It started as an idea more than five years ago.
Lifelong foothill resident Tim MacDonald stood looking over the empty acreage just below his family’s estate high up on Canyonside Road in La Crescenta. Tim with his wife and five daughters moved into the home back in 1973 but it wasn’t until the early 2000s that he decided that the half-to-full acre of empty land could be put to good use.
“It was just an overgrown area and I thought, ‘Let’s see what happens,’” MacDonald recalled.
He looked into the possibility of growing grapes — wine grapes — on his bit of land. MacDonald, a contractor by trade, did his research, studying the land and learning that the type of soil on his property combined with weather conditions and elevation would be bested suited to produce pinot noir wine.
“Of course, that’d be the hardest grapes to grow,” he said with a chuckle.
But he decided to give it a try and in 2005 planted 300 pinots and 120 chardonnay grape vines.
He wasn’t overly concerned with success; besides, “architecturally I just loved the look,” he said of the fledgling vines.
But the vines seemed to like the south facing slope and free draining soil and thrived. Last year MacDonald celebrated his first harvest which produced 180 bottles of pinot noir from 480 pounds of grapes. And Five Sisters pinot noir from Beinn Bhreagh Vineyard was born.
MacDonald’s roots are Irish and it is a nod to his ancestors who came to the foothills in the early 1920s that he named the tiny vineyard. Beinn Bhreagh Vineyard in Gaelic means beautiful mountain which is the view that greets MacDonald every morning when he steps outside.
Last week, friends and family joined MacDonald in the vineyard to gather this year’s grape harvest.
La Cañada friend Bill Olhasso was at this year’s picking. “It’s fun,” he said of the work.
Crescenta Valley High School principal Linda Evans and her husband, coach Mark Evans, were also on hand along with GUSD board member Mary Boger. The group was joined by Kimberly MacDonald-Bernardino, the middle sister of the five referred to on the bottle label.
It took about three hours, but the group ended up picking over 700 pounds of grapes which were then driven to Camarillo to be crushed. Then they’ll sit in a barrel for about eight months at a constant temperature before being bottled.
Asked whether he’s concerned that the recent fire will damage the quality of his wine, he said that he and his workers washed off all the dust and dirt and that the winery will evaluate the grapes and subsequent wine for any compromise in the taste.
However, MacDonald said that the fires will be addressed on this year’s label.
IT WILL READ THAT THIS YEAR’S HARVEST IS FLAVORED WITH “A TOUCH OF SMOKE AND A HINT OF ASH.”