A friendship that starts because of a common path can be instant, throw in the mutual love of wine and the friendship thrives. That’s what happened when I met Larry and Helen Baumann’s daughter Sarah. The U.S. Navy stationed both of our families in California then Hawaii where we lived 8 houses apart. Holiday celebrations, Sunday pizza nights, and hanging out daily were the norm. It was a pleasant bonus to learn Sarah’s parents were California grape growers. Larry and Helen made multiple trips to Hawaii and my friendship with them quickly formed.
There are a lot of stories about wine-makers but not much about the growers behind the producers. Helen graciously spent time answering questions about the details of their nearly 40 years of grape growing.
A Little Background Info
Larry and Helen grow grapes along with Helen’s brother, Joe, and wife Betty. Their property, known as Spanish Creek Ranch, comprises 70 acres nestled within the El Dorado County AVA.
- When did you acquire your property? Were vineyards already established?
The property was acquired in 1979. There are two adjoining parcels, one owned by Larry and I and the other by my brother and his wife. There were no vineyards. We did the original planting in 1979 and an additional planting in 2005.
- What do you grow?
Sauvignon Blanc was planted with the original 1980 planting but grafted over to Mourvedre around 1990. We also grow Zinfandel, the predominant grape of the area, and Chardonnay.
- How long have you been selling grapes? Who do you sell to?
We have been selling grapes since our first harvest in 1983-1984. We have marketed throughout California over the years. The first several years we sold to the Napa Valley region. Once the industry took off in Amador and El Dorado Counties we began selling locally. This year’s harvest is going to Iron Hub Winey and Crystal Basin Cellars.
- Tell us the story behind your Mourvedre?
The Mourvedre came from cuttings from an old vineyard in Napa. We took cuttings (cord on arms) and grafted them over to our existing Sauvignon Blanc plants. The grapes have qualities that make it quite unique so we are working with the University of California at Davis to get it specified as it’s own clone.
- Will you ever produce your own wine?
When we started this adventure, we were originally planning on building a winery. All 4 of us had good jobs and families to tend to so decided selling the grapes was the right path. We make wine from our secondary crops but just for personal consumption.
- What careers did you juggle while being grape growers?
Larry was a detective with the Sacramento Police Department for over 30 years. I (Helen) am a registered nurse and spent 28 years in neonatal nursing, 8 years in government and the last 10 years as an administrator for a surgical center. My brother Joe is a mechanical engineer and spent over 20 years as a University Professor. Betty was a special education teacher.
- What does the future of Spanish Creek Ranch look like?
Now that we’re all retired, an aggressive push will be made in getting U.C. Davis to assist with the Mourvedre clone. Our vines are old so replanting, grafting, irrigation, trellis upgrades, maintenance, etc. continue to be necessary.
- What do you love about what you do in the wine industry?
We enjoy the connection to the land and our grapes. A majority of the work is still done by the 4 of us so it is a (rewarding) challenge both physically and mentally.
- What do you dislike about what you do in the wine industry?
The insane amount of paperwork and regulations required by the Federal, State and Local governments…and endless taxes. Regulations and requirements are always changing. We implement some bizzare requirement only to see it changed the next year. Labor costs are becoming a major issue too. Many of the larger vineyards are going to mechanical harvesting so actual laborers are not difficult to find but wages, taxes, insurance, etc. are costly.
Also, it is a never-ending quest to keep up with current trends in varietals and what is selling.
- What is your current favorite wine?
Even though it’s popularity has fallen, we all agree Zinfandel is a favorite, as is Cabernet Sauvignon and of course OUR Mourvedre.