Wine Grape Wisdom

While on tour of two local vineyards, Thomas Mountain Vineyards hosted by Jim and Timmie Martens and Rancho Del Sol Vineyard hosted by Ed and Alice Wall, the Garner Valley Women’s Group learned some interesting facts.

Each variety we were told were being tested daily for the sugar content or Brix, to see when the harvest of that particular variety would begin. Timmie Martens expected to have her grapes harvested by the beginning of September. Clear hot sunny days and cool nights affect the Brix and thus the harvest time of grapes with familiar names like Zinfandel, Cabernet, Merlot, and Riesling. And grapes whose names are not as familiar, such as Frontenac, a newer grape to the Martens.

Frontenac was developed by the University of Minnesota. The Martens chose it to grow at the higher altitudes because it can withstand very cold winters, down to 30 degrees without being covered. They already harvested some, mixing 75% of its juice with 25% Zinfandel to create a Tawny Port that was delicious even while young. Everyone who sampled it raved about its buttery smooth, sweet flavor.

While becoming a winery is not for everyone, private parties can make wine for themselves within a prescribed limit of 200 gallons each year before a liquor license, even for private use, has to be purchased. Both Jim Martens and Ed Wall pointed out that it is a known fact in the business that most wineries do not grow their own grapes and if they do they still buy from outside vineyards. So the potential for vineyards in the area is good. A local vineyard can expect, depending on the grape variety, to harvest 2-3 tons per acre, it is interesting to note that the white wine grape varieties’ harvest is usually higher as their fruit is heavier than the reds.

The whole process from planting, selecting and growing of the vines, to harvesting the grapes at just the right time and in just the right way; to the crushing, fermenting, aging, and finally the bottling of wines, is all a learned science. Both the Martens and Walls have educated themselves accordingly, and it seems trial and error is the best teacher. This would be because each vineyard planted, even if only acres away, can require different care because it has its own unique micro climate. It may have a different soil which changes its care and needs as well as time of harvest. These factors can affect the grape’s taste and the quantity to be harvested. This applies to vines of the same variety elsewhere.

The Martens and Walls are excited about the potential of the valleys to become a premier area for growing wine grapes. While their vineyards are still in the proving stages, both feel that they have proven the myth that wine grapes do not grow well above an elevation of 3,000 ft. is wrong. They noted that in Peru and Arizona you can find established successful vineyards growing at the high elevations, so why not here?

If you would like to learn more about the area’s vineyards and growing wine grapes, visit the website hosted by Ed Wall of Rancho Del Sol Vineyard at

*FYI-The harvest in the valley of wine vineyard has been delayed. Unfortunately September’s weather has been filled with clouds and monsoonal moisture almost every day. This fact has not given the grapes the proper photosenthesis to develop the correct sugar content so they can be picked.

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