The plantings are being completed this week by Mount Oso Vineyards, a partnership operated near the intersection of Bird Road and Highway 132 by Jeff Brown and members of the Brown family.
“There is a continuing demand by wineries for varietals such as cabernet,” Brown said. “This is our effort to meet that demand from the dozen wineries we sell to.”
Last year’s California wine grape crush was smaller than in previous years, adding to the demand this year. And industry leaders report that wine production in California will lag behind demand for several years at least.
So far, this year’s crop at Mount Oso Vineyards looks good, and the price of cabernet grapes is about $700 per ton.
The additional 250 acres of grapes expand Mount Oso Vineyards to 700 acres of wine grapes, mostly cab, but also syrah, merlot, zinfandel,
chardonnay and several Italian varietals — 26 types of grapes in all.
Brown said his family began planting grapes south of Tracy in the late 1990s and has been increasing the acreage since. The vineyard is within the Tracy Hills wine appellation.
“This has been a good place to grow wine grapes,” Brown said. “We can produce grapes of good quality and with ample production (averaging around 10 tons per acre),” he said.
Initial phases of the expansion were started last year, but most of the work has been done this year. Work to prepare the ground and install steel end posts and stakes, wires and cross arms, and drip irrigation-fertilization systems for the new 250 acres is nearing completion.
The new vines — 155,000 in total — are being planted 6 feet apart in rows separated by 11 feet. All the grapes are machine-harvested.
Water for Mount Oso Vineyards comes from the nearby Delta-Mendota Canal through allocations of three irrigation districts: Del Puerto, Byron-Bethany and Banta Carbona. The project is capital-intensive, costing about $14,000 per acre, and it will be two years before the vines produce their first crop, Brown said.
“This is a long-term project, and we believe there is a growing demand for wines, not only in the U.S., but also in developing countries,” he said.
He said the family has sold its Tulip Hill winery in Lake County but has no plans, in the near future at least, to build a winery south of Tracy.
“Right now, we’re wine-grape growers, and we’ll leave the wine making — and wine selling — to others,” he said.
Although Brown doesn’t plan to build a winery here anytime soon, he worries that a county-level proposal to limit the number of public events that can be held at wineries in the county will severely hurt Tracy-area wineries financially.
“Several local wineries use my grapes, and they need to build their customer base by serving wine at events held at their facilities,” he said. “County government shouldn’t overreact to a few complaints about problems in other parts of the county, problems we don’t have here in our area.”