The ‘Art’ of Vineyard Management

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An original painting of Winery Ranch Vineyard at Burgess Cellars by long time vineyard manager (70s-90s) Jon Dodge.

A visit to Burgess Cellars starts with a walk on our deck, 1000 feet up on our hillside on Howell Mountain.  In view is one of our historic estate vineyards, a sprawling slope of green.  Imagine managing this vineyard for decades, walking amongst an ever changing sea of grapevines, vintage after vintage.  Imagine then, turning this scene into art.  That is exactly what Jon Dodge did, our vineyard manager of fifteen years from the 70s to the 90s.  His original paintings, our vineyards on canvas, are now displayed in prime view in our Tasting Room.  Guests sip our wines and see their source, depicted through one man’s eyes.

Burgess Cellars has been experiencing quite the renaissance, which has made its way into our Tasting Room.  Although our Tasting Room still inhabits one of our active barrel rooms, as it has for decades, there are now many new features to enjoy!  Today you’ll see a curated wall illustrating the century pl  us history of our hillside, a display of bottles from the Burgess family private library, and Jon Dodge’s original artwork of our vineyards.

Dodge’s works are snapshots of our two estate vineyards, which he managed from 1979 to 1992.  Today, Winery Ranch Vineyard is the first view of a visit to Burgess Cellars, and this circa 1870s vineyard was part of the original purchase by Tom Burgess in 1972 that founded Burgess Cellars.  On the east side of Howell Mountain lies Haymaker Vineyard, a property originally developed by Tom Burgess in 1988.  Today, both vineyards are managed by second generation James Burgess and winemaker Kelly Woods.  See a video of Kelly Woods comparing both vineyards on our YouTube channel at: Burgess Cellars YouTube.  Jon Dodge’s art took inspiration on both hillsides.

Today, Dodge lives on Howell Mountain, but his early adulthood unfolded in Sonoma County.  With an early and obvious talent for painting, he graduated from the College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland with a fine arts degree in 1969.  But art would make way for viticulture.  In an article for the Napa Valley Register, he said: “Your degree got you absolutely nothing other than inspired, so I went back to Sonoma and made money by picking grapes.”

Napa Valley was still the quiet, developing wine region that Tom Burgess found in 1972.  Jon Dodge was able to get a job picking grapes and this allowed him time off season to paint.  At some point in 1979, Dodge and Tom Burgess met.  The urban myth is that Dodge was hired because he could drive a Caterpillar, and the job changed his life.  Dodge went on to work for 19 years as a vineyard manager for Burgess Cellars.  He started his work with the historic Winery Ranch Vineyard, and later saw the original planting of our Haymaker Vineyard.

For almost two decades Dodge coaxed these two vineyards into coveted Burgess Cellars wines, and then, he committed them to canvas.  The Winery Ranch Vineyard painting shows the steep 22% grade on the western hillside.  Manzanita, digger pines and other scrublands foliage are in view in the Haymaker Vineyard painting, a glimpse at the east side of Howell Mountain environment.  Both are on display above our tasting bar for every guest that visits Burgess Cellars.

Today, winemaker Kelly Woods walks amongst these ever changing seas of green, to bring you the wines of Burgess Cellars.  See Kelly straight in the vineyard in “Winery Ranch Vineyard vs. Haymaker Vineyard” our YouTube channel.

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