By Mary O’KEEFE
On Sunday early evening, Stonebarn Vineyard Conservancy members and supporters were out in force to harvest the grapes at Deukmejian Wilderness Park and begin the winemaking process. The volunteers made quick work of the vines located near the historic stone barn. The pressing of the grapes took little time as well.
“We usually use my grandfather’s press that is about 100 years old,” said Marie Yeseta, a member of the Conservancy. She went on to say that a lot of his wine was made during the years of Prohibition and Yeseta thinks there may have been some bootlegging going on.
Whatever the history, the art of winemaking has been passed down from grandfather to son and now to Yeseta and her husband Stuart Byles.
Yeseta’s grandfather owned several restaurants in Los Angeles and made his own wine. He had a hand press that was used then and in recent years by the Conservancy; however, this year a fellow winemaker lent the group an electric press that made the de-stemming and pressing of grapes much faster.
“I have been working with Stuart [for a while],” said volunteer Robert Grossman. The two met in a winemaking class. Grossman makes wine from his own grapes in his backyard and after seeing the Conservancy’s old press he offered his electric press to Stuart for the harvest.
“It makes it a lot easier,” Grossman said.
Stuart is a founding member of the Conservancy. He keeps a close eye on the grapes as they ripen on the vine.
“We tested the grapes for brix, the levels of sugar in wine grapes,” he said. The brix process helps determine the potential alcohol content of the wine.
The grapes were harvested and pressed, rendering about 60 gallons of juice. The juice was put into containers for fermenting until October when it is bottled. It takes about two years before the wine will be ready to taste.
Sera Stammers has been a member of the Conservancy for about four years. She used to volunteer at Descanso Gardens and then read about the Stonebarn Conservancy and the grapevines at Deukmejian Park. Stammers liked the harvest but also said she loved the Stonebarn and its history.
She recently lost her husband and likes keeping busy.
“It is very good therapy for me … being close to the earth,” she added.
Those at the harvest ended the day with – what else? – a glass of wine and some cheese. They toasted the grapes they just pressed and enjoyed the fruit of their labors from two years ago.