Blessed be the wine! |

Blessed be the wine!

Photo by Colin FisherWinemaker Russ Jones sips a merlot from last year.

Amidst the bright sun and a chilly breeze, the first snowball fight of the year was underway.

“Snowballs are flying!” shouted winemaker Russ Jones as he threw one at his wife, Joan.

She easily deflected the snowball as she walked across their backyard to the large bins of grapes that were being blessed that afternoon.

The Joneses – owners of the Truckee River Winery – put a personal twist on a grape blessing ceremony Friday after driving four tons of grapes from Chicago Park, Calif. to Truckee.

Russ said blessing the grapes before they are crushed and then placed in fermentation tanks is a tradition among California winemakers.

“They do it all the time in Napa,” Russ said.

This winery – located on South River Street in downtown Truckee – uses snow from the last winter instead of holy water to bless the grapes.

Before the snow melts the winter before, Russ packages enough for the blessing in large Ziplock bags and stores the snow in his freezer.

“From the beneficence of the vine and the grower, the wine master and the spirit of the grape, blessings on all,” said Nelson VanGundy, a non-practicing minister who preformed the blessing of the grapes.

Russ placed this year’s grapes in glasses of last year’s Merlot.

“We take last year’s harvest and put the new grapes into the old one,” he said. “You’ve got to have the new with the old.”

The few people in his backyard toasted the beginning of another year of winemaking.

The grape grower, Adele Galuhn of the Bear River Vineyard, attended the grape blessing and watched as the crusher twisted and turned the grapes into liquid.

“An Episcopal priest squirted holy water on the vines,” she said of the larger than usual crop of Merlot grapes harvested this year.

For the past two years, she said, frost has ruined much of her crop, but his year the crop was much bigger than she expected.

Joan Jones noted that the grapes are very high-quality, and she and her husband were lucky to be able to get them this year.

They are grown in the Santa Lucia Mountains, which is “supposedly the perfect growing climate,” Joan said.

Russ and Joan grew up in Truckee, and after spending time in both Oregon and California working for vineyards, they decided to move back to Truckee in 1986.

Three years later they started making wine in their garage at home in Sierra Meadows, and a year later they were distributing the wine.

They have been producing their wine for 13 years, and their current wine list includes Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc.

A red barn behind their home holds wooden barrels of aging wine, fermentation machines, cases of wine and bottles that still need to be labeled by hand.

The Joneses are often asked how they can have a winery without growing grapes. The couple always tell people that even Napa Valley wineries ship grapes from other locations – usually from the Monterey Coast, Joan said.

Russ and Joan both hold full-time jobs besides running the winery. They get a lot of help from their 15-year-old daughter Katy, as well as from friends who are compensated with bottles of wine.

“We do want to keep [the winery] small,” Joan said. “We don’t want a staff. We do want to keep in at the house.”

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