The heat registers in the mid-90’s. It is July. Today, the first blast of blistering summer heat hits the town of Sonoma in northern California. By 7:30 P.M. it has cooled slightly. I sit at an outdoor table with a white tablecloth in the front yard of Tiffany Tedesco Baumann’s home. We are surrounded by vines, hidden from the view of street or sidewalk only yards away. Little green Sangiovese grapes grow all around us.
We drink martinis made with fresh-cut lemon and lime blended with vodka, rosewater, and simple syrup. We eat crackers with goat cheese cheddar, together with Tiffany’s homemade plum and rosemary jam. Her eight-year-old son, Matthew, brings us a vase of flowers he picked. He next brings out coasters and sets our martini glasses on them. His twelve-year-old brother, Garret, is inside playing the song 100 Years on the piano.
Tiffany and her husband Robert moved to Sonoma from Colorado. They purchased a home and decided that instead of having a front lawn, they wanted a front vineyard. A few years later, neighbors and friends began appreciating wine from their Corner Lot Vineyards.
Tiffany tells the story.
“Realistically, I never thought I’d be learning so much and actually enjoying learning about wine, about the science behind making it. And it’s a total crapshoot sometimes.
“We saw someone’s front yard and it had some grapevines, completely decorative. They weren’t even wine grapes. I started to think,’Well, our front yard gets a lot of sun. It’s in a great little neighborhood. Who cares if there’s a sidewalk? Who cares if thirty feet away there’s a neighbor’s yard? We have a good portion of land. Why couldn’t we?’ This could totally happen. Grapes as landscaping. Why not? I don’t want to sit and water the lawn. I don’t want to have just a bunch of plantings and do nothing with it. It would be fun to have a hoot and see what happened.
“My husband lived in Italy for awhile. And I lived in southern Switzerland and Italy for part of the time when I was in college. My family’s Italian. It was a no brainer. That was not even a question. If Sangiovese was going to work in this front yard, that’s what we were going to plant. We called a vineyard management company and asked for advice. A guy came out and measured and looked. He did the math and said, according to his calculations, we could put in sixty-five vines and trellis them and over three years we’d have our first harvest.
“I had no concept of how you translate the number of vines into barrels, or into cases, or into bottles. How many bottles are we talking about? Last year we harvested 800 pounds of grapes – granted, we should have pruned aggressively – and that translated to 28 to 30 cases of wine. For a family! That’s pretty crazy. But crazy in a good way. If the wine is crap, then we’ve got a lot of marinade. But the fun part is all the social stuff that goes along with it: crushing parties, bottling, pressing, sitting out here and enjoying family and friends. We do it all here. Our garage has the wine equipment, bicycles, everything. It’s where it all happens.
“For me, the hardest part is the math. That’s going back to my crappy math history in school. I was never a math genius. There are charts they print, but they’re all in parts per million. What the heck is a part per million? I can’t translate that. So I call on a good local friend who makes beautiful wines. He has held our hands through this process and helped us.
“It’s very much learning. It’s a lot of information to take in. But it’s all good and it’s fun.
“We won Vintage Festival Gold Medal for our Sangiovese. Oh my gosh! Totally surprised. Some of the reward is the response people have.
“We were trying to decide what to name the wine and our friend drives by and says, ‘You don’t even mow a blade of grass, Baumann. Why don’t you call it No Mow Sangio?’
“What do I like most? That we have times like this. That we have friends over and just being able to share it. And seeing my kids out here in the morning that we harvest, picking grapes and helping and dumping them into the crusher and having them be a part of it. It’s probably the social part.
“I rent a bottler for forty bucks. And it’s this big contraption with three spouts. It’s all gravity fed. Last weekend we bottled sixteen cases, it took an hour and a half. Had dinner put out for everybody. We were twenty-five people here – drinking, having fun, cocktails. It was a load of fun. Doing the bottling process ourselves was kind of cool. It’s an excuse to have friends over. Everyone gets to participate.
“To do it full-time and to sink your life into it, that would be one thing. If there was ever a year where we didn’t feel like picking our grapes, we don’t have to. They’d drop and it’s landscape.
“It’s not like I woke up one day and said, ‘Oh, my God, I want to be a winemaker.’ I just felt like, ‘Wow – what a fun adventure.’ That’s how we both felt. I am going to pull one of our bottles for you. Save it for a special day.”