With the harvest of wine grapes underway at wineries all along the Central Coast, a ceremony that’s become a tradition at Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards took place Thursday inside one of the company’s crushing rooms in Buellton.
About 20 winery owners, workers and visitors gathered around half a dozen bins filled with clusters of pinot grigio to witness Father John Finley conduct a blessing of the grapes, asking not only for a good harvest but also a successful fermentation and bottling, ultimately ending with fine vintage varietals on consumers’ tables.
“One thing we were worried about was the effect of smoke,” said winery co-owner Royce Lewellen, referring to the recent Sherpa fire and now the Rey fire currently burning south of Cachuma Lake.
“It can affect the taste,” he explained. “It did that in Napa a few years ago when they had that big fire up there. So we asked Father John to pray for cloudy weather to cool things down.”
He added, “We were drinking the juice earlier, unfermented. It’s very sweet.”
Lewellen said blessing the grapes is a tradition in the “old country,” but it’s only been done at this winery since about 2008.
It got started because Finley, who does missionary work for the Orthodox Church, lives in the Santa Ynez Valley, wrote a cookbook and became a member of the Lucas & Lewellen Wine Club in 2005.
“When they found out (through the wine club) I was a priest, they said, ‘We ought to have our grapes blessed,’” Finley said after the ceremony. “They asked if I do that, and I said, ‘Yes, I do.’ I’ve been doing it ever since.”
He now writes a column on pairing local wine and food for the Santa Maria Times, as well.
Lucas & Lewellen began harvesting gewürztraminer Aug. 22, followed by sauvignon blanc and then pinot grigio, this particular batch from the winery’s Goodchild Vineyard on Foxen Canyon Road east of Santa Maria.
It’s one of three areas where the company grows 24 varieties of grapes on a total of 400 acres. The other two are Los Alamos and the Santa Ynez Valley.
With Finley’s blessing Wednesday, the grapes may be doubly blessed. It seems this was already a good year for wine grapes throughout the Central Coast region, with a warm spring and a hot summer.
“We made it through OK with water,” said winery co-owner Louis Lucas. “There certainly wasn’t an abundance of water, but we had enough.”
This year’s crop also came in early, even earlier than last year.
“When I look at these grapes, first of all, they’re very pretty, very uniform,” Lucas said. “It’s a nice crop. Last year (the crop) was small. This year is larger, more of a normal crop. The quality looks good. The vines worked much better than last year.”
Megan McGrath Gates, winemaker and director of winemaking at Lucas & Lewellen, agreed that this crop will produce a very good vintage.
“This crop is pristine,” she said. “The fruit set was highly successful. … These grapes are really perfect. This wine will almost make itself.”