Hobby bears fruit

Bertagna Son Kissed Vineyard is a labor of love—so family comes first

PROUD PARENTS<br>High school sweethearts Berton and Carol Bertagna are working on their second batch of Son Kissed wines. They expect to double last year’s yield of 600 cases.

High school sweethearts Berton and Carol Bertagna are working on their second batch of Son Kissed wines. They expect to double last year’s yield of 600 cases.

Photo By Laura Hauser

Online presence
The Bertagnas, with some help from Chico State students, have just launched a Web site for the vineyard: www.bertagnawine.com.

Two little boys ride silver scooters around the large, dirt driveway, kicking up small amounts of dust as they go. Behind them is a white, Spanish-style dwelling across from white-washed barns; in front of them stands a swing set. Altogether, it’s the picture-perfect setting of a rural home, between dense orchards off Hegan Lane.

This isn’t just a homestead, though. The barns house barrels of fermenting wine. The owners of the property—Carol and Berton Bertagna—also are the proprietors of a fledgling winery. They’ve turned their hobby into a commercial venture bearing their name, Bertagna Son Kissed Vineyard, right from the comfort of home.

In the one year they’ve been distributing around Chico, the couple have seen a growing interest in their organic wine. Their first batch comprised about 500 cases of four ‘06-vintage red wines, including a petite Sirah that quickly sold out. The next batch, to be bottled this spring, should yield about 1,200 cases.

The winery is family-run. In fact, the brand stems from sons Barron and Colton, who as toddlers would walk under vines and pluck the ripe grapes that were in reach.

“One day they were picking them while holding hands, and Carol took a picture of it,” Berton recalled. “That picture became our label, and Son Kissed became our name.”

Carol and Berton, both 34, were high school sweethearts who met at a Future Farmers of America convention when they were 17. They went their separate ways but reconnected when they were 23 and married a year later.

Berton joined his father in running Bertagna Orchards, which farms almonds, walnuts and other crops. He and Carol built their home on the large ranch so the couple could work while still raising their children.

“In harvest time, we work seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” Berton said, “so if I didn’t live close to work I would never see my family.”

Berton, a fourth-generation farmer, also has viticulture in his blood. Homemade wines have been a family tradition dating to his great-grandfather, who migrated from Italy.

Seven years ago, the Bertagnas planted grapes along their seven acres. They turned those grapes into wine. “Friends and family liked it so much,” Berton said, “we decided to release the wine commercially.”

Photo By Laura Hauser

The first year was a busy one. The couple had to expand their scale of production as well as market to local vendors. Their wines are available in many Chico stores.

The Bertagnas’ wine-making process is straightforward and traditional: harvest the grapes, make a juice, then let it ferment for at least 18 months in oak barrels.

The key element is the most basic: the fruit on the vine. Berton puts a lot of hard work and care into his grapes, from researching the best roots for planting to making sure no pesticides or herbicides touch his vines.

“I believe in organic produce,” he said, “and it really does make a difference in the quality of the finished product…. I know exactly what goes into my wine and there’s nothing bad for you whatsoever. I know when people drink it they’re drinking a healthy product.”

People can taste the end results, by appointment, in a small wooden room set up for groups.

Along with the greater volume this year, Son Kissed Vineyard will be adding a white wine, a Pinot Grigio. That’s the extent of expansion plans for the near future.

“It’s fun right now, and that’s how we want to keep it,” Berton said. “It’s like a really big hobby, and we are not profit-driven by any means.”

The current state of their start-up business lets the couple raise their sons comfortably, even allowing Carol to plan deliveries around their school schedule. Also, the Bertagnas fear growing too much might lessen the quality of which they’re so proud. So Berton says they’re “just letting it take its own course.”

Expanding the Chico wine market is another story. The Bertagnas have found nothing but support in the community of local wine producers—"they are our friends, not our competition,” Carol said—and would offer the same support to others. Indeed, they found that vintners in Chico and Oroville are working together to boost the region’s profile.

“People could go wine-tasting in their own back yard, versus having to travel all the way to Napa,” Berton said.

One particular yard off Hegan Lane seems a good place to start.