Some call Jim York the farmer who supplies Terranea with fresh vegetables.
Others call him an astute businessman.
But he is most proud to call himself a viticulturist who grows grapes on Palos Verdes Peninsula’s largest vineyard which is aptly named Catalina View Wines.
There actually are eight active vineyards on the Peninsula with estates growing from 100 vines yielding about 200 pounds of grapes to York’s 5,600 vines, yielding more than five tons.
On a recent Tuesday at 7 a.m. York and his team began harvesting the deep, red, luscious 2018 Pinot Noir grapes in fields almost invisible from the convoluted twists and turns of Palos Verdes Drive South.
Truly a work of love for all involved, two days later, York and his team of consultants, managers and other viticulturists completed the next harvest and transportation of his two tons of Chardonnay grapes.
“The French say the “terroir” or soil is most important, but there is so much more to winemaking than land,” York said. “My team did such a great job this year.”
Moisture brings botrytis, or mildew, so the plants need sunlight and airflow and leaf pulling. Every leaf that needs to be removed—for any of the thousands of vines—is discussed and mulled over. On the morning side of a row, more leaves can be pulled, but afternoon sides of leaves may be left on to prevent sunburn, York said.
York gives a big chunk of the credit to his farm manager Nick Zetts who lives onsite.
Nick left a cushy job in the verdant Napa Valley overseeing the harvesting of fruits and vegetables. He also worked at the prestigious Mustard Grill, a place where “winemakers and chefs go to eat.” One of York’s Napa wine consultants recommended Zetts who understood weather and soil conditioning while working with a wide variety of produce.
“I never worked with grapes before,” Zetts said, while picking out sunburned grapes already spilled into a bin for shipping. “The work here is seasonal, six days a week, sometimes 10 hours a day, but I have two great guys to help out.”
By 9:45 a.m. on Tuesday, two tons of Pinot Noir grapes had already been picked. By the time all the harvest bins would be fork-lifted onto a commercial vehicle the team will have picked 3.5 tons.
Christian Perez, owner and operator of Perez Vineyard Management out of the San Fernando Valley is the overseer York hires to pick the grapes. He and his 10 full-time workers not only superintend York’s vineyard, but also others on the hill.
And the grape pickers are muscled and strong-looking. One worker carried four, 5-gallon buckets from the rows to the sturdy plastic bins as if he was carrying paperweights.
“It’s critical to get the harvest done in one day,” said Perez who can help any property, large or small, set up a vineyard. “Our guys start at 7 a.m. and keep picking until it’s finished.”
Consultant and friend to York, Ken Brown, who owns and operates Ken Brown Wines in Buellton at the gateway of the Santa Rita Hills appellation, works with winemakers who grow grapes on relatively small lots, compared to the thousands of sprawling acres in the Central, Sonoma and Napa Valleys.
Brown was on hand to help harvest what he thinks is going to be York’s finest yield to date.
“Quality of wine components, like row directions is huge,” Brown said. “Here, we have to adapt to the soil and climate. There’s a 15 percent change in temperature where the humidity bumps along with cool weather.”
The grapes will be transported to Ken Brown’s winery in Buellton after being loaded into a 42-degree refrigerated truck to keep them from fermenting. Stems will delicately go through a de-stemmer, an open air fermentation process, and yeast will be added.
Brown said in 10 days the yeast will turn the sugar into alcohol. After the fermentation is completed, the grapes will be pressed with the skins removed. The juice is turned into wine which is barreled and aged for nine moths.
“Jim wanted to get a brand established,” said Brown, a reputable pioneer who has been making Pinot Noir for 30 years. “This is the year that’s going to show the signature of the Catalina View label.”