Alpine ‘hobby’ vineyard produces money and more
By the Alpine Mountain Empire Chamber of Commerce
Brent Wolf‘s hobby takes a lot of work but it’s less stressful than his last job.
Before he retired, Wolf was a manager for a naval aviation depot that overhauls military aircraft in San Diego.
Now he grows wine grapes at his organic farm of 2-1/2 acres, Alpine Pepper Tree Vineyard & Farm in rural Alpine.
“I never thought I’d be a viticulturist (grape grower),” Wolf said. “My wife (Patricia) was interested in it. She asked if I’d put in a small vineyard and I said ‘Sure.’ We started with 150 grape plants in January 2011. Now I have 200.”
Wolf harvested his first crop of chenin blanc grapes in 2016.
This year he and his crew of about eight friends spent two hours starting at daybreak on Sept. 20 picking 846 pounds of grapes.
The grapes for chenin blanc white wine were sold to Casi Cielo Winery of Maness Vineyards in Jamul, Wolf said.
He said he never thought he’d be a grape grower. He’s grown pumpkins for Halloween and he grows fruit trees “for fishing money.”
That’s a typical story in San Diego County, said Executive Director Eric Larson of the San Diego County Farm Bureau.
“What I have noticed is that many of the grape growers are older,” Larson said. “They did something else before they grew grapes.”
The county’s vineyards, many on lots of up to five acres east of Interstate 15, he said, now add up to 1,200 acres countywide.
The value of the grapes the fields produced last year was just $3.8 million out of $1.8 billion for all crops grown in the county, but the Farm Bureau doesn’t see other crops expanding as fast as grapes, said Larson.
“San Diego County grows a lot of different crops,” he said. “We can’t discount any one of them.”
When Wolf started his vineyard he had no experience.
He learned how to protect his grapes by using praying mantises and ladybugs and how to defend his crop against yellowjacket wasps and gophers. He’s familiar now with nutrients, worm castings and mineral dust among many other things.
Last year Wolf’s vineyard produced enough grapes for about 26 cases of wine. This year, he said, there will be more.
Wolf also grows table grapes and plums, and he gets honey from his bee hives. He’s thinking about maybe expanding his business to allow people to pick grapes and plums for themselves.
“I’ve put a lot more into this (vineyard) hobby than I need to ---- putting in the posts, the wires, the sprinkler systems and more,” Wolf said. “I just bought a brand new Kubota tractor. I like having a nice vineyard. For me, it’s a nice hobby. It keeps me busy, keeps me active.”