Menifee couple converts front yard into vineyard to save water and make wine
Friday, June 20th, 2014
Issue 25, Volume 18.
Jeri Westerson, 54, said that they decided to remove the front lawn due to high water bills trying to keep it green each summer.
"The bills were almost $200 to $300 during the summer months and we just couldn’t afford it," she said. "It’s stupid now with the drought to have that much lawn."
Since the Westersons replaced the lawn with grape vines, their monthly water bill has dropped to about $85 and they expect it to stay that low this summer.
Craig Westerson, 55, came up with the idea to plant the vineyard in front of their house where they have lived for over 21 years. They discussed possible xeriscapes with ornamental grasses and rocks, but one night he jokingly suggested planting grape vines.
To his surprise his wife agreed to it because they already have a backyard vineyard that they started 16 years ago with two Sangiovese vines. About 10 years ago they propagated those vines into 26 more vines.
The Westersons found out about a turf removal rebate program at socalwatersmart.com that offers one dollar for each square foot removed. They applied for the program and followed its guidelines.
In February they started removing their 1,600 square foot lawn and planting 34 grape vines in four rows. They chose Cabernet, Syrah, Zinfandel and Grenache vines.
Craig Westerson said it took five "long, painful" weekends to complete the project themselves with rented equipment. They estimate that it cost about $1,000 for vines, materials and rental equipment and they should receive a rebate soon for $1,600. They plan later to add a lit stone walkway and rocks around a bird bath and tree to complete their xeriscape.
Jeri Westerson, who once worked as a tasting host and tour guide at Mount Palomar Winery in Temecula, said they will wait one to two years to harvest the grapes because they want them to flourish. It took their backyard vines about three years to mature enough for wine making, which is solely her husband’s
In addition to grape wine, Craig Westerson makes mead, an ancient wine brewed from honey, water and yeast. He uses honey he harvests once a year from a beehive in the backyard. He said that bees just showed up one day in a backyard birdhouse so they decided to take advantage of their presence and build a proper beehive for them. They have two boxes of bees.
This year at the San Diego County Fair, Craig Westerson won first place for traditional mead and fourth place for other mead. He has also been making beer for over 20 years and has won awards for it. He belongs to the Temecula Valley Homebrewers Association.
The Westersons’ neighbors are intrigued about the vineyard and have asked them when the wine will be ready.
"We’ve had a lot of offers to come and help us drink the wine," said Craig Westerson, who works as a commercial photographer.
In 2000, he said he started learning how to make wine with the help of books and years of trial and error. He finally made a decent batch in 2010. His backyard vineyard produces about 55 bottles of wine per batch.
"It’s taken me a long time," he said. "The first few batches were awful. It’s chemistry."
He has inspired some of his fellow homebrewers to start vineyards. He suggests doing extensive research first and speaking to experts to avoid costly mistakes. He got assistance from George Walker of Rancho Cucamonga who’s known as the "Vine Whisperer."
"He was a really valuable resource. He helped me from making a lot of very expensive mistakes," he said.
The Westersons can’t sell their wine but they do share it with family and friends, and Jeri Westerson offers their mead to people attending her book launches. She’s been an author since 2008 and writes a medieval mystery series. Her seventh book "Cup of Blood" debuts on July 25.
"They come for the mead and stay for the book," she said, laughing.
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