That’s a wrap for Del Rio Vineyards, their last day of harvest for the season came mid-October, and it also marks an incredible milestone for the winery.
“It’s kind of nice, after 25 years to stop and reflect, because you tend to forget what you’ve done and where you’re going, people you’ve met, the things you’ve learned. I mean, I was a school teacher when we started. I didn’t even know what OLCC stood for," laughs Jolee Wallace, owner of Del Rio Vineyards.
She'll be the first to tell you, they've learned a lot in the last 25 years and it's come with challenges and plenty of sucess.
On this last day of harvest, crews were deep in the vineyard, pulling out Cabernet Sauvignon. Vineyard Foreman, Raul Banuelos works one of the harvesters, a task he's done many, many times in his more than two decades at Del Rio.
“We couldn’t do it without the machines. We used to pick everything by hand originally, when we got up over a few hundred acres, it just wasn’t feasible anymore. We couldn’t get the crews, couldn’t get the work done in a timely manner, and the machines got better right. The machines we had 15 years ago couldn’t hold a candle to these, they weren’t as clean, didn’t do as good a job. And now the machines are fantastic. They do a really clean job and they’re really efficient," says owner Rob Wallace.
Rob and Jolee have solid roots in farming, selling their tomato farm in California before taking over this property in 1997. Since then, they've grown to nearly 500 acres and have more than a dozen grape varieties.
“It didn’t happen overnight. It took us 25 years to get it right. We used to pick in 5 gallon buckets and so where we started to where we are, we've mechanized most of the process," Rob says, "we’ve gone from picking a truck or two was a huge day for us, and now we can pick 10 or 15 loads a day, which is 300 or 400 tons.”
It's a family affair, too. Clayton Wallace grew up in these vines and remembers following Dad around and helping out with harvests.
He's gone from playing in these fields, to working them.
“It’s just kind of been something I’ve grown up with since I was in second grade, picking grapes, then it was steps of how do we plant more, how do we do more, continue to be successful. Twenty-five years later, this place has really changed in that time," Clayton says.
That was always the point if you ask Rob and Jolee. While many people over the years wanted them to lock in a business plan and answer the question of where they see themselves in the future, Jolee says their answer was always, "we only want to grow."
“His father, who was a farmer, only said, if you’re not going forward, you’re going backwards," Jolee says.
In the last 25 years, the Del Rio team has been focused on moving forward, on growing, on getting better every day.
For Jolee, it's gone by in a flash.
“I think I think about it when people like you ask me about it, because then I have to go back and think in my memory, ‘ok, we didn’t have a winery, we didn’t have warehouses,’ and over the last 23 harvests, but 25 from the planting, we have built a winery, went from first tank room which was 27,000 gallons and now we’re over 800,000 gallons,” Jolee says.
"The guy you rode with on the harvester, he’s been here for 25 years. He was here the day we started. His dad has been here and now his son is here. It’s just been an evolution and mostly it’s about people anymore. You know, we can build almost anything. We can plant more vineyard, put in more tanks and build more winery, but after a certain point, it becomes more about people than it does anything else," Rob says.
“It almost makes me teary, because we had a big lunch yesterday for everybody who works for us, vineyard, winery, everybody. And it’s not about the grapes, not about the wine, it’s about the people who work here.”
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