Palos Verdes as wine region? Jim York wants Peninsula-grown grapes in your glass.
Palos Verdes may lack the reputation of Napa, but it still makes a great bottle.
- WRITTEN BYDIANE E. BARBER
- PHOTOGRAPHED BYSHANE O’DONNELL
When South Bay wine lovers think about California wineries and vineyards, enticing and romantic thoughts often conjure up images of the the central coast and Napa Valley. But surprisingly, the Rancho Palos Verdes is home to its own up-and-coming local wine.
Perched atop a hillside in Portuguese Bend overlooking the ocean is a 5-acre vineyard that graces the 94-acre Catalina View Gardens landscape and produces grapes for the aptly named Catalina View Wines label. This family business and slice of heaven in the community was the vision of landowner and nouveau farmer Jim York.
“I have always enjoyed growing things and working outside. I can’t believe I previously worked for 40 years in an office,” says Jim with a smile. The vineyard’s idyllic location on a south-facing slope allowed for planting in a north/south orientation for the vines to receive even sun on each side.
“Before we prepared and planted the vineyard, we hired the best consultants from Napa Valley—Crop Care—for analysis and Alan Pierson for the vineyard design,” he shares. “After the soil and weather were studied, it was determined that the best grapes to grow here are chardonnay and pinot noir. Both have thin skins and like fog, moderate weather and cool nights. And they mature slowly.”
The combination of the sea breezes and coastal sun exposure is a perfect microclimate for growing grapes on the 5,600 vines that were planted in 2013. After being custom-grown at Vintage Nursery in Bakersfield, the 1-year-old grafted vines were delivered to Jim bare-rooted for planting in the spring.
“They all have S04 rootstock that grows well in our soil,” he explains. “Grafted to the rootstock are cuttings of Dijon clones. These vines originated from Burgundy, France, and were developed by UC Davis to resist phylloxera . We use different clones that all taste great—but differently. Blended together the wine is excellent.”
A top priority for Jim’s farming practices is a careful eye on the environment. The vines are watered individually with a micro-drip system that requires minimal water. Organic compounds are sprayed for pest control, the red pinot noir grapes are netted to deter birds, and the green chardonnay grapes are left exposed since the birds cannot see them.
Additionally, after decades of previous farming on the land by the Ishibashi family—which ceased in the early 1970s—there were no residual pesticides or chemicals to contend with. “I applied with the California Certified Organic Farmers organization to grow organically-certified crops. We use all organic products to the extent possible. It is called sustainable in practice, or SIP. We first planted organic citrus and avocados. Then a friend of mine introduced me to grape-growing. Wine requires nonorganic sulfites to be added to it to provide stability and prevent it from spoiling, so the wine is not certified organic.”
This year’s Catalina View Wine harvest (the first was in 2015) was done in August. The chardonnay grapes were picked mid-month and the pinot noir grapes were collected the following week. Professional pickers (16 in total) from the central coast quickly completed each harvest by hand in the morning, and the grapes were immediately transported in refrigerated trucks to a winery in Camarillo.
“It is critical that the grapes do not get warm after picking, so they are refrigerated at 40º in transport,” he says. “It is also crucial that the grapes start fermentation at the appropriate time, so we applied a natural substance to kill the wild yeast before loading the quarter-ton picking bins onto the trucks.”
The chardonnay grapes went directly to the press, yeast was added and the juice was fermented until all of the sugar turned to alcohol. The pinot noir grapes first went through a de-stemmer and were fermented with the skins on them to give the wine its color. The grapes were then pressed.
Both varietals are being aged in French oak barrels for nine months. They will then be bottled and bottle-aged for six months before the wine is ready to be enjoyed.
“2017 is an exciting year for us,” says Jim. “It is the first year that our harvest was large enough to produce estate wine that will be entirely from our vineyard.”
Key to the thriving Catalina View Gardens and vineyard is Jim’s right-hand man and farm manager, Nick Zetts, who has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in agriculture with experience working on sustainable farms in Ecuador while he was in the Peace Corps. “We were very fortunate to find him,” says Jim. “Most recently he was in charge of the gardens for Mustards Grill in Napa Valley.”
With the grape-growing season now over, cover crops such as peas, beans, barley and rye are planted between the rows of vines to provide protection from erosion and runoff. “After the vines lose their leaves and go dormant during our short winter (December through February), we will trim the vines back. This is necessary for them to produce maximum fruit next season,” Jim says.
He continues, “In the spring, when moisture runoff control is no longer needed, the cover crops will be plowed into the soil to provide nutrients for the vines. Bud break has been occurring in March, and as the vines grow, the strongest shoots are clipped to the vineyard wires in a vertical position and the secondary shoots are cut off. This process is continuous for five months and is done manually.”
Management of the vineyard is ongoing and ever-changing with the seasons. It is regularly monitored with soil and vine leaf samples sent to a laboratory for analysis. Though the vines like the cool nights and fog along the coast in Palos Verdes, these conditions can cause mildew and disease.
“It is imperative that problems such as this be identified and treated in advance,” explains Jim. “Having Nick living on the property and managing the operations has resulted in our tremendous success.”
Catalina View Wines are currently served at Terranea Resort, The Admiral Risty Restaurant and The Depot. In addition to local farming, the Catalina View Gardens site is available for weddings and other special events. For more information visit catalinaviewwines.com and catalinaviewgardens.com.
As Palos Verdes’ most influential family celebrates a milestone centennial in the South Bay, we look back at the man whose passion and dedication transformed the Peninsula as we know it … and the descendants who keep his legacy alive.
As the legendary 6-Man competition nears a 40-year milestone, one local resident and former participant laments what he calls the “neutering” of his beloved South Bay summer event.