Grower Spotlight: Bartolucci Vineyards
Sustainability is Key to the Future for Bartolucci Vineyards
The Bartolucci family has been growing winegrapes in California since 1921. It was then that Andrea Bartolucci, who had emigrated from Italy only a few years before, purchased his first vineyard. Since then, a passion for the land and for winegrape growing has been passed down from generation to generation.
Andrea’s grandson, Ron Bartolucci along with his daughter Deanna are the current generation of Bartoluccis to grow winegrapes, and they say their hope is to continue the legacy for generations to come. “Our goal is to leave this land better than we received it,” says Deanna. Preserving and sustaining the quality of the land for the children of their children is not something that Bartoluccis take lightly, nor is it an ideal that has come easily.
Experimenting with Organic Winegrape Growing
From the start, the Bartolucci family has taken a hands-on approach to winegrape growing. Ron recounts working in his family’s vineyards alongside the hired hands. “I worked in the vineyards and wineries since I was a little kid,” he says. “In those days you learned from the ground up. Whatever the people who were working for your family were doing, you had to do as well. There was one time when one other guy and I pruned 75 acres by ourselves.”
In 1972, after spending time in the financial sector, Ron decided to get back to his roots. Before purchasing his first piece of land, he again turned to the hands-on approach. and, With the assistance of his father, Henry Bartolucci, Ron spent more than six months analyzing soil, weather conditions, heat degree, and other factors around California before deciding to focus on Lake County.
The Bartolucci’s future-forward approach to winegrape growing was first sparked in 1987 when Ron, who had been working with Fetzer Wines (first as a business analyst and then as the director of vineyard operations), was approached by James Fetzer to try an organic approach in some of his vineyards. While At the time, Fetzer’s experience with organic farming was limited to a little six-acre garden. With Ron’s help, he began growing winegrapes organically on a 150-acre ranch in Redwood Valley. “We made a lot of mistakes at first,” say Ron, “but we learned a lot as well.”
Eventually, Fetzer became a leader in producing wine from organically grown grapes, and in 1989 Bartolucci Vineyards began their own organic program, solidifying the family’s commitment to making things better for future generations.
Today, the Bartoluccis are actively involved in every aspect of their vineyards, from growing season through harvest. They hired David Weiss of Bella Vista Farming Company to handle day-to-day management, but Ron and Deanna are very hands-on and work closely with David and his crew.
The Bartoluccis believe that much of the success they’ve experienced at their four ranches is a result of their commitment to the organic process and certifications in California’s sustainable program. They also believe that the unique attributes of Lake County help make both of these efforts possible.
Cougar Ridge Ranch
Sustainability Begins with the Land – and the Soil
When Ron and his father Henry first scoped out land, what they had hoped to find was a region that would equate in its characteristics to those of Napa Valley. What they say they found instead was a region that was unique for a number of factors, including the region’s diversity of plant life and soils, air quality, plentiful water, and ideal temperatures. Ron marvels at the diversity within Lake County that he believes is unlike in any other region in the North Coast. “The kind of diversity that exists naturally here leads to sustainability and a balance that’s ideal for winegrape growing,” he says.
If California continues to promote its certified sustainable programs, the Bartoluccis believe that this will make the region a leader in sustainable farming and will demonstrate that those practices can ensure viability of the land for future generations. They explain how sustainability programs are changing growing practices. For example, pest control is now tackled using the most benign products and practices and by promoting healthy balanced habitats that include more than just winegrapes.
Drawing a contrast between yesterday and today, Ron says, “In the 1970s, you wouldn’t see cover crops. Today in our vineyards, we analyze soils and plants to understand what nutrients we need in the soil and then plant cover crops to create and/or extract nitrogen, carbon, potassium, or whatever is required to provide balance in the soil.” They consider the soil a “living entity,” which must be continually nourished to keep it alive and thriving.
Echoing her father’s passion for the land, Deanna explains: “I grew up on the first ranch that my parents bought. I loved being a part of it. After exploring some other paths, I, too, returned to it. I guess growing is in my blood.”
Father-and-daughter winegrowers Deanna and Ron Bartolucci
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