Crushing It

One sure sign that fall has arrived: California wine country comes to Wolcott with the Vines at Vail Crush.

By Katie Coakley September 25, 2019

For nearly three decades in the most unlikely of settings (Wolcott’s 4 Eagle Ranch), Vines at Vail has been producing a respectful lineup of varietals (from cabernet sauvignon to grenache) using grapes trucked in from California’s Central Valley. And every fall (Sept 28 this year), the boutique mountain winery invites oenophiles to Wolcott’s 4 Eagle Ranch to participate in the most physical (and fun!) aspect of the winemaking process: the crush.

“Because of the late winter, we had to push [the crush] back a week,” says Josh Cook, winemaker at Vines at Vail. “But we’re excited about the grapes.”

Due to the abbreviated growing season, Cook notes that the grape harvest was a little smaller this year; as a result, less wine will be produced nationwide, but that, he adds, only makes the finished product all the more desirable.

 The Roots of Vines at Vail

Vines at Vail owner and winemaker Patrick Chirichillo has winemaking in his blood. His Italian grandfather introduced him to the craft when he was 10 years old; he made his first barrel at 17 and, at 18, he got to open and taste it.

“He always made a zinfandel with a muscato,” Chirichillo recalls. “It had some style to it: the zinfandel was spicy and the muscato was sweet, so it was a pretty original blend.”

Originally from the New York/New Jersey area, Chirichillo vacationed in Vail in the 1970s before settling in the valley in 1989. When 4 Eagle Ranch opened two years later, Chirichillo transformed a hobby into a full-time avocation, establishing Churchill Wine Cellars, which became Vines at Vail in July 2014, when he opened his winery to the public, selling his 2013 vintage by the glass, bottle, and case. Since then, he’s been producing 40 to 50 barrels (1,000–1,200 cases) a year, specializing in varietals (e.g., petite sirah and sauvignon blanc) and blends like Vail Ink (a 50/50 petite sirah/Syrah that’s big, bold, and dark with lots of spicy character) and Vail Bella (a full-bodied and powerful 60 percent petit sirah/26 percent barbera/14 percent grenache). Other wines are named after local ski runs and hiking trails, like Born Free, Lover’s Leap, and Davos. 

About The Crush

This weekend, Vines at Vail will host its annual Crush festival. Guests (encouraged to dress up like Lucille Ball in the classic I Love Lucy wine stomping episode) will help stomp and crush the grapes before they’re placed into vats to undergo primary fermentation before being  transferred into oak barrels for aging. For immediate gratification, you can sample a five-taste flight for $28.50 (or plunk down $4 more for a magnum to go); for those who appreciate the virtues of patience, consider investing in a $5,400 full barre, which yields 24 cases or 288 bottles, embellished (for an extra fee) with your own custom label.

“We have a good time creating and having fun,” Chirichillo says. “We have a lot of friends who have been making wine with me for 20-plus years. It’s hands on … and it’s different. It’s Old World.”  


When you go: The Crush takes place Saturday (Sept 28) at the winery (4098 Highway 131, Wolcott) from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.  The I Love Lucy grape stomping contest will take place from 11:30 am. to 1 p.m. with prizes for Best Costume and Most Like Lucy Look-Alike. Tickets are $25 in advance or $35 at the door and include your first glass of wine and $5 off bottle purchase.

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