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Wine Making A Thriving Industry In Lamorinda

More than three dozen vineyards are planted in the hills and valleys of Lafayette, Moraga and Orinda

A tour of the Captain Vineyards in Moraga
A tour of the Captain Vineyards in Moraga
You might not realize it while driving down Mt. Diablo Boulevard or Moraga Road, but the Lamorinda area is burgeoning wine growing region.

There are now 78 members of the Lamorinda WineGrowers Association who have planted 121 acres of vineyards between them. The estates range from 85 vines to 3,500 vines.

And the wine produced here is getting better and better known.

"It seems like we've got something good going," said Susan Captain, the president of the association.

The group recently petitioned the federal Tax and Trade Bureau to have Lamorinda named as an American Viticultural Area.

It would establish Lamorinda as a wine-growing region like Napa and allow it to label itself as such on its wine bottles.

The approval process is expected to take about two years.

"It would add value to Lamorinda as a whole," said Captain. "What we have here is so unique."

Vineyards were first established in the region in the 1860s. The industry thrived for a few decades but then faded. It was revived in the 1970s and has been slowly growing since.

Captain said Lamorinda's hills, clay soil and climate make it a good area to grow wine grapes.

However, operating a vineyard requires some working capital and a lot of hard labor, so it's still an exclusive club.

"It's a lot of financial and physical commitment," said Captain. "Not everybody is going to do it."

Captain and her husband, Sal, got into the business in 2005, after their four children grew up and left home.

Sal and Susan started Captain Vineyards at their Joseph Drive property in Moraga by spending a year clearing their hillsides before planting their first vines.

Susan also studied viticulture at U.C. Davis, Santa Rosa Community College and Napa Valley College. She's in charge of growing the grapes while her husband oversees the production of the wine.

Today, Captain Vineyards is one of six bonded wineries in Lamorinda, which means they can sell their product on the open market.

They have 3,500 vines, one of the larger vineyards in the region. They produce six varieties of wine.

Their growing season stretches from March to October. Grapes are usually harvested in September and October.

They expect to harvest 10 tons of grapes this year.

Wine production takes place from November through January. The fermented grapes are left in barrels for two to three years. The product is then bottled and sits for another year.

The couple's only month off is February. That's when they visit their children.

They don't have any employees. Friends and family members help out during harvest and the Captains throw a big party with plenty of wine each time grapes are picked.

Sal Captain says he enjoys the vineyard because it's interesting and it's therapeutic.

"It's both psychological and physical therapy for me," he said.

His wife enjoys it because of the challenge and the beauty.

"It's a perfect thing to do with our property," she said. "Every time I see the grapes ready for harvest, I get so excited."

Not everyone has as big a plot as the Captains or other bonded wineries such as Bullfrog Creek Vineyard in Rheem Valley or Deer Hill Vineyards in Lafayette.

Linda Hurd and her husband Andy operate a one-acre vineyard with 1,000 vines in the Happy Valley area of Lafayette.

They bought the house a year and a half ago with the vineyard intact.

Hurd said they really hadn't planned on being wine makers, but the vineyard was so beautiful and they both enjoy wine, so they figured they'd give it a shot.

"It was a neat feature of the house," Hurd said. "We thought, what a neat hobby to pick up."

They harvest the grapes and then transport them to Napa to be made into wine. They're aren't bonded, so they can only use the wine for themselves and their friends.

They expect to produce 600 bottles this year. That may seem like a lot, but it can go quickly.

"It's one bottle a day and then lots of big parties," said Hurd.

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