If you visit Los Altos Hills resident John Vidovich’s office on San Antonio Road, row after row of filing cabinets list agriculture companies and land holdings, ranging from pomegranate juice bottling to almond processing, with property records organized by county spanning Kern, Kings, Tulare and beyond.
Most headlines involving his work relate to the escalating water crisis in California’s Central Valley, and the big business behind water deals and the future of agricultural irrigation.But even if most Los Altos residents taste Vidovich’s work in pistachios or raisins – he is one of the state’s largest growers of the latter – he has a side business with a harvest much closer to home.
Vidovich’s family winery, Vidovich Vineyards, produced its first vintage in 2001. Its tasting room opened three months ago in the Santa Cruz Mountains at 18101 Montebello Road, just down the street from Ridge Vineyard. They offer tastings at the Montebello estate, in a home built and occupied by Vidovich’s parents during the final years of their lives.
“It was an emotional thing to open it back up,” he said of re-opening the family home as a tasting room after his mother’s death.
The entire enterprise has fit family wishes more than commercial imperatives.
“The wine is a very, very small niche business,” Vidovich said.
Out of an 85-acre parcel high in the Santa Cruz Mountains, 6 acres cultivate Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Another 6-acre “lake vineyard” on the terraced hill in front of Vidovich’s house in Los Altos Hills make up the total of his grape production for the estate wine label.
“For some reason, we don’t know why, that wine is very good,” he said of the lake vineyard, which perches above a former quarry pit now filled with water as an 11-acre lake.
Vidovich’s home is one of 23 built around the quarry in the late 1990s, and he credits topsoil set aside during the construction of the Quarry Hills housing development, along with good drainage from imported gravel, for the quality of his local terraces. For both vineyards, he said, the focus on a single varietal responds to the grape best served by the location, soil and climate.
“As a company, we could have other wines, but that land belongs to Cabernet,” he said. “A Cab is a very small grape, it’s got a lot of skin and has a lot of character – it’s a grape that really mines the flavor out of the ground. Grown in a mountain area like the Santa Cruz Mountains, that grape is able to pull the flavors out. I don’t like to describe it with ‘weird’ words like ‘chocolate,’ ‘tobacco’ or ‘coffee.’ It’s a flavor you have to feel in your mouth and tongue – it’s a (physical) experience.”
Vidovich guesses that the winery will never expand beyond its two vineyards, which each produce approximately 350 cases a year. He likened the scale of the enterprise to a French first-growth vineyard, and noted that though the family operates a tasting room and sells bottles in local stores, “we give most of it away in the cause of business and friends.”
“It’s a personally done business,” he said. “Our whole family is personally invested in it, and family and friends participate in the harvest.”
The winery’s vintner, Nancy Freire, ages the Cabernet in a combination of American oak and French oak barrels and makes the call on when to bottle – often two to four years after a harvest. A mobile bottling truck arrives for bottling on-site at the winery, completed in a day. Then the winery waits, sometimes a decade or more, to broach the bottles.
“The wines will go 100 years, but I’m not going to go 100 years,” Vidovich said meditatively of a 2007 Cabernet he thought would improve with time but could, perhaps should, be enjoyed sooner rather than later.
He speaks with unusually mixed feelings about being in the business of alcohol – “the first half glass is better than the rest of the whole bottle” – noting that drinking wine should be fun, but that every family has experienced the dangers of alcohol one way or another. Acknowledging those risks, and the legacies many families bear, was part of how Vidovich described his personal take on becoming a winemaker.
The Vidovich Vineyards tasting room ($25) is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Their wine is available for sale at Los Altos’ Draeger’s Market. For more information, visit vidovichvineyards.com.