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Inner-City Vineyard Ready for 2009

Inner-City Vineyard Ready for 2009
Publish Date : 12/19/2008
Picking a Winner: Ed Aguerro sorts out grapes to be used in wine made by Joe and Heather D’Augustine at their home in the Echo Park district northwest of Downtown. The D’Augustines grow the grapes on their backyard hillside, and recently invited friends and neighbors to help with the Fall harvest. The volunteer laborers can expect to share in the 2009 D’Augustine vintages when the wine is finished. The D’Augustines do not sell the wine, but they have been honored at the California State Fair for a prior vintage.
By Susan Borden

Special to the Garment & Citizen

It’s hard to believe that this happened just a few months ago—and in Echo Park.

Yet that’s where rows of grape vines curved around a sunny slope as pickers wearing wide-brimmed hats carefully plucked bunches of the dark, juicy fruit.

It could have been a scene from a distant, bucolic past—or perhaps a modern-day movie set. No make-believe here, though. Real wine is being made from those purple grapes even as you read this report.

Indeed, Joe and Heather D’Augustine have been making wine at their home in Echo Park for several years. They’ve enjoyed “country” wine they made from local fruit, including apples that grow on their property. A few years ago they branched out into grape growing, and their first bottling of D’Augustine Vineyard Syrah won a bronze medal at the California State Fair in 2006.

D’Augustines don’t sell their wine—they’d have to be licensed and bonded to do that, so they keep it for gatherings of friends and family. They’ve fought off some challenges along the way, including the loss of a significant portion of the grape crop last year to coyotes, who ate up all of the low-hanging fruit they could reach.

The two organic farmers have been resolute, though, and this year they were rewarded with a bumper grape crop. They decided back in September that the same friends and neighbors who will enjoy the wine might like to help out with the harvest.

There were plenty of takers for that deal, and the crowd of helpers brought in the largest harvest yet—more than 500 pounds of Shiraz grapes.

The D’Augustines showed the group how to get the grapes ready for crushing, and many hands went to work on piles of the fruit at long, shaded tables.

The prepared grapes went into the hopper of the crusher, a formidable piece of hand-cranked equipment.

The resulting tubs of purple slurry were taken away to the basement for the next stage in their transformation into next year’s D’Augustine Syrah Red or Syrah Rose.

The workers got an immediate payoff for their labor when the D’Augustines baked pizza for their crew of volunteers, cooking up the meal in an outdoor brick oven that overlooks the vines.

The harvest day closed with guitar music floating over the hillside as tired but happy workers enjoyed their al fresco meal and looked forward to sampling a truly local wine in 2009.