Topa label Vines below Topa-Topas; Bracken Winery retouch for label.

Outdoor Observer

Ventura County winemakers are sharing their knowledge with thirsty ecotourists

By Alex Wilson 12/13/2012

Wine production is increasingly important to Ventura County’s economy, and winemakers hope the area’s scenic beauty and environmentally sensitive techniques make it a must-visit wine region.

During this year’s Ojai Wine Festival my wife, Dawn, and I learned about green technology they’re employing. The event on the scenic shore of Lake Casitas is also an example of how people are mixing appreciation of the outdoors with wine tasting.

Some winemakers minimize the amount of electricity they consume or generate their own solar power. Others use recycled glass in their bottles.

Another benefit of buying locally produced wine is that shipping it from places like Europe or South America requires more fuel.

Local winemakers are also playing a larger role in the ecotourism movement by promoting the Ventura County Wine Trail. We spent another enjoyable day riding a shuttle bus from the Ventura Visitors Center near our downtown home to sip wine at several locations, including Camarillo’s Cantara Cellars, where we watched the winemaking process firsthand. Deals on hotel stays are also offered to people taking such excursions. 

Another peaceful stop on the Ventura County Wine Trail is Boccali’s restaurant on the scenic east end of the Ojai Valley, best known for the tomatoes and other produce grown at its nearby farm and incorporated into delicious meals. It also offers wine tasting on the sunny patio surrounded by mountains and citrus trees.

All the grapes used at Boccali Vineyards and Winery are grown there, according to Stacy Boccali, who handles marketing for the family business. “It’s all 100 percent estate wine, so we’re not buying from anyone else,” says Boccali. “We’re just trying to keep it local. We’re not looking to get overly huge or anything. We’re just trying to do what we can with what we grow ourselves.”

Boccali says they promote the local wine industry in other ways, too. “We have our tomato festival up at the restaurant once a year, and we always invite all the local wineries,” says Boccali. “It’s going to be beneficial to the citizens of Ojai and everyone if we can get more business.”

There’s also an interesting history of wine production dating back to the 1800s that the family shares with visitors. “There’s actually a really old winery on the property,” says Boccali, who used an old image of it on wine labels.

“When prohibition hit, the winery was hit by the Feds, who destroyed all the wine. There’s actually a story on the back of our zinfandel about that,” says Boccali. Some of those original grape vines actually survived all these years. They started planting new ones in 2004 and began producing wine about three years later.  

Another Ojai winery, called Casa Barranca, uses only organically grown grapes. Some are grown outside the Pratt House craftsman estate designed by famed architects Greene & Greene, which is a national historic landmark. Others are sourced from Santa Barbara County.

Ricky Vimmerstedt is general manager of Casa Barranca Certified Organic Winery, which includes a tasting room downtown.

He’s hoping other wineries follow their lead, avoiding pesticides and chemical fertilizers. “The poison goes into our local streams. The wind can take the pesticides and blow it into local communities. It’s very toxic for people,” says Vimmerstedt.

The organic wine has won awards for its taste and converts among people who might have questioned the method in the past for various reasons. “The shelf life of wine has nothing to do with it being organic,” says Vimmerstedt. “Organic wine is not funky.”


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