Artist in the vineyard

Vinescape’s Ron Mosley creates the perfect vineyard again and again

GRAPE GROWER UC Davis graduate Ron Mosley first created the perfect vineyard at the top of a bramble and poison oak-covered mountain outside Saratoga in 1983. Photo: Marisa Duran

Do you remember the smog-ridden ’80s in Los Angeles? Viticulturist Ron Mosley of Vinescape, a vineyard installation and management company dealing with more than 100 vineyards throughout the Santa Clara Valley and the Santa Cruz Mountains, sure does.

“It was hell,” Mosley recalls of working with his dad at a structural design firm in LA. “Worked from sunup till sundown and never saw either one. Everyone smoked!”

Fortunately, his mother hailed from the wilds of Canada, where her brother ran the family farm.

“The day school let out for the summer, I would grab my backpack and head to the airport,” he says. “I’d fly to Vancouver, and a few hours from the concrete craziness of LA, I’d be out in the middle of a wheat field listening to nothing. It was heaven.”

In love with farming, he attended UC Davis, graduating with a degree in viticulture and enology (the study of wines). Mosley first got his chance to create the perfect vineyard at the top of a bramble and poison oak-covered mountain outside Saratoga in 1983.

“Tom Mudd (founder of Cinnabar) had a vision for growing great Bordeaux varieties in the Santa Cruz Mountains,” Mosley says. “He basically handed me a chainsaw, and said, ‘Do it!’”

Mosley cleared the land, installed the 40-acre vineyard, built the home in which he would raise his two sons, designed and built the winery, and lived there for 20 years until the property was sold to Mount Eden.

Mosley’s son Caleb, now a vineyard manager in Napa, remembers early mornings on the property.

“Every year, right around the time school started in the fall, my dad would get my brother Ian and me out of bed early to pick chardonnay,” Caleb says. “We’d get out into the vineyard with our eyes barely open, shears in one hand and a 5-gallon bucket in the other.”

Mosley’s two sons would often show up to school with wine-stained clothes and hands from punching down pinot noir.

After a few years of doing the winemaking himself, Mosley hired George Troquato, who is still Cinnabar’s winemaker.

“Ron is always committed to quality and the pursuit of improving whenever and wherever he can,” Troquato says. “One thing he would tell me when we were doing any construction or vineyard installations is: If you build something to last 50 years, it will give you 20 years of maintenance-free service. If you build it to last 10-20 years, you will be repairing it constantly!”

When Mosley created Vinescape to help homeowners install vineyards during the 1990s, his sons were the backbone of the business.

“Ian and I learned how to take a bare piece of ground or an old orchard, and turn it into a beautiful and productive vineyard,” says Caleb. “It was not the easiest summer job on the planet, but we were both learning valuable lessons about both farming and the work ethic it takes to master any given discipline.”

Mosley keeps incredibly busy with the many small vineyards he’s installed, most well under 2 acres.

“My clients are mostly high-end, high tech people,” he says. “They are incredibly selective. For most, it is fancy landscaping and I have to make it look good.”

Danny Russo planted a tiny vineyard in Los Gatos purely as landscaping.

“After two years, they started to produce! OMG! What do I do with the grapes?” says Russo. “A friend recommended Vinescapes, and we hit it off. He takes my grapes and gives me wine: he makes great wine. Ron manages Steve Mariucci’s vineyard, and says some of his merlot made it into my wine!”

Another client who previously used another consultant to install his vineyard says he’s happy to have Vinescape on the case.

“Ron is an absolute wizard when it comes to vineyards,” says Bill Heller “Ron drives through the Valley pointing out what’s wrong with different vineyards—trellising, lack of water, canopy management. He understand the heart and the soul of a vineyard, and always knows how to fix it.”

Caleb attests to his dad’s knowledge and commitment. “Even the most challenging vineyard becomes an opportunity to try a new trellis or pruning system that better matches the site.”

But Mosley is more than a great vineyardist. He treats people like lifelong friends.

“A couple years after our vineyard went in, Ron invited us to his place for a Christmas Eve party,” says Heller. “We were late and still in our jeans, and we show up and everybody is all dressed up. All of a sudden, someone proposes a toast to Ron and Lynne (Ron’s second wife), and we realize we’re in the middle of a wedding!”

Heller recalls Mosley inviting him to attend a class he was teaching on viticulture at Foothill College. “He puts up slides of a vineyard set up with proper orientation, spacing and airflow, and I realize, it looks familiar,” Heller says. “‘Hey,’ I said to Ron, ‘that’s my vineyard!’ [and] Ron said, “You did what I told you to do!’”

Vinescape is hard work. “I barely make a living and I work my ass off. But I’m not ready to retire,” says Mosley. “I wish I was buying Ferrari’s, but farming is my life.”

Laura Ness

Laura Ness is an accomplished freelance writer offering travel tips and commentary on the California wine industry.

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About Laura Ness
Laura Ness is an accomplished freelance writer offering travel tips and commentary on the California wine industry.