Conservancy hosts crush

By Brandon HENSLEY

They are not long, the days of wine and roses. And so, as the summer days dwindle, residents gathered at Deukmejian Wilderness Park Sunday evening to enjoy what the park’s vineyard had to offer in the form of grape picking and wine making.
The Stonebarn Vineyard Conservancy, a group whose roots are in the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley, hosted its annual vineyard tour, when people were allowed to harvest grapes from three of the back rows of the vineyard.
The grapes were placed on a table and sorted through, then put through a crusher, at which time lead speaker Stuart Byles talked about the history of wine making in Southern California.
“We didn’t even think we’d be able to do a crush today,” said Marie Yeseta, Byles’ wife and a conservancy member. “But when we took a measurement last Tuesday, it looked like we were going to be able to do a crush.”
The sugar content in grapes is measured by a refractometer. High temperatures mean high sugar levels, which is a good thing. But with the cooler weather this summer – with the exception of last week – things were looking dicey. Yeseta said there will be another picking in a couple of weeks when the rest of the grapes are fully ready.
“Unfortunately a lot of them were already dried out and turned into raisins,” said participant Gloria Lee. “So we didn’t get the kind of crop we had hoped, and Stuart Byles says he thinks it’s because the mildew got to it this year.”
The vineyard was revived in 2004 by the city of Glendale in memory of French immigrants George LeMesnager and Pierre Durancette, who had vineyards on the property in the 1800s. “So we’re actually doing this in essence for the history of it,” said Byles.
There was a table of wine bottles from the event’s past years – it began in 2007– along with several books on wine making. A wooden sign was hung from the tent, which had words from Yeseta’s father Thomas: “We will drink no wine/Before it’s time/And the time is now.”
Byles said he and his group learned how to make wine from wine mistress Heather D’Augustine. “Her kindness and generosity and enthusiasm has rubbed off on us,” Byles said. “It’s been nothing but a labor of love. Toiling in the vineyards is a happy occasion.”
The Stonebarn next to the vineyard was not open to the public, as it is still under renovation. It will be seismically retro-fitted, as its structure is currently weak. Soon though, Byles hopes to make the barn a place to store equipment and hold wine-making classes. In addition, the conservancy is in the works of getting its wine-selling license.
Yeseta said their partnership with the city of Glendale is going to pay off in more ways down the road.
“Along with the city wanting us to kind of get more involved with the vineyard …  they’re helping us out with it and we’ll be doing programs, so it’s going to advance more and more each year,” she said.
This was also the first
year a movie was shown after the sun had set. People who stayed were able to watch,
“A Good Year,” starring Russell Crowe, a banker who inherits his family’s vineyard in France.

Stuart Byles (in hat) of the Stonebarn Vineyard Conservancy oversees the crushing of the grapes following a harvest at Deukmejian Park.

Then of course, there was also the enjoyment of good company. Several small groups of older residents gathered after the grapes had been through the crusher, and reminisced. Perhaps about their days of wine and roses.
“Oh of course, it was fun, and talking about old times,” said Ellie Pipes, who helped sort the grapes.
“It becomes a social occasion at the same time you’re working,” said Lee, “and you’re doing something with your own community.”