 4, 2015. Grape-growing and winemaking has increased significantly in the Lamorinda area
Leslie Ward walks among the vines at her home in Lafayette on May 4, 2015. Grape-growing and winemaking has increased significantly in the Lamorinda area recently. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)
For Ward and other residents cultivating grapes at home, the distinction — however obvious — between their suburban vineyards and large-scale commercial wineries such as Livermore Valley’s Wente, a nearly 3,000-acre winery known for its estate wines and popular summer music concerts, is crucial.
Occasional complaints from neighbors about large events and noisy machinery associated with the town’s handful of small-scale commercial wineries have prompted Moraga officials to consider whether more egulation is needed.
“Over time, there have periodically been complaints from neighbors about those wineries doing things that aren’t completely consistent with residential zoning,” said Planning Director Ellen Clark.
But at a Moraga town council study session on the subject in March, grape growers and winemakers — including members of the Lamorinda Wine Growers Association, a local group that promotes vineyards, winemaking and education — reacted sharply to a consultant’s report that appeared to favor tighter rules.
Town officials took no action and staffers plan to meet with growers, winemakers and neighbors before returning to the council with draft regulations, Clark said.
“What kind of regulation is required for landscaping? These are all little backyard farmers.” Ward said.
Her argument echoes those made by other residents who enjoy cultivating the light green and ruby red clusters in Lamorinda’s clay soil, which some experts consider ideal for growing because of the areas’s warm days and cool, often foggy nights.
The vintners are so excited about the unique conditions and resulting wines — Moraga’s Parkmon winery has won silver and bronze awards at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and a gold at the Alameda County Fair Best of the Bay competition — they’re seeking to have Lamorinda designated an American Viticultural Area by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
The upper cellar at Captain Vineyards in Moraga is photographed April 7, 2015.
The upper cellar at Captain Vineyards in Moraga is photographed April 7, 2015. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)
Moraga considers the wineries home-based occupations that aren’t subject to special zoning approvals or permitting, and it doesn’t distinguish between different types of wineries or address potential impacts on neighbors, such as changes in landscaping, views or shade.
In Lafayette and Orinda, regulations are similarly loose, with wineries governed by home-based occupation guidelines.
A handful of grape growers in Lamorinda, including Reliez Valley Vineyards in Lafayette and Moraga’s Bullfrog Creek Vineyard, make wine at their homes. But most don’t.
According to the growers association, Moraga has just four home-based wineries that are bonded and licensed to sell alcohol. Occupying just two acres, Captain Vineyards is one of the most influential.
Inspired by small residential vineyards encountered on trips to Europe, owners Sal and Susan Captain decided to plant grapes on the steep hillside behind their home.
After years of prepping the soil, the Captains planted vines in 2005. Today, they dry-farm, relying on rain to water the grapes they crush and later age in their downstairs cellar. Total annual production is about 600 cases of wine, or 1,500 gallons per year; small commercial wineries can average 5,000 to 10,000 cases per year.
“Do we need to regulate this production? It doesn’t make any sense,” Sal Captain said as he stood on a deck overlooking his vineyard.
On the micro end of the scale, there’s amateur winemakers like Orinda resident Bill English, who produces about 125 cases of award-winning chardonnay, cab franc, syrah and other wines each year in his 16-foot-by-12-foot cellar.
A longtime wine lover, English dug out a space under his house and fashioned the cellar, which is accessed by a nondescript shed. English’s winemaking activities are completely hidden from view per city requirements, except for the yearly crush that takes place in his driveway.
Neighbors, however, don’t see any stomping. English processes the grapes he sources from Lamorinda growers in a small, motorized metal crusher he stores in his garage. From lifting bins to fermenting berries, it’s typically a one-man job.
The action at Ward and husband Jim’s Lafayette vineyard — named “Los Arabis” after the horses that once roamed the hillside — is a bit more festive. After a few hours of harvesting during a single day in September, the berries are loaded onto a flatbed truck and sent to a Sebastopol winemaker. Leslie Ward and her friends then down some oaky pinot noir and jump into the pool.
Although the season is over, the vines continue to do another important job in providing erosion and runoff control for a hill riddled with landslides, Ward said. And it’s not just a plus for downhill neighbors. Cities, Ward argues, also reap the benefits when roads are clear of rocks and mud.
“This is the best thing that could happen. It doesn’t cost (them) anything,” Ward said.
Enjoy Wine From The Local Vineyards When Dining In Lafayette
Featured Author: All About Lamorinda Blogging Team
Residents in the greater Lafayette area who are looking for a fun way to spend money in the local community should consider getting their wine from the Los Arabis Vineyards.
This family owned vineyard specializes in pinot noir grapes, which get harvested by the family that owns the vineyard. Once these grapes have all been harvested, they get sent off to Paso Robles where they get crushed and turned into the refreshing wine that you can find for sale at local stores and served by some local restaurants.
You can also find the vineyard taking up a booth at the annual end of summer tradition in Lafayette – the Lafayette Art, Wine & Music Festival.
For more of what’s going on in the communities of Orinda, Moraga and Lafayette, you can stay up to date with All About Lamorinda. And don’t forget to visit our blog regularly for all the recent news and updates.
For Immediate Release April 13, 2015
Contact: Tom Hogue (202) 453–2180 FY–15–11
Proposed Establishment of the “Lamorinda” Viticultural Area
Washington, D.C. — The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau will publish a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register on April 14, 2015, proposing to establish the approximately 29,369-acre “Lamorinda” American viticultural area in Contra Costa County, California. The proposed viticultural area lies entirely within the established San Francisco Bay viticultural area and the multicounty Central Coast viticultural area.
TTB is making this proposal in response to a petition filed on behalf of local vintners and grape growers. TTB designates viticultural areas to allow vintners to better describe the origin of their wines and to allow consumers to better identify wines they may purchase.
You may submit comments on this proposal and view copies of the proposed rule, selected supporting materials, and any comments TTB receives about this proposal at the “Regulations.gov” website (http://www.regulations.gov) within Docket No. TTB–2015–0007. A link to that docket is posted on the TTB website at under Notice No. 151.
Alternatively, written comments may be submitted to one of these addresses:
U.S. Mail: Director, Regulations and Rulings Division, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, 1310 G Street NW., Box 12, Washington, DC 20005; or
Hand delivery/courier in lieu of mail: Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, 1310 G Street, NW., Suite 200–E, Washington, DC 20005.
Comments on this proposal must be received on or before June 15, 2015.