The Beinn Bhreagh Vineyard in La Crescenta offers a special few the opportunity to taste how good CV can be.
By Michael YEGHIAYAN
The production of wine, like any form of culture, is best represented as a reflection of its origin. The Beinn Bhreagh Vineyard, nestled in the mountains north of La Crescenta, could not represent a more fitting vinous metaphor for the Crescenta Valley.
Tim MacDonald, the vineyard’s owner and cultivator, is a longtime resident of the area. He graduated in 1963 as class president from Crescenta Valley High School’s first class in the school’s MacDonald Auditorium, named for his grandfather Rory MacDonald. Assisting MacDonald during Tuesday morning’s harvest was Gary Hetherington, a friend since high school and fellow third generation resident of La Crescenta. Nearly exactly six months since the first leaf appeared earlier this year, the grapes of Beinn Bhreagh were collected for the vineyard’s sixth harvest.
The makeup of the terrain itself is a reflection of the surrounding area. At 2700 feet elevation, the vineyard, whose name is derived from a Gaelic term for “beautiful mountains,” is the highest-altitude vineyard in Los Angeles County.
The area’s ecosystem and its rocky, but free draining, soil is most suitable for pinot noir, a notoriously difficult grape to grow.
“We did some research up in Napa and found out there that the land best lends itself to grow pinot, so we figured, ‘Why go easy?’ I was committed to the idea,” explained MacDonald. “On top of that, it works out that the wine I most like to drink is the wine I can grow.”
“I also started to plant before ‘Sideways.’ I just woke up one morning and my wife looked into my eyes like I was crazy,” he continued. “I get great satisfaction in my work – I mulch everything; nothing leaves here.”
Wine lovers are not the lone group interested in MacDonald’s vines or the grapes they hold. An array of the area’s less domesticated residents have also tried to stake their claim. While the land is quiet and serene during the day, it is oftentimes bustling with wildlife activity when the sun goes down.
A number of bears have welcomed themselves into the family’s backyard, including one with the assumed name “Blaze” as well as local wildlife celebrity “Meatball.” Gray foxes also have an appetite for the grapes and their high sugar content, and are happy to make their way under the fence and help themselves to the fruit.
Of the reptilian variety, a mammoth five-foot diamondback rattlesnake was also recently captured in the backyard.
“I feel that the animals have the right to their fair share,” said MacDonald. “We get all sorts of four-legged friends that either make their way over the fence or burrow their way underneath. Birds are probably the only problem we don’t have; the net does a good enough job keeping them away.”
Deer also have an unfortunate habit of getting themselves stuck as they make their way through the property.
“Every once in awhile we may get a deer stuck in the fence,” continued MacDonald. “Most of the time we can use a sheet to calm them down and create just enough space to let them loose.”
While the size of the harvest has fluctuated from year to year, the 2013 vintage will easily surpass 1,000 pounds of grapes for the first time in the vineyard’s history. An expected yield of 75 gallons of wine should produce a final product of 360 bottles. This year will also reflect the vineyard’s continued development with the introduction of an oak barrel that will be used to house the wine before bottling.
Although the bottles are properly labeled for resale, MacDonald has no intention of entering into a commercial venture. Some of the bottles are donated or gifted around town, and Beinn Bhreagh has taken home both a bronze and silver medal for wine at the Orange County Fair in addition to a gold medal for the vineyard’s label at the same competition.
Beyond the importance of any competition, MacDonald also expects to serve last year’s vintage, the vineyard’s first reserve label wine, at his daughter’s upcoming wedding.