Bud Break, Spring Break, Jailbreak, Chavez Break: Ventura County Vineyards Report March 2020

Citrus blooms between blocks of vines at Clos des Amis South Mountain vineyard.

Driving east on South Mountain Road along the Santa Clara River near Santa Paula in the Heritage Valley,

I am overwhelmed by the scent of citrus blossoms.

It is early spring and every orange and lemon tree in sight is in bloom — and there are acres upon acres of trees in sight.

If I could bottle this citrus scent I could make millions.

Instead I am driving on a spring break jailbreak up to the Clos de Amis vineyards to check on bud break with vintner and winemaker Gretel Mays Compton and while there, give her a hand with a few tasks.

As I drive, as I peer across acres of citrus and row crops, all tended by agricultural labor, I contemplate Cesar Chavez.

art by Dianne Bennet, formerly of Ventura, and now of Joshua Tree


Today is the birthday of labor leader, community organizer, and Latino American civil rights activist Cesar Chavez; he was born on March 31, 1927. In 2019, I honored Chavez in this post, and in 2017 here.

Why do I take time out on a wine blog to talk about Cesar Chavez? Because he wasn’t just any labor leader, but an agricultural one.

Right now during this crazy time of Wine in the Time of the Corona Virus, more than ever we need to be grateful to agriculture laborers who are out there even now in the fields growing and picking our food and taking care of the grape wines so we can Shelter in Place or be in quarantine.

While many people have told stories of what tasting rooms are doing to get wine to consumers, few are talking about what’s going on in the cellar and the vineyards.

So what’s going on in cellars and vineyards?

Easy answer: WORK — work that can NOT be done remotely.

Because while the vines and the wines might be resting in the winter, cellar work and vineyard work is never really done and it has to be done on site. The vines and wines must be cared for.


After a period of dormancy when vines rest after harvest and we labor in the vineyard to prune them and in the cellar to manage the wine, the vines are waking up and breaking OUT!

Kind of like what we are doing and feeling with our kids…

and what it’s like for us…

So what wine would I pair with life in the time of the corona virus??

2016 Clos des Amis Estate GSM, Ventura County CA
14% alcohol SRP $24
23% Grenache, 54% Syrah, 23% Mouvedre

Winemaker Bruce Freeman chooses to pick his fruit early for the fresh fruit and bright acidity. He is not a fan of big bold jammy wines, but prefers to make wines that pair well with food and offer more elegance and versatility and that showcase a sense of place.

Color:  Red plum, medium bodied, pinky red

Nose:  Chaparral, florals, musky earth, black pepper, and earthy mint.

Palate: I found this wine to be fresh and fruity, very tart fruit up front. Sue found the soils to be present. Nice acidity, refreshing herbal, peppery finish that hangs around nicely. This wine is medium weight, not bold and heavy. There is a nice balance between the Syrah’s fruit and Grenache’s spice, and the Mouvedre offers some wild minty character to the blend.

Pairing: This is such a great tapas wine. Grilled artichoke hearts with sun-dried tomatoes and a bit of drunken goat cheese together is so fantastic. Also fabulous with a creamy blue. The wine becomes so fruity with the cheese, and the bold cheese is tamed by the wine. Great with sharp cheddars, and aged goudas.

We love French wine with cheese so much. Because Bruce does his wine in a classic French style, his wines are also perfect to pair with sophisticated cheeses.

Every bottle features a local species — birds, mammals, plants, even frogs! On the back each bottle shares a local hike. You can find the hikes and the labels here by scrolling down to the bottom.

To read more of this series:

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