by Brandy Miceli
I enthusiastically agreed to picking grapes at Fellom Ranch with the Left Bend cycling crew so I could write about the experience. Picking grapes! How fun! A great way to spend a Friday morning. The grapes were cabernet, and my mom has always had an affinity for cab, so I brought her along. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
Despite leaving covered in dirt and completely exhausted, it was a peaceful and grounding experience. It’s admirable that Gary and Richard receive so much support from their cycling friends on this harvest day each year; ten of us subjected ourselves to this physical depletion.
In all seriousness, tasting the grapes, knowing they’re going to be transformed into a work of art, learning about the vineyard, and connecting with the other folks picking made the day quite pleasant.
The sun beat down on us while we clipped big juicy clusters off the vines and placed them into buckets to be hauled off—a total of 1.5 tons. As we sheared away, vineyard owner and grower Bud Fellom shared with me the vineyard’s history, his winemaking methods, and what makes Fellom stand out in a sea of winemakers in the region.
Fellom Ranch is quite a drive up Montebello Road into the Cupertino hills with gorgeous sweeping views of the South Bay along the way. Montebello Road has its own acclaim, and recently garnered recognition from the San Francisco Chronicle
. Fellom shares a border with the famed Ridge Vineyards, but has its own style.
The original Fellom Ranch vines were planted in the early 1900s, and the first owner—a man by the last name of Cena—claimed to be a direct lineal descendant of Napoleon Bonaparte.
“It was during the prohibition days,” Bud said. “He got busted by the feds and had to go to jail; that was in 1929, then my grandfather stepped in and bought the property. But they never did much with the vineyard at that time, it was a lot smaller. Then I came along in the 80s and I developed the rest of it to what you see today.”
The vines we harvested had 30-year-old roots.
Fellom is a third-generation vineyard. Bud’s wife, Karen, greeted us as we arrived, his son, Alex, collected our buckets filled-to-the-brim with grapes and hauled them off in their tractor, and his daughter, Erik, picked grapes alongside us. Their dogs playfully dropped sticks at our feet in hopes we’d throw them.
We harvested one day prior to the first of fall, and the leaves were showing red and gold autumnal signs. Bud told me this vintage has higher acidity than Fellom’s typical.
“We usually get less acid historically,” Bud said. “This year it’s around 3.3 to 3.2 pH. The reason is we usually get these hot summer days that we didn’t have this year,” he said. “The temps over 100 degrees drive the acid under control. The vintage is always weather dependent.”
Though Fellom Ranch grows only cabernet, Bud sources from a few different local vineyards and makes a variety of wines, including zinfandel and chardonnay.
In production, Fellom uses “tried-and-true traditional methods.”
“In this industry, there’s all this new stuff everyone wants to try,” Bud said. “New yeast, new kind of crushing, new press, new bottle, new cork. We can’t compete with these larger wineries that have them money to try all these new things, so we just stick to the traditional ways that wines have been made for thousands of years and that’s becoming harder to come by.”
“We produce handmade wines that express the vineyard 100 percent,” he said. “We don’t blend, and we don’t do any formulized winemaking. But nothing against any of my blending brothers out in the winemaking business.”
Like Left Bend, Fellom Ranch is a member of the Santa Cruz Mountain Winegrowers Association, and they will both be having a big tasting on November 17 as part of the fall Passport Day
The cab we harvested will age for about two years, but in the meantime, stop by the Left Bend tasting room and grab a bottle of the 2013 or 2014 Fellom Ranch Cabernet.
I left Fellom with a worn-out mom, dusty sneakers, and a newfound appreciation for farmers. Picking grapes is not a walk in the park, but it is a walk through a vineyard.