From Prohibition to Institution

Family-owned for generations, Ferrara Winery has produced wine since 1932, when its grapes ‘put Escondido on the map’

(see story below)

By Jon Gold | Special to Today’s Local News

Friday, August 18, 2006

Blood is thicker than water, but for Gasper Ferrara, Jr., it might not be thicker than wine.

The third-generation owner of the Ferrara Winery, hidden deep in Escondido, speaks of his craft with great passion. Like his father and his father’s father, Gasper has tended to the family grapes for decades.

The winery doesn’t look much different than it did in 1933 when it was first opened by Gasper’s grandfather, George Ferrara, after the repeal of prohibition by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. A savvy businessman, George started producing the wine in the fall of 1932, just before passage of the 21st amendment.

When Gasper tells the story, his eyes light up, almost as though he’s thinking back to his years with his beloved granddad. Looking around at the grapes that he picks and at the machines he helped to repair and at the grounds on which he has walked for all 51 years of his life, Ferrara has a glint of nostalgia.

“Anything around here brings me back to when I was younger,” Gasper said. “Anything around here — I look at and I’ll think, ‘Oh my God, when I was 18 I did that or when I was 20 I did that.’ ”

A little older now, with a head that glistens under the pounding summer sun, Ferrara still has the gusto for the grapes. He prides himself on maintaining the old-world feeling that his winery still has, forgoing the modernity of other, newer wineries.

Mark DeVincenzi, a wine instructor at MiraCosta College, is not familiar with Ferrara Winery but says small family-owned wineries, such as Ferrara, are becoming rarer.

“I just came back from Sonoma County, and went to one of the new wineries,” DeVincenzi said. “New, within two years, with a lot of glitz and steel and polished copper. Lots and lots of money went into the tasting room. But not a lot went into the winery and the wine. A lot of sizzle and glitz.

“You almost get the feeling of walking into a Banana Republic.”

Though not prone to promotion, Gasper plays a part in almost every facet of the business. You get the feeling that if Gasper could, he would do everything himself.

“My grandfather taught me at a very young age, ‘Don’t ever tell a worker to go do a job if you can’t do it at least as good as he can do it,’” Ferrara said.

With business down from its peak — at one point, Ferrara was producing as many as 35 wines, now it’s down to 28 — Gasper is focused on keeping the business running, the way his grandfather once did.

The winery is a part of Escondido’s history — so much so that in 1988, celebrating its centennial, the City Council asked for a special bottle of wine to be placed in a time capsule until 2088 — and Gasper doesn’t mess with history.

He embraces tradition, particularly in a story about the old days, when George first opened the winery. Despite the pressure to expand and to harvest and to keep producing quality wine, George would take some time every week for family.

“Every Sunday, he had a group of Italians and they would bring their mandolins or accordions, the women would cook the dinner, and he had a good time to relax,” Gasper said.

And for a moment, Gasper, tilts his head and gazes toward a field of Muscat of Alexandria, the grape that, as he said, “put Escondido on the map.”

And it seems as if he would rather be in 1933 than 2006.