“Out here” is relative. For Len Lehmann, the phrase is used to describe his move from Palo Alto to a spot off Los Trancos Road in Portola Valley. It’s also the base for his current business, Portola Vineyards.
“We found this beautiful property and wanted to do something appropriate with the land,” he said on a recent tour of the now plump Pinot Noir vines. “A lot of people don’t know the history of winemaking in Portola Valley and Woodside. Before Prohibition, the two areas were planted with over 800 acres of grapes. This was the primary, highest cultivating wine area of the U.S., but that heritage has been largely forgotten.”
Len, who had a long prior career in technology, is the winemaker at Portola Vineyard while his daughter Debbie does the farming, although while at school at Brown University, she wasn’t envisioning a career in viticulture. “But I have always been interested in food,” she said. “After college I spent a season on a small, community-focused farm in the Sierra Nevada foothills. It served people within the surrounding area and gave me a taste of what it feels like to get my hands dirty.”
One goal of Portola Vineyards is to serve the local community. “We see ourselves as a resource for educating people about grape growing and wine making,” said Len. “We want people to have a real connection. So, we sell our wines on site. Our customers can see the vineyards and participate in the harvest. We have pizza and Pinot lunches as well as winemaker dinners for wine club members.
“I’ve loved doing this more than anything else I’ve done. This community understands what we are doing, and the nearby wineries have been extremely welcoming and helpful.”
Portola wines (Pinot Noir and Rose of Pinot) are available through the winery’s membership club (people can sign up online), and are sold locally at Roberts and Bianchini’s market.
“With our customers getting to know us and us getting to know our customers, we’re able to follow the whole chain of production,” said Debbie. “Wine is really a testament to place, so the eating and drinking together is important.”
Portola Vineyards also invites the community to their summer concert series. The next one, featuring jazz musicians Ray Obiedo and Mistura Fina will be held on August 18; reservations are required.
“Our guests bring blankets and beach chairs and their kids,” said Len. “Our dogs roam around and greet everybody.”
In September, they’re planning a barn dance in the vines. “We’re going to get everyone up square dancing,” promised Debbie.
Photos by Scott R. Kline