My Senior Year

My Senior Year

This posting is about my senior year of college, 1982-83, at CSU Fresno.  My major was Viticulture/ Enology because, at the time, I owned and operated two vineyards and I really didn’t have a farming background so I learned farming from a book.  I realized later that I should have majored in Education, since that was really my background, having spent about ten years in the Air Force teaching electronics of one type or another.  Well, teaching and recruiting, which was all part of Air Training Command.  Anyway, when I retired in August of 1979 I enrolled at CSU Fresno under the GI Bill and started the Fall Quarter there.  We were living on the vineyard in Fowler at the time and I also had a vineyard in Fresno on Maple Street.  A friend of mine, Fred Adair,  was still operating them for me although I did most of the work.   I think I took it over entirely with the 1980 crop.

Anyway, I spent about six or seven hours a day at school and the rest of my time doing tractor work or irrigating or whatever.  Patty’s mom and dad, Joe and Opie, came down and set up their fifth-wheel trailer in our back yard and Joe helped with the tractor work.  He really enjoyed driving tractor for me but there was a down-side to having his help.  Joe always drove with his hand on the steering wheel in constant motion, whether he was driving his pick-up or my tractor.  A farmer kind of prides himself on the straightness of his furrows and when a neighbor drives by, he always checks to see how you’re doing.  Joe’s furrows looked like hell.  It was good having them there anyway and I’m sure that it was good for Traci and Susan having them with us.  Patty worked at Bedrosian’s  Raisin Packaging Plant in town and Opie was there for the kids when Patty was at work.

It was a busy time for us but the payoff came in my senior year.   We had friends and activities associated with the classes I was taking in Viticulture and Enology and Patty and I have some fond memories of that time.  One of my classes was ‘Organoleptic Sensory Evaluation of Wine’  -a really fancy way of saying ‘wine tasting’.  The professor would adulterate the wine with salt or some other way and we’d have to identify what he did.  Most of my classmates would sip and spit and then throw away what was left in their glass but I learned to drink Akadama wine and hot Sake in the Navy so I never threw anything away.  As a result of my Enology classes we got invited to some really memorable wine-tasting events in the area.  Patty would usually accompany me to those events and we really enjoyed them.  One time we had a wine-tasting event on the banks of the Kings River at a very nice estate in the country.  The event benefitted the Viticulture Program at CSUF and there was a Dixieland Band that was in costume with boaters and striped linen coats and some of the local restaurants and specialty stores provided refreshments.  There was also a wine auction and it was a beautiful day with umbrellas and tables set up on the river bank.  We also attended a wine-tasting at ‘Pink City’, which was a cement factory on Shaw Road north of Fresno.  I know, it doesn’t sound like much, but they had a very nice convention facility.  It was a great place for a wine-tasting event with plenty of room for booths and different wineries and restaurants to set up.  I remember that Patty and I got pretty wasted that time and shouldn’t have driven home.  We had a wine-tasting party at one of my Enology classmates homes one evening where we each brought a bottle of something we felt was special and the host provided snacks and chocolate to go with the wine.  The theme of that wine-tasting was ‘what chocolate goes with this wine?’  It was one of the more successful wine-tasting parties we attended.  Another time we went to a party at one of my classmates and one of the neighbors called the police on us.  That time Patty was very concerned that I was going to be arrested because I was giving the cops some attitude.  I’m sure they welcomed the opportunity to hassle a bunch of college kids having a wine-tasting party and they were really being nasty about it.  Patty talked me down and probably saved me from an even more unpleasant experience.  You don’t want to mess with Fresno cops, not people you want to give a chance to express themselves.

But, the most memorable times we had were the Senior Viticulture Trip and my Enology Wine Tour.   The Enology Wine Tour was nothing like ‘Sideways’.  I toured the Napa-Sonoma Valleys with my Enology class and a fellow classmate and I drove together.  His name was Dr. Hewitt and he was a pharmacist who was captivated by the romance of winemaking and decided to change his life.  I think he worked someplace downtown part-time so he could go to school or maybe he had a drug-dealing business on the side, I really don’t know, but he was a buddy of mine and we did wine-tasting parties together and went on this trip together.  We used his car and the trip was arranged so that we were pretty much on our own but we went to the same places as the rest of our class.  When we got through for the day, we would write up our notes for the report we had to submit at the end of the tour.  We ended up buying quite a bit of wine on that tour and I still have mental images of some of those wineries and vineyards when I see their labels on the shelves in supermarkets.

The Senior Viticulture Trip was something that Professor Vince Petrucci did each year.  He was the head of the Viticulture Department at CSUF.  He oversaw the viticulture program which included several hundred acres of vineyard with every kind of grape and where grape growing practices were developed and tested.  He also had a research facility where they were trying to develop and improve on agricultural and marketing systems.  I remember them trying to microwave grapes to turn them into raisins.  Didn’t work.  Vince was well known throughout California and had ex-students and contacts in vineyards and wineries all over the state.  When it was time for the Senior Trip, vineyards and wineries would roll out the red carpet for us.  We had a big greyhound-type bus for the trip and Patty went with us. She was the only wife on the bus, even Vince’s wife didn’t go, and mostly the bus was filled with guys and a few girls.

We started off with a giant vineyard/dairy facility in Caruthers, California, a farming area off Highway 41 southwest of Fresno.  This place was huge with several thousand milking head of cattle and a 24/hr a day operation.  They trucked milk out in tankers every day and it went to a producer in Oregon (I think it was Darigold).  They had automatic wash-down systems that cleaned the milking sheds several times a day and washed the results down concrete canals to a pond where the solid wastes were settled out.  The liquid waste was sent to the sprinkler systems which sprinkled the vineyards which were several hundred acres.  I noticed that some of the vines had nitrogen burns from the high amount of nitrates they were getting.  The loafing sheds were so large that the bus we were in actually drove down the middle of the shed and loafing pens were on either side.  They had mechanical harvesters for the grapes that were so large they could travel down the highway and cars could pass underneath them.  I don’t know if they actually did that but they were large enough that it was possible.  They were on hydraulics so they could lower and raise the platform to accommodate different trellising styles.

We next went to another vineyard where they had a pit barbecue going and an enormous feast prepared.  I don’t remember the name of that one but it was someone who Vince had helped establish a vineyard.  It was probably a rich person that came to CSUF for technical assistance since he didn’t have the experience or contacts to do it himself.  We spent that night in San Luis Obispo at a motel.  Patty and I had our own room but the others had to pair up.

The next day we visited Firestone Vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley where they had a beautiful facility.  I remember looking out from the tasting room over the hundreds of acres of grapevines with the iconic Oak Tree right in the middle of it.  The winemaker was very excited about some Reisling that she had harvested right after a rain when they were very high in sugar and induced  botrytis in the fruit and made a fantastic wine with it.  I thought we still had some of that but I must have gotten it mixed up with the Estrella Late Harvest because I can’t find it.  Speaking of Estrella Vineyard and Winery, I think that was our next stop.  We went to Estrella Vineyards near Paso Robles, California which was a very nice vineyard and winery set up on very hilly and rocky soil.  The owner said that he felt the marginal soil and conditions helped draw out the varietal characteristics of the fruit and resulted in a better wine.  We bought a Petite Syrah from him, vintage 1978, which we just gave to my daughter Susan last year.  I hope it was as good as I expected it to be.  We also bought a late-harvest Reisling from him that was almost like syrup and we still have a 500 ml bottle of that, 1979 vintage.

We traveled up Highway 101 and stopped at a few more vineyards, I remember one in particular around King City that was very impressive.  It was thousands of acres and had a red clover cover crop that was beautiful.  I think they sold to Gallo.  They used mechanical harvesters that covered several rows at a time and they had an operations staff that was like a small city.  They kept their people busy year round. When we were there the grapes were not in full growth yet and they were busy repairing sprinkler heads, of which they had thousands.  But that was when I realized that agriculture in California was mostly large corporate farms with a lot of money behind them and they really didn’t have to make a profit because of the tax benefits and subsidy programs.  I had two twenty-acre vineyards and I could see that it wasn’t where my future lay.  It wasn’t long after that trip that I put my vineyards on the market and bought a hazelnut orchard in Estacada, Oregon.

Explore posts in the same categories: Family, Uncategorized

5 Comments on “My Senior Year”

  1. […] My Senior Year […]

  2. subwizard Says:

    Man! That was so nice until the last paragraph, and then it was kind of a downer. Are you telling me that all my lovely red wine is just another example of the man keeping us down? With their mega-vineyards and their subsidies? What about the post-rain harvested Reisling and the iconic oak tree and the red clover? Can’t we stick with that?

  3. limberjack Says:

    Sorry Subwizard, didn’t mean to leave you with a downer. However, the biggest raisin vineyard is located near Bakersfield and is owned by Texaco. Most of the Sun Maid growers are small family farms however. And a lot of the Gallo growers are family farms too. I interviewed with Julius Gallo for a job as a Field Representative but didn’t get it because I owned a vineyard and he felt my loyalties would be divided.

  4. John Heintz Says:

    Hi Jack,

    Yes, the scale of CA wine vineyard operations is definitely industrial, and WA is on the same path, with St. Michelle owning about 50% of the production capacity there. OR still has quite a few small family/boutique wineries, with the local King Estate a conspicuous exception. You might have had more fun with a vineyard/winery in OR, but you decided to go nuts instead. What’s the difference between a filbert and a hazelnut? John H.

    • limberjack Says:

      No difference. Mysenior project was an analysis of a medium-sized winery in Oregon. It was expensive and would have taken well over ten years to establish from scratch. You’d have to inherit suitable land and have a pretty good job to swing it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: