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Grape expectations: Farmers envision building a winery
Michael and Amy Doherty first planted 25 acres of wine grapes in Arbuckle in 1997 with a contract with Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena in Napa County.
The Doherty's have enjoyed good prices selling wine grapes to Fetzer in Ukiah and Bear Creek Winery in Lodi, adding a second vineyard of 90 acres in 2000.
But in the future, they are looking to build their own winery on Cortina School Road.
They have a good start, as the couple has the only wine label in Colusa County, Grindstone Wines.
"My dad was fond of saying, 'keep your nose to the grindstone,' and there are a lot of Indian grindstones on the land," Michael Doherty said of the name.
Their first release was in 2011 of a 2010 vintage they call Cortina Red, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Syrah.
Doherty said to have the first bottle in his hand was "pretty cool."
"It's you in a bottle, all your hard work, it's rewarding," he said.
Their Colusa County grapes are bottled in Oregon at Del Rio Winery in Gold Hill on the Rogue River.
The winery is owned by two of his friends, Colusa County natives, Lee Traynham and Rob Wallace. "We harvest at night and ship in the morning with refrigerated trucks," Doherty said.
Last year, Grindstone produced about 500 cases of wine.
Bottles were sold from their home and in local stores and restaurants, including Granzellas, Louis Cairos, Rocco's, Country Stop and Chung Sun Market.
Doherty said that someday, he wants to have his own winery.
"But I need to ramp up production before I make the investment in brick and mortar," he said.
While 16 tons of their grapes were used for Grindstone production last year, they sold 900 tons to Gallo Winery.
"We're able to feed Napa with good quality wine grapes to stretch their case production," Doherty said.
Doherty said the climate is good in Colusa County and the production per acre is better than in Napa.
While Napa growers thin to produce about three tons per acre, Doherty produces about seven tons per acre.
"They want less crop for acre for a more intense wine, with stronger varietal characteristic," Doherty said.
What may cost $3,000 to $4,000 in Napa, could be $300 to $700 a ton here, he said.
The main expense is that it's very labor intensive.
He said they hand prune, hand train, hand thin, hand leaf for air flow and harvest some by hand.
Vineyards in Colusa
There are a handful of vineyards in the county, spanning 2,449 acres, just 5 percent of the acres dedicated to almonds. In 2012, the gross production of wine grapes was $14.9 million in the county, up from $10.7 million in 2011, according to the 2012 Colusa County crop report.