What is in this article?:
- Schafer family spread risks with four major California crops
- Dozen wine grape varieties
- Minimizing irrigation costs
- Marketeing the crop
- Over the past three decades, Steve Schafer and his brother, Mike, have combined individual skills, talents and interests to expand their Madera County, Calif., family farm into an enterprise that now encompasses 1,700 acres of almonds, 2,100 acres of wine and raisin grapes and 120 acres of pomegranates. That includes orchards and vineyards they manage for others.
Dozen wine grape varieties
Under Steve’s direction, the Schafers also grow a dozen wine grape varieties, including Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah and Grenache. In 2005, Steve began expanding the operation, establishing San Joaquin Wine Co.
As a past chairman of the California Association of Wine Grape Growers, he promoted the concept that for growers to receive the full value of the grapes they produce they have to make the end product, wine.
“To be the best wine grape grower possible, you have to complete the circle and also become a vintner,” says Steve, who also serves on the board of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance.
After crushing grapes at an outside facility for three years, the Schafers opened their own winery in 2008. The wine is bottled under the Moody Press Cellars label.
About half of the Schafers’ raisin grape acreage — Fiesta and Thompson Seedless — are dried on the vine and mechanically harvested. The other raisin grapes are also harvested mechanically and dried on continuous paper trays.
The Schafers harvesting their first pomegranate crop in 2008.
“We wanted to reduce some of the risks with almonds and grapes and we think that, because of their agronomic and health attributes, pomegranates are a viable and promising crop for our area,” he says.
The Schafers sell both the fruit and the juice and eventually plan to switch from picking the crop by hand to machine harvesting.
This past season, they lost most of the production from an 80-acre field to an untimely spring frost. “The trees were in a low-lying area and were close to leafing out when the frost hit,” he says. “That’s when they’re most susceptible to freezing temperatures. The frost burned about 50 acres of trees and they looked dead. After pruning them back, the trees leafed out. However, they didn’t produce a crop this year.”
The weather this past season also created problems in some of their almond orchards. An usually wet winter and spring lead to development of hull rot and rust. “We’ve never seen rust before,” Mike says. “It showed up in late July and the trees lost half their leaves. There wasn’t anything we could do about. But, I doubt it will affect production next year.”
At the same time, few if any problems with mites or navel orangeworm, helped lower pesticide bills.