Sometimes a combination that seems unlikely (like churches and winemaking) results in a great outcome.
Consider the Men’s Club of Sacred Heart Church in Saratoga, California. An important activity is making wine from the church’s 280 grapevines. Award-winning wines. Through the 2012 vintage, the wines have won approximately 50 awards (some double gold) from competitions including the Orange County Fair, the Santa Clara County Fair, the Indiana State Fair, the U.S. Amateur Winemaking Competition and the Bottle Shock Open.
Steve Coates is the president of the club and said that the club and the church are a good fit. One goal of the winemaking is creating an additional incentive for men to be more attached to the church.
Workers on any of the several group work details are rewarded with a bottle of wine later on. There are other incentives as well. When it is time to get a crew together for maintenance and other chores likes netting, there are donuts.
When the winemaker, Paul Conrado, and the vineyard manager, Guy Leo, determine it is time to pick, the work follows a group breakfast for approximately 40. Bottling time, typically in April (18 months after harvest) is cause for a barbecue. Luckily there are approximately 60 members.
Guy Leo notes that although it is helpful to have a lot of willing labor available, pruning is reserved for a smaller group and group consensus is not the best way to make some critical decisions. He has an extensive background in orchards and agriculture and he takes responsibility for those decisions.
Similarly, Paul Conrado listens to the men’s club membership discuss future directions but relies on his years of making his own wine to determine timing, chemistry, and blending of the new wine.
Although the church has been active in the community for more than 100 years, the vineyard is relatively new, planted in 1997 with its first harvest in 1999.
The expenses are completely covered by dues and the wines don’t have any outside distribution.
Leo has determined the best trellis system for the vineyard uses cordon pruning with a low fruiting wire and higher catch wires to keep the vines orderly and maximize the sun exposure. Routine sprays with stylet oil take the place of harmful sprays but are critical to avoiding problems in the vineyard.
One year the vines produced approximately six barrels of wine — far too much — and now a more professional, disciplined approach can produce two or three barrels.
The wine is a blend of Merlot (the dominant grape,) Cabernet Franc, and Malbec, and when decanted, competes favorably with other wines using Bordeaux varieties – even for California where the standards are undeniably high. The church is located in the Santa Cruz AVA (American Viticultural Area.) Finished wine is aged in French oak barrels that are purchased new every few years.
Paul Conrado is proud of the product and has made his own wine for decades, sometimes giving bottles to customers of the home building company where he is CEO. He believes that a professional look and a good tasting wine inspires confidence his company’s services. In the same way, the club’s bottles have a slick look, informative back label, and custom corks.
Commenting on the men’s clubs wines, he suggested that in future he might consider a different aging schedule and racking the wine more often to see if that makes it even better.