Morgan Hill winery carries on legacy

Jerry, Judy and Jim Ross take a break from their work at Ross Vineyards to show off the rustic tasting room barn. The tasting room opened in 2013 and is managed by Jim Ross.

Jerry and Judy Ross never planned to own their own Morgan Hill winery.
When the high school sweethearts, now married for 52 years, purchased their 55-acre ranch from the descendants of a Santa Clara Valley winemaking pioneer in 1973, they were told grapes would grow well on the property. They didn’t realize how well until 26 years later when Jerry planted two acres of vines with the intention to produce some vino for his family’s enjoyment.
Those modest intentions, however, were short lived when the two acres of vines began producing 250-300 cases of wine annually – far more than his family could drink or give away to friends.
“At first, it was for family consumption, but I could see the writing on the wall,” Jerry said.
The ranch has a long history of wine production in the Santa Clara Valley, according to the Rosses. Their 55 acres were originally part of a 300-acre parcel of land along Llagas Creek settled by Joseph Coffe, a native of France who immigrated to the United States when he was 24.
Soon after settling near current-day Chesbro Dam in 1870, Coffe planted grapevines on 50 acres of rolling green hills. Five years later, he opened one of the first commercial wineries in the area—The Wine Depot in downtown San Jose—with wine produced by his Morgan Hill vineyard.
The Rosses purchased their piece of property from the last living Coffe descendant, who told them about the land’s former success growing grapes. But Jerry didn’t tap into that fertileness until 1999, when he decided to take up the winemaking hobby and plant the two acres of vines.
Jerry, who knew nothing about winemaking, began reading everything he could on the subject. “He read books morning, noon and night,” Judy said.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Ross Vineyards and Winery became bonded and certified to operate commercially in 2005, and the first wines were bottled to sell that same year, Jerry said. With their wine growing in popularity, the Rosses converted an old barn into a rustic tasting room in 2013. Their grandson, Jim, joined the family business as the tasting room manager—a job he thoroughly enjoys.
“I really like being able to spend time with my grandparents at the tasting room,” Jim said. “It’s so much fun that it doesn’t feel like work at all.”
Ross Vineyards produces 11 different wines —all reds—from 15 varieties planted on the estate. The tasting menu currently includes vintages from 2005-2009.
“We do all red wines…we can’t do Chardonnay, it’s a little too warm,” Jerry said. “Our wines are barrel-aged a lot longer than anyone else’s. I barrel-age for three years, occasionally four years for bigger wines.”
The Ross Red, the vineyard’s house blend, is a favorite recently among visitors. Each vintage is slightly different, Jerry said, but the 2006 Ross Red currently featured on the tasting menu is made up of 40 percent Syrah, 40 percent Grenache, 18 percent Mourvèdre and 2 percent Roussanne.
“It’s a nice, fun, summer wine,” Jim said. “Big alcohol, nice fruit flavors. It’s a good wine to first introduce people to when they’re here.”
Today Ross Vineyards is the smallest winery in the Santa Clara Valley Wine Growers Association, a distinction the family embraces due to the vineyards’ workload. Since the vines are planted on top of a steep hillside, everything is done by hand without the help of tractors or other equipment, so “even two acres is a lot of work,” Judy said.
But for Jerry, who retired from a 46-year career in the service station business as the owner and operator of several stations in San Jose, the winery is simply a way to share his winemaking hobby with the world.
“We’re having fun,” Jerry said. “There are no immediate plans to expand, but it is always a possibility.”
Ross Vineyards and Winery tasting room is open from noon to 5 p.m. every first and third weekend of the month at 17520 Oak Glen Ave., Morgan Hill. For more information call (408) 779-4599.

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