Despite a relatively cool summer and late harvest, Horsehill Vineyards produced a record crop this season – 5.25 tons of grapes. The 1,040 gallons of grape juice, which are fermenting at South Coast Winery in Temecula, will produce more than 7,000 bottles of zinfandel rose and red zinfandel.
The zinfandel rose will be released in November, just before Thanksgiving. The red zinfandel is expected to be released sometime in the spring or summer next year.
Each season, students and faculty are gaining more experience in vineyards and cultivating grapes, says Professor Dan Hostetler, chair of the plant sciences department, noting that last year’s harvest netted 2.8 tons.
“We’re learning more and more about pruning in this climate,” he says. “By thinning the fruit and dropping the fruit, we reduce the incidence of disease, bunch rot and insects.
“Plus, the plant is carrying a lot lighter load of grapes, which will help on our brix, the sweetness.”
In order to be harvested, wine grapes need to reach a threshold level of sugar, measured in brix. Generally, warmer weather produces more sweetness, but this summer’s mild weather wasn’t a negative factor, though the fruit took longer to ripen.
“This year, we reached the exact same level of brix — 21 percent — as last year,” Hostetler says. “Milder temperatures saved us water. We only irrigated these grapes one time. That means the vines are really well-established with deep root systems. It’s a drought-tolerant crop.”
Hostetler also attributes the abundant yield to a new, high-tech sprayer, which was purchased from wine sales profits. The automatic sprayer allows growers to promptly and accurately address fungus problems on the vines.
Horsehill Vineyards wines, a collaborative project involving the College of Agriculture and The Collins College of Hospitality Management, feature grapes grown from prize-winning Zinfandel cuttings from the historic De Ambrogio Ranch in Rancho Cucamonga. Before the ranch was razed for development in 2001, third-generation vintner Don Galleano combed the fields and selected 400 grapevine cuttings, some of them nearly 100 years old. Galleano donated the cuttings to the university. Master Winemaker Jon McPherson of South Coast Winery oversees the crushing, fermentation and bottling of the wine.
The name Horsehill comes from the area on campus where a portion of the grapes are grown. The former horse pasture is now the location of The Collins College. The grapes are grown on a south-facing slope a few hundred yards from the college. Additional grapes are grown at AGRIscapes on a southeast-facing hillside.
Proceeds from the wine support a culinary garden, located near the student-managed and -operated Restaurant at Kellogg Ranch. Fresh vegetables and herbs from the garden are incorporated into the dishes at the restaurant. The sustainable garden creates a valuable farm-to-table lesson for both hospitality management and agriculture students.