Sidle up to either side of the bar window at Besson Family’s mini-barn tasting room, and a great view awaits. For those who are inside looking out, the window frames the 20-acre old vine vineyard as it meanders down to Uvas Creek, back-dropped by the dun-colored rolling foothills in the distance.
Those on the outside looking in will see a pool table, a cozy seating area with a woodstove and reclaimed barnwood paneling. Picking bins, stenciled with names of local farming legends, have been integrated into the walls. To the back stands another bar, above which are displayed bottles from the many wineries that have purchased Besson fruit over the years. Among them are Birichino, Sarah’s Vineyard, Bonny Doon, Calera, I. Brand and Orin Swift.
Besson now has its own wine label, Besson Family Vineyards, which began in 2017 as a way to honor the family’s farming way of life, and to establish a new tradition for the next generation to steward, along with this land.
After decades of selling grapes to others, the sole member of the fourth generation of the family, Denise Besson, decided to make wine with her family’s name on it.
“We wanted to share this special place, and these beautiful old vines, with others,” she said, gesturing towards the old vine grenache, decked in their full autumnal regalia, their trunks gnarled by more than a century of growth.
These vines have seen so much change in the world since they were planted: two world wars, the Great Depression, Prohibition, wine in cans, the birth of the internet and a worldwide obsession with cell phones. Yet the vines live on, unfazed, determined to produce their finest fruit, year after year. The crop may be meager, but the flavors speak to the grace and confidence of age.
Under the Besson Family label, which will be about 500 cases annually, there are a rosé of syrah, chardonnay, syrah and cabernet sauvignon, almost all of it estate, and all made by Pedro Vargas, a UC Davis graduate whose winery, Vino Vargas, is in San Miguel. Future releases will include a Century Vines grenache, Ancient Vines zinfandel, pinot noir and port.
Besson, who is the fourth generation to live on this 50-acre parcel, is pleased to be carrying on her family’s legacy in the Santa Clara Valley. Her great-grandfather, Jean Auguste Besson, a French immigrant who came to Gilroy in 1925, purchased farmland with vines that exist to this day, including grenache planted in 1910, old vine zin planted in 1922 and Mission vines planted in the late 1800s. The 15-acres of grenache are among the oldest in Santa Clara County, and both the grapes and the resulting wine are highly sought after. Her father, George Besson Jr., has been farming grapes for most of his life, and considers it an honor to work the land. They now have eight varieties between the two parcels.
Although she pursued a career in teaching communications studies and public speaking, having taught at Gavilan College for 22 years, Besson said she felt compelled to be part of the only business her family has ever known.
“I was going through a divorce,” she said. Pointing to a hillside above an old walnut orchard on the adjacent parcel, she continued, “I lived on the other side. I literally moved over the hill and came back home. My grandparents had always wanted me to live here on the property.”
Besson and her husband, James Fahey, a Gilroy native with a background in solar, beam as they share the story of how they met. They were set up by a music professor at the college who thought they would be a good match.
Recalls Besson of their first date, “James said, ‘how about let’s just go to lunch?’ He took me to Nepenthe!” Says Fahey, “I remember the wine we had: Seasmoke Pinot.”
The wheels started turning. That was five years ago. They were married in July 2019.
“At the time, no one was living in this house,” Besson said. “One night during a harvest moon, we sat outside, right in this place where we are sitting now, and James said, ‘I’m going to build a huge deck here someday.’ We talked to my Dad about the idea of bottling our own wine and he loved it.”
She credits mentors such as Tim Slater of Sarah’s Vineyard, Jeff Fadness of La Vie Dansante and John and Carolyn Aver.
“We’ve learned so much from our neighbors and fellow winegrowers,” she said. “They’ve been enormously helpful to us and we are so very grateful.”
The radiant glow as she talks about the wines, her respect for her father and their plans for the future, tells a story all its own. But she has little trouble articulating her message. After all, she’s an expert at public speaking.
“We wanted to do this for the love of the vines, to establish a legacy,” Besson said. “I feel such an enormous sense of gratification. This is very special for us.”
For now, Besson Family Vineyards is open only by appointment, and for special wine club events, which are held five or six times a year. For information, visit bessonfamilyvineyards.com.