How Grassini Family Vineyards is changing lives with their Equipo red blend
Tucked away in Santa Ynez’s Happy Canyon lies Grassini Family Vineyards, a beautiful property on the edge of the valley where gently rolling hills frame 35 acres of pristine vines. Behind the picturesque landscape and thriving vineyards, though, is a heartwarming story of family, dedication and, most of all, teamwork.
At Grassini, family and teamwork go hand in hand. Several generations of the Grassini family have tended the land, but it wasn’t until more recently that grape growing became the family tradition. Grassini’s vineyard team, including foreman Manuel Cardoza, has been with them since the vines were first planted in 2001, and all have since become extensions of the family. “We are fortunate to have had the same team ever since we first planted our vines,” says CEO Katie Grassini. “It’s important to us to have the same team year after year, because throughout the growing seasons, they develop a very intimate knowledge of the land.” A passion for the land is a theme at Grassini, where their commitment to sustainability is evident through things like the use of reclaimed wood and solar panels to power the winery.
At their annual end-of-harvest picnic several years ago, when family matriarch Sharon Grassini was talking with Manuel, she learned that his infant son needed life-saving heart surgery. Worried about the expenses, Sharon and her family organized an emergency fund not only to help defray some of those costs for Manuel’s family, but also to help other members of their crew with future unexpected costs.
The idea has since grown, transforming into an ongoing collaboration aptly named The Equipo Program (“equipo” is Spanish for “team”), where a portion of the vineyard has been allocated to producing the Equipo blend, a wine in which the crew has complete control over the decisions made in the vineyard, such as irrigation, fertilization and pruning. “They feel a sense of pride and ownership, knowing that the grapes from their vines are destined to become an ‘Equipo’ wine,” says Katie, “and we look forward to collaborating with our crew on this wonderful project for years to come.”
Part of the proceeds from the sale of the Equipo wine go toward keeping the emergency fund going, with the potential for future scholarship funds for crew members’ children as the program grows.
Although the Equipo wine started out as a sauvignon blanc, it was later decided that it should be a red given the fact that more than half of the vineyards are planted to red varietals. A majority of the blend is cabernet sauvignon, specifically from block 7, which has been allocated to the Equipo. Block 7 also happens to be Manuel’s favorite for its consistency and reputation for producing high-quality grapes. Production is steadily increasing from an average of 250 cases per year to upwards of 600 cases with the 2013 Equipo Red.
To the Grassini family, the Equipo program is more than just a story of hard work and collaboration. “We see our Equipo project as one part of our larger overall commitment to sustainability at the vineyard,” says Katie. “We want to enhance the quality of life for the folks in the local community whose hard work and dedication help us grow these superb grapes.”
For more information, visit grassinifamilyvineyards.com
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.