History lives on at Ross Vineyards

Ross Winery owners Judy and Jerry Ross and their grandson and Tasting Room Manager Jim Ross work to harvest cabernet grapes on some of their two-acre vineyard Wednesday that overlooks Paradise Valley. They have 15 varities of grapes that yield 10 to 12 ba

Call it a hobby gone right. Jerry and Judy Ross, a husband/wife team that owns Ross Vineyards and Winery near in Morgan Hill, planted their first vineyard in 1999 simply because they like wine. Their tasting room opened in May, making them the 22nd and newest members of South County’s ever-burgeoning cluster of vintners.
As Jerry says coolly, “the rest is history.”
It didn’t hurt that their two-acre vineyard amid a 55-acre ranch on 17520 Oak Glen Ave. across from Chesbro Reservoir has the perfect microclimate for grape growing. It also didn’t hurt that the last living descendant of the original French-born owners of one of San Jose’s first wineries – the Coffe brothers – taught them the tricks of the trade.
“I’m a hobbyist,” Jerry said. “I just like to make wines for myself. We grow good grapes, make good wine and she [Judy] made me start selling it.”
Sitting across from each other on a table outside a barn built in the 1890s where they hold wine tastings every weekend from noon to 5 p.m., Judy and Jerry – high school sweethearts from Los Banos High School – are two peas in a pod. Having been married for 50 years, they finish each other’s sentences, share laughs and sometimes say the same thing in unison. Banners from their anniversary party, organized by their oldest grandson and tasting room manager Jim Ross, still adorn the tasting room. Nearby, Maybel, a miniature 4-year-old Jack Russell Terrier who loves to entertain guests, whimpers in hopes that someone will play with her.
“Judy says, ‘you’re accumulating way too much wine and you’re going to have to start selling,’” said Jerry, laughing.
So they did.
Ross Vineyards and Winery specializes in red wines. The couple grows 15 different varietals and bottles 11 different wines including Merlot, Cabernet, Barbera, Petite Sirah, Mourvedre, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Malbec, Petite Verdot, Zinfandel and Sirah. Bottles range from $20 to $25 and Jim said he often recommends their Merlot and Syrah.
“A lot of people don’t like Merlot but they like our Merlot,” he said. “The Syrah is lighter than you’d expect.”
Jerry said their vineyards typically produce annually 23 or more oak barrels that hold roughly 59.5 gallons each. And each batch is aged for at least three years.
Harvest this year is about average and going well, Jerry added, but because their vineyard is on a steep hillside, the process takes a bit longer. The couple does all their own picking by hand, garnering 1,000 pounds of grapes a day between the two of them.
While the Ross’s are relative newbies to the industry, their sprawling ranch is a veteran in its own right.
Originally spanning 300 acres before Santa Clara County swallowed 200 acres of the property in 1954 through eminent domain – paying $50,000 for the land to construct the Chesbro Reservoir as a way of retaining runoff – what is now Ross Vineyards teemed with wine grapes as far back the late 19th-century.
Today, the Ross’ are downsizing and selling 18 undeveloped acres of the ranch for just under $1 million, leaving the couple with a more manageable 37 acres.
The original owners of the ranch, French-born brothers Joseph and Eli Coffe, made the overseas trek in search of their fortunes in 1870, landing in Alviso, Calif. In 1874, after saving money during their tenure as restaurant employees in San Jose, the Coffe brothers purchased one of San Jose’s first wineries, the Wine Depot. Until 1999, the Coffe descendants grew all of their grapes where they lived on the Morgan Hill ranch now occupied by the Ross family.
“We’re lucky we have all this history, you see,” said Jerry. “The last living descendant was this guy up here, Alphonse Pauchon.”
He points to a portrait hanging inside the barn where black and white photos of the ranch from the 19th century grace the adjacent walls.
Pauchon, a Morgan Hill rancher, and his family made 500 gallons a year just for the extended family who lived at the ranch, estimated Jerry. The hand-powered wine press Pauchon used is still sitting where it was decades ago. Pauchon never married, and while he didn’t have any children to carry on the winemaking tradition, it lived on.
“Luckily, he was like family to us for 26 years before he passed away in 1999,” said Jerry. “He started talking about how [the family] always grew good grapes on this ranch and that we should plant a vineyard. I said, ‘OK, lets buy some grapes and you show me how to make wine.’”
“He loved making his wine,” said Judy, chiming in.
So, with Pauchons’ help, the couple bought their first grapes in 1998 and tried winemaking for the first time.
“And we loved it,” said the couple in perfect unison.
Ross Vineyards and Winery officially opened up its tasting room in May. Jerry and Judy still remember their first customers.
“People seem to love small wineries, and I can understand that. When we go on wine trails, we like the small wineries where you get to meet the family. No pressure, just fun,” said Jerry.
Their entry into the professional world of winemaking has been an enjoyable one so far, according to Judy.
“We’ve met the nicest people from the start,” she said. “We wanted it to be a fun and comfortable place. People come as strangers and leave as friends.”