Pruning to prepare for award-winning wine


Although its sports teams pay homage to its wildlife and past agricultural tradition through the Raptors and the Spudders, one other notable aspect of Ridgefield is prominently displayed for anyone driving into it off of Interstate 5.

On Feb. 5, a number of volunteers, some of which are or were city officials, came to the roundabout at the intersection of 56th Place and Pioneer Street to prune grapevines located at its center. The winter weather agreed with their work, opening up sun for portions of the operation.

The volunteers were pruning down grape vines so they can grow a healthy set of grapes during the growth season, Ridgefield City Councilor Ron Onslow said. Though Onslow is not an enologist, or one who studies wine, over the last several years he has learned more about wine than he ever thought he would.

The grapes are used to make “Ridgefield Roundabout Red,” a wine produced by the city that has already garnered national attention. Onslow was serving as mayor at the time the council initially approved the idea that led to grapes being grown in a few of its roundabouts.

The wine from the roundabouts received a gold medal at the 2020 New York Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, a fact proudly displayed on the bottle which also features a design by local artist Barbara “It’s kind of neat that it won gold in New York,” Rob Aichele, a city councilor and volunteer said.

Onslow said the city stores all the produced bottles, which can’t be sold per state law. Instead, Ridgefield uses it for city-sanctioned events, like business grand openings or seasonal festivities. The other vines are located at Pioneer Street’s intersection with South 65th Avenue.

The grape grown is the Marechal Foch variety, picked by local enologist Gary Gouger who has a slew of awards from his vintages. He ends up producing the wine, though volunteers for the city do nearly everything else to grow the grapes.

Onslow said Gouger told them the variety ripens earlier than others, which makes it more advantageous for growing in this part of the country. It’s also resistant to the diseases prevalent for grapes in the region, he added.

Gouger’s proposal noted the potential of having something aesthetically pleasing in the roundabout centers which also promoted the region’s large winery industry. His business is one of several wineries that dot the landscape either in or near city limits.

Onslow said the initial plants came from the University of California, Berkeley, and were one of the varieties you can transport into Washington. Now that the plants are established, they don’t need too much care outside of the occasional work days, Onslow said. The biggest challenge for providing a strong crop is up to another aspect of mother nature — an avian storm.

“We’ve had two pickings and three that the birds picked,” Onslow said.

Onslow said finding the right time to pick is important. He recounted a past attempt where the starlings came in and ate all the grapes after the date for picking was shifted from Friday to Monday.

“The only thing that we could pick were the birds out of the netting,” Onslow said. “If (only) we’d have picked on Friday.”

Onslow said there are usually four work days per roundabout in order to have the grapes ready for picking.

“And the picking is fun,” Onslow added.

Onslow’s wife, and local event organizer, Sandy Schill, picked out the name for the wine. The“Roundabout Red” coiner also exclusively planted one row of the 56th Place patch, of which she is very proud. At the Saturday pruning event, she noted she’s often on call for work, but enjoys the ability to come out and volunteer when she can.

“This is my town, my community,” Schill said. “Everybody appreciates what they see when they look around the corner.” 

The 56th Place roundabout has had its share of accidents as cars have failed to navigate it and collided with the vines, Onslow said. He said during the first picking volunteers got enough grapes for 40 12-bottle cases of wine, and the latest had enough for about 30, though it still needs to be produced. 

Volunteer Clyde Burkle said those involved with the grape-tending process have gotten better over the years. Burkle, a member of the city’s salary commission, touted how good the wine is.

“We’re damn good vinters,” Burkle said.