Equipo is Spanish for team, but at Grassini Family Vineyards and Winery, teamwork is a way of life. "We've had the same core crew since day one," says CEO Katie Grassini. "Our crew helped dig the irrigation lines and prepare the land for the vineyards to be planted. Each of our approximately 88,053 vines were planted by hand starting in 2001, and have been hand-tended by our crew ever since."
Of course, so often the nomadic nature of poorly paid crews who work on vineyards is unrecognized as we enjoy our wines guilt-free. Grassini, located in Happy Canyon in Santa Barbara, does a lot better than that. The Grassinis allocate a portion of their vineyard to the equipo, and give them full control over that section. "The crew is entrusted with all of the farming decisions regarding irrigation, fertilization, pest control, pruning, and everything else Mother Nature might throw at them," Katie Grassini says. "They feel a sense of pride and ownership, knowing that the grapes from their vines are destined to become an Equipo wine, and we look forward to collaborating with the crew on this wonderful project for years to come."
Although the first blend of Equipo was a sauvignon blanc (one of Grassini's signature wines), after the first year, Grassini explains, "We decided our Equipo should be a red wine, as more than half of our vineyards are planted to red varietals, and we've developed a reputation for high-quality Bordeaux reds. We asked our foreman, Manuel Cardoza, what his favorite block is, and he said Block 7, which is cabernet sauvignon. He likes this block because it produces some of the most consistent grape clusters. Block 7 also has one of the most beautiful viewpoints on the property, which doesn't hurt!" The current release, a 2012, is deliciously accessible and fruit-forward, full of lush blackberry and coffee notes.
The project began at the annual end-of-harvest picnic several years ago, when Katie's mother Sharon was talking to Manuel Cardoza. "She learned Manuel's infant son needed a life-saving heart surgery," Katie recalls. "Manuel was grateful to have medical benefits that would pay for the surgery, but he was worried about the added expenses. Sharon decided to organize an emergency fund for the team to help defray some of the unexpected costs that may arise during a serious illness."
Since then the Grassini family has taken that idea and turned it into an ongoing collaboration with the crew, and use the funds from the Equipo wine sales profits for year-end bonuses and to keep the emergency kitty going.
Of course such kindness returns to the Grassinis and the wine we all get to drink. "It's important to us to have the same team year-after-year, because throughout the growing seasons, they develop a very intimate knowledge of the land, which is critical in farming the high-quality grapes we grow," Katie points out. "Over the years, our crew has learned the smallest detail of not just each block of vines, but the individual vines themselves.
"They can show us which vines might grow too vigorously every year, and then they work with those vines to divert some of their energy so that their grapes ripen evenly with the rest of the block. They can also tell us which vines might be struggling, whether it's because they're competing with ancient oak trees for nutrients, or because the irrigation drip system just isn't hitting the right spot. They treat each vine like their child, and they know what each one needs to mature into some truly spectacular grape clusters! Having the same crew over all these years helps us maintain and grow this very specific knowledge."