The Unknown Vineyards of Contra Costa County
Story by Derrick Schneider
Photos by Melissa Schneider
Imagine an upstart winemaker fleeing Contra Costa County’s prestigious but high-priced vineyards for the dirt-cheap farmland in the unknown Napa Valley. In the early twentieth century, Martinez and Oakley, not Rutherford and St. Helena, were darlings of the wine world. The Christian Brothers winery was in Martinez, the world’s largest wine cellar was Winehaven in Richmond, and 6,000 acres were under vine.
Farm conditions were ideal for wine grapes. Sandy soil drained the light rainfall quickly, and vines stressed themselves in their quest for water, which in turn led to character-rich fruit. Hot days ripened the grapes, but each night the Sacramento River Delta took a deep breath of cold air off San Francisco Bay, pushing the temperature down 30 degrees and allowing the fruit to maintain that acidity that sizzles across a taster’s tongue. A maze of microclimates, formed by the folds of hills and the dips of valleys in the county’s center, fostered a number of grape varieties.
The environmental factors that shape Contra Costa fruit haven’t changed. But the area’s reputation has slid into a gully of anonymity.… Read More