Located above Glen Ellen on Sonoma Mountain about 800 elevation, the Berger Vineyard looks out eastward to stunning panoramic views of Sonoma Valley and Mt. Veeder and the Mayacamas on the other side of the valley. The property has been in Fred Berger’s family for more than 100 years and was named “Oak Shade Ranch” by Fred’s grandmother. When Fred was a young boy, the farm was planted in prunes and they also had sheep. Some of the ground was so hard, they had to use a stick of dynamite to break it for each tree planted. He and his siblings did their homework by lantern light, as there was no electricity. It was Fred’s job as a lad to slaughter the sheep when the time came. There were vineyards in the vicinity, and Fred’s family helped with those harvests, just as the neighbors helped with the prune harvest. The adjacent, renowned Laurel Glen Vineyard was one of these, although it had a different name then.
When Fred returned home in 1971 from a career in the Air Force, he and his wife, Carol, built the present house and planted the vineyard, piece by piece. Everything was pay-as-you-go and there wasn’t a lot of money. But the vineyard today is a testament to a special combination of thrift, perseverance and good taste: it is truly an extraordinary place.
Ken leased the vineyard from Fred and Carol beginning 2011 and manages the vineyard directly. Fred and Carol are still active participants in the vineyard, both during the year and at harvest. Juan Moreno, one of our full-time vineyard employees, joined us when Ken leased the vineyard. Juan has worked the Berger Vineyard for nearly two decades and knows it intimately. A small-world coincidence is that Juan and our other full-time vineyard employee, Arnulfo, both grew up together in the same small town in Michoacan, Mexico.
The grapes are mostly dry farmed, although there is limited drip irrigation. (The irrigation system is quite limited in capacity). The grape berries tend to be very small, resulting in high concentration in the wines. The vineyard is well protected from frost, as the cold air drains away. The mountain top lies to the southwest and tends to break the fog, creating a sunspot with dramatic light spots over the vineyard, even when surrounding areas and the valley below are occluded. Thus, the vineyard maximizes the sunlight in the morning, but has protection from the colder, marine air that tends to come in the late afternoon. All these site conditions mean that the grapes have a long hang time, that is, they tend to develop in flavor and the seeds and stems will mature and turn brown well before the sugar levels reach maximum, resulting in more complexity, maturity and balance in the wine.
Soils are primarily Spreckles Loam, with some Goulding Toomes Complex and Goulding Clay Loam at edges of blocks.