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Ampelos Cellars, California – Peter & Rebecca Work

April 28, 2012

Ampelos is a Greek word meaning “vine”. We believe that all great wines are made in the vineyard. We also have strong ties to Greece; we were married on a Greek island and have a small bed and breakfast there.

Ampelos truly represents our focus. Our vineyards and winery are managed in a very intensive, hands-on way, which is the only way to make great wine.

We believe in taking care of and respecting the environment and that our vineyard needs to be in balance with nature, therefore we made the decision to go 100% biodynamic. This means we are essentially organic – yet a step beyond. We are one of the first vineyards in the US to be certified in all 3 practices: biodynamic, organic and sustainability in practice.

Sustainability In Practice – this addresses the whole farm. Its goal is to give back, by protecting both natural and human resources, while still growing as a business. The three main focuses include environmental stewardship, social and economic equity, and economic profitability. Sustainability in practice minimizes any negative short- and long-term side effects on the environment and the well-being of the community. The major goals of this approach are to develop economically viable ecosystems and to enhance the quality of the environment, so that farmlands remain productive indefinitely.

Organic – is the process of producing food naturally by avoiding the use of synthetic fertilizers and harmful chemical pesticides and herbicides to influence the growth of crops.  The main idea behind organic farming is “zero impact’ on the environment. The motto of the organic farmer is to protect the earth by relying on natural fertilizers and pest control systems to care for the plants.

Biodynamic – embraces all aspects of organic but takes the notion further by holistically treating the entire vineyard as a living ecological, self-sustaining system. Additionally it uses “forces” to determine when to apply its unique substances or preparations to the vineyard as well as when to plant, prune, water and harvest. Biodynamic practices exist to move a vineyard back to a state of natural balance where the waste from one source becomes the energy for another. Biodynamic harnesses the earth’s cycles in accordance with moon phases and gravitational forces to enhance fruit flavor, production and heartiness. It sees the need for the farm to follow the earth’s schedule…not the farmer’s! While to some bio-dynamics may seem like voodoo viticulture, to us not only has it changed the way we grow our grapes, but it has gotten us to think more about the importance of balance with nature, the land and our farming practices.

Compost Class

Obstacles?  Our adventure started with Peter having a vision of owning property on the beach where he could plant grapes and enjoy the ocean. We soon realized that it is not possible to grow grapes on the beach so we decided to purchase land in Santa Barbara County. It did not take us long to find a 82 acres of rolling hills – not knowing that one day it would become the Sta. Rita Hills appellation.

We were both toiling long hours in corporate America, spending countless hours on planes and in conferences, but still enjoying the thrill of business. With little time to focus on the vineyard, we decided to proceed with the project and our son Don moved to the valley to spearhead the effort.

The first 15 acres of vines were planted in 2001. A few months later, we landed in Newark on the morning of September 11, 2001 where Peter would have been in the World Trade Center but at the last minute the meeting was cancelled. It was also the event that made us make the life-changing decision to leave the corporate world and pursue our dreams of viticulture full time.

In January of 2002 we moved up to the valley and began learning to grow quality grapes and make wines under the stewardship of our son Don (winemaker for Sea Smoke). Having no knowledge of viticulture or winemaking we brought on board several consultants to help us. We believe the way to learn how to do it right is to bring in the experts to teach us while we do the work.

Disasters survived?  The 2011 season was a farmer’s nightmare but a winemaker’s dream if grapes could be found.  The season started out very cold and so bud break was late and it took almost 6 weeks to complete fruit set. We had our usual frost challenges during bud break; however what was very unusual was we had frost that hit the high areas and not the low lying areas and so many vineyards around us lost 40-50% of their crop – we were lucky and did not even get a brown leaf. In addition, during flowering we had some high winds which caused concern about what the fruit set would be like. We were luckier than some — we ended up with not much shattering. The coolness continued into August where we finally started getting some heat, and in September it really warmed up. Our challenge was to try to get the fruit to ripen. We had an early rain storm (about an inch of rain) which caused concern on how much mold and mildew we would get. We immediately went out and pulled off all the leaves in the fruit zone and came up with a crazy idea to take our spray rig through the vineyard empty to blow off the water – like a hair dryer. We did not start picking until early October and brought our last fruit in on November 21. The yields were really down everywhere in our area but for our vineyard; we seemed to have better yields than most.

Happy?  In our previous corporate career it was all about how big your office was or what your title was. When we went to dinner parties folks would ask us what we did and we when we told them, the conversation ended. Now, when we tell folks we make wine everyone wants to be our friend. We are really lucky that our “next career” provides us with a balanced life style, passion and love for what we do.

Bacchus and Eros





From → Interviews

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