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Area has aged like a fine wine

Group leads classes teaching residents about Crescenta Valley's rich history of winemaking.

January 24, 2011|By Megan O'Neil, megan.oneil@latimes.com
  • Stone Barn Vineyard Conservancy chairman Stuart Byles, center, talks to a class of about 20 people in front of the vineyard and barn house at Deukmejian Wilderness Park in Glendale on Saturday.
Stone Barn Vineyard Conservancy chairman Stuart Byles,… (Raul Roa/Staff…)

With neat rows of grape vines to their left and 180-degree views of the Verdugo Mountains to their right, two dozen foothill residents were ready to talk wine.

Saturday marked the first of an eight-class series hosted by the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley and the city of Glendale to highlight the agricultural history of the region, and to teach attendees about winemaking and vineyard management.

The classroom is Deukmejian Wilderness Park and its 71-vine vineyard, replanted four years ago as part of ongoing restoration efforts.

"We figured why don't we teach people as we go?" city naturalist Russ Hauck said.

Classes, which will be scheduled through the winter and spring weather-permitting, are free, said Stuart Byles, vice president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley. They will touch upon pruning, watering, pest identification, harvesting, fermentation and pressing, among other things.

"The Crescenta Valley Historical Society was asked by the city if they would like to come in and help maintain the vineyard and keep it up for historical interests," Byles said. "So we took it upon us to do it, and it is fun."

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Many local residents know little about the agricultural heritage of Deukmejian Park, Byles said.

The property was originally part of the Rancho La Cañada, a tract of land that stretched from Pasadena to Tujunga. The Le Mesnager family bought and developed the land in the late 19th century. They transported their wine to downtown Los Angeles by horse and cart, Byles said.

Restoring the vineyard allows local residents to study their own history, Byles said.

"It also celebrates the fact that winemaking is an integral part of civilization," he said. "That is what really provokes me — how integral wine is to civilization, especially Western civilization."

Byles' wife and fellow Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley volunteer Marie Yeseta is applying winemaking techniques learned from her father, Tom Yeseta, who is of Croatian descent.

"He drank wine since he was a baby, because that is what they did," Marie Yeseta said. "Actually, the press that we used to press the wine this year was from my family ... It is probably over 100 years old. It still works."

Last year the historians-turned-winemakers brought on Echo Park-based vintner Heather D'Agustine to help guide them.

The response from the community has been great — pruning and harvesting days attract plenty of local residents, Marie Yeseta said.

"They all want to be here, and of course they all want to drink wine," she said. "They enjoy coming up and being part of the community and producing something that was from here."

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