Backyard vineyards a labor of love in Lamorinda

Posted on October 13, 2021
Backyard vineyards a labor of love in Lamorinda
Michele and David Ledesma in front of their Orinda vineyard. Photo Sora O’Doherty

Nestled high on a sunny hill but minutes from downtown Orinda, Michele Smith-Ledesma and her husband David Ledesma grow succulent red Cabernet and Merlot grapes in a small but prolific vineyard. The vineyard is about 20 years old. The Ledesmas have maintained it for about 11 years, after purchasing the property from Robert Snook. On a sunny September afternoon, the eight rows containing about 150 feet were teeming with fruit. But Michele said the Brix, the level of sugar in the grapes, was just a little below what they want at harvest. At 23 degrees Brix, the grapes were probably about a week away from harvest, while the desired Brix would be 24 to 25 degrees.

Originally from California, the couple have traveled the world for their work. He majored in mainframe computers and she worked in fashion, including a long stint for British luxury line Burberry in London. Michele learned her fashion skills while working at I. Magnin in San Francisco while attending San Francisco State and UC Berkeley. David supported her career, moving with her to New York when she had the opportunity to work for Barney’s, and later to London.

When they decided to return to California, David found his home in the Orinda Hills, which Michele said was perfect for the pandemic. They love the spacious and modern house and take care of the vineyard. Before the pandemic, Michele says, she never really had time in one place to watch the whole cycle like she has now, and she is truly enjoying the experience. She now works as a consultant for fashion brands and skincare lines, which requires less travel, and none during the pandemic.

In the past, Ledesma grapes were used in blends, such as Captain Vineyards’ 2014 Ava Isabelle Blend, but when Captains decided to focus on their winery and other distractions, like Connecticut’s grandchildren and Carmel, they recommended winemaker Tony. Inzerillo. Now Inzerillo is on site to harvest Ledesma, and he extracts the grapes from them and uses them in blending wines. The amount of wine produced varies depending on the conditions of the year. In 2014, for example, the Ledesmas produced around 48 to 50 bottles of wine.

According to Michele, the vineyard is managed with care. Selvin Alvarado, who has managed the Ledesma vineyard for the past three years, was trained by Sal Captain after Captain and his wife, Susan, decided they could no longer manage the vineyard. The grapes are protected from critters that would like to gorge on them, from moles and ground squirrels to raccoons. As the harvest approaches, the grapes are locked in a wire mesh to protect them. Sal Captain introduced the Ledesmas to deep watering, which improves the efficiency of water use, and whatever is used on the grapes is natural. The captain was trained as a medical device engineer. When he decided to go into winemaking, he applied business techniques to the process.

Captain sees the process as a business project, requiring research, planning, development and risk management. The captain and his wife have both attended classes at UC Davis, which he says is one of the most prestigious agricultural universities in the world. Now she grows grapes and he makes wine.

Developing his vineyard management style, Captain says: “I noticed how many things people could do better, like focusing on the organization and orientation of the vineyard, planting in harmony with where the sun gets up and goes to bed, and caring for what they plant. He added: “When maintaining a vineyard, if the plants are healthy, if the aisles are properly aligned, if everything is done right, your job is to make sure that the plants are getting enough water. and nutrients. ” A key factor is to keep an eye out for diseases, such as powdery mildew.

The growing season begins in late January or early February with bud break and ends with harvest in late September or October. Captain talks about the many books written on the journey to give you the fruit at the end of the year. He has tried to apply all these principles and to simplify many processes.

Alvarado comes twice a week and takes care of everything from pruning and irrigation to filleting the vines when the grapes need protection.

However, Michele Ledesma is still in the vineyard every day to see how each vine is doing.

For more on how wine is made in Lamorinda, see

Photo Sora O’Doherty

About Michael Brafford

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