Trendsetting in the Ancient Agricultural Art of Wines
Trendsetting is not typically associated with words such as “ancient” and “agriculture.” However, in the rich growing Delta region, we call home, wine has not always been part of the growing landscape. Brentwood, Byron, Knighten and our surrounding communities have long been celebrated for growing wonderful, flavorful and delectable produce, such as tomatoes, strawberries, cherries, pumpkins, and corn. However, nearly 2 decades ago, the Bloomfield family made the landscape-altering decision to turn from a tomato harvest to grape harvests. This unique decision not only changed the Bloomfield legacy but changed the direction of the Far East Contra Costa growing region.
A Bit of Bloomfield Family History
The Bloomfield family has been a farming family in East Contra Costa for many generations. In fact, the Bloomfield family was one of the founding farming families in Brentwood in the early 1940s. Because of the rich Delta soils, Brentwood has always been a rich farming region. Like most farmers, the Bloomfield family cultivated many of the region’s typical crops, including alfalfa, tomatoes and other types of veggies. However, the tomato crop was their ‘bread and butter’ crop that was sought after by many of the major players in the tomato processing industry.
For this narrative, we fast-forward many years when Tom Bloomfield and Becky Bloomfield make an unconventional decision. After the tomato paste and tomato product industry moved away from local tomatoes for their manufacturing purposes, Tom and Becky began to do some intensive research to figure out what the next crop would be in the Bloomfield fields. They hired soil experts and studied weather patterns from a new perspective. Knowing that the soils were rich and the region’s growing conditions ideal for many products, the Bloomfield’s knew they needed to transition their fields in a way that would provide longevity to their farms and family, but also feed into the agricultural community in Brentwood. After many months of intense research, Tom and Becky made the decision to put a vineyard into their tomato fields.
A Running Start
Today when we think about our local backroads lined with precisely laid vineyards, the rows of grapes look like they are innate to the area. However, when the Bloomfield’s first began to plant in 1996, they received nothing less than looks from their farming neighbors and community that this long time, successful farming family had become unglued.
Becky and Tom took on their new venture with a running start. From working with industry experts on how to plant, irrigate, cultivate and harvest their crops to crop maintenance and grape sales and processing. The vineyards took off. From fields of red ripe tomatoes to acres of intricately planted rows of grapes, the experts and the research paid off. From the initial harvest of grapes, the Bloomfield’s knew their great, eye-brow raising risk, of planting grapes, had been a success. The next challenge was to sell their crops to wine-makers that did not recognize the far East Contra Costa Country as a respectable, or reputable wine-grape growing region. And like most things, the Bloomfield family embraced this next level of challenge to find even greater success.
Time to Make Wine
With a high-quality variety of wine-making grapes, the Bloomfield’s knew that to sell their grapes to wine-makers, Bloomfield Family Farms had to make estate wines to showcase the fruit. The wine-making industry is a sticky one. Winemakers, or wine-growers, never know what their annual vintages will taste produce. Due to minute changes in soil, weather, or handling, even the most knowledgeable growers or experts may not know what the final wine product will be. To help eliminate some of the risks, new growers must show that their grapes are of such a quality, that regardless of the changes that can impact the final wine product, the base of the grape is so powerful it will lead to high-quality wines.
Becky then began an apprenticeship in winemaking at a local winery in the Livermore Valley. After several seasons of wine-making, experimenting with Bloomfield grapes, Becky became the first, and only at the time, woman grower and winemaker in the Contra Costa region. She also was able to showcase several varieties of wines that have taken the Contra Costa wine district by storm. From harvesting tomatoes to becoming a leading grower and wine-maker was a risk that turned into a space of prestige, celebration and some phenomenal local wines that have set the stage for growing and winemaking in the burgeoning wine region of Contra Costa County.
Bloomfield Family Wines Awards and Recognition
The Bloomfield family learned to grow grapes out of pure necessity for the longevity and success of the family farms. They also learned that to be competitive in the grape- selling industry, they had to become winemakers. In fact, the Bloomfield’s initially had no intention of ever getting into the wine industry. Their goals were to make the family farm sustainable and continue to diversify the family farm business. However, in learning how the wine industry works, Becky became a wine-growing expert and wine-maker just to be able to sell her grapes to large wine-makers in the industry. But, in doing so – she has turned into one of California’s celebrated wine-growers and wine-makers with a list of accolades longer than most people’s professional resumes.
The Bloomfield family began to enter wines into competitions as early as 2004, with some of the first vintages. By 2009 Bloomfield vines were giving large wine labels a run for their money, winning double gold at the California State Fair for her Cabernet Sauvignon, against 2,646 other wines in the competition and over 30 wines in its class. This double-gold award is mind-boggling for people in the wine industry and is an incredibly rare occurrence. California is known for good wine – and the California State Fair’s commercial wine competition is a coveted award for wine-makers across the state. Even more so, the California State Fair is the oldest and most prestigious wine competition in the country, which means winning honors of any sort at the fair is considered almost a national feat.
The Most Award Winemaker!
Becky was the most awarded wine-maker at the State Fair early on in her wine-making career. Few wine-makers will ever take on as many accolades, especially in the same year. This just confirms the Bloomfield family’s ultimate dedication and commitment to producing high-quality grapes and making excellent wines. Since the earliest awards of excellence in wine-making and recognition within the wine industry, Bloomfield wines have continued to win at all varieties of high levels of wine-making competitions. The Bloomfield’s chalk up their early, and continued success, to ethical and responsible farming methods, hard-work, commitment to excellence and constant refining wine-making methods and strategies.
In fact, tracking the awards the wines have won through 2018 will showcase dozens of Gold, Silver and Bronze wins for the variety of vintages that Becky makes. This is to say, regardless of the wine you taste from Bloomfield Vineyards, you are going to enjoy a flavor that has been recognized by nationally and internationally acclaimed competitions as winning wines. Since the initial days of competing, Bloomfield wines have taken home at least 1 major award a year.
The Bloomfield Family Legacy
Becky calls her work within the wine industry as a “labor of love.” She explains that it is back-breaking work that is worth every sip of wine it produces. She also talks about the growing wine community in Contra Costa County and her role in helping support it. The Bloomfield’s know that their wines have been instrumental in changing the perception of the Contra Costa growing region. Becky knows her wines and the awards they have accumulated over the years put Contra Costa on the map as a place where fine wines are produced that are as good as those produced in more recognized growing regions such as Napa and Sonoma County.
Becky and Tom continue to cultivate their vineyards, while Becky still works hard at providing award-winning wines to the community. They have also begun to work with other local farmers transitioning to vineyards from other types of crops. Becky and Tom had to learn from the ground up and now work with other new growers to help set up and cultivate new vineyards. Becky explains that Bloomfield Vineyards had to learn the hard way – and part of the way they give back to the community and the local wine-growing community is to pass on their knowledge and experience to farmers new to the industry.
A Diverse Farming Philosophy
The Bloomfield family farms continue to grow and diversify. Their sons, Mitchell and Patrick, both alumni of Chico State University, have taken on management and research roles on the family farms. This means that as Becky and Tom focus on their orchards and wine, their family farms continue to thrive with a variety of cherry orchards, recently planted almond orchards and other fruits and veggies because of their sons’ commitment to the Bloomfield legacy. Wine and grape growing will always be part of the Bloomfield legacy, but the family will continue to diversify their farms through research and market demand.
Where You Can Try It!
Luckily, if you have not yet been able to try one of the wines from Bloomfield Vineyards, there are many places where you can enjoy it. First, if you happen to be in the downtown corridor in Brentwood, California – stop by Contra Costa County Wine Co., also known as Coco’s. Becky co-owns the wine store, where she showcases her many wines. The wine store is a perfect place to pick up a few of your favorite bottles, do a tasting, or just enjoy a few glasses of local wines with friends. The outdoor seating patio is perfect for people watching. Inside, on Friday and Saturday, you can enjoy live music, dancing, and fun energy to kick-off the weekend.
The Bloomfield label of wines is also available at local restaurants, both in the downtown corridor, as well as throughout East County. If you are downtown, stop by Zephyr Grill and Bar or Sweeney’s Grill and Bar. Also, keep an eye out for wine release parties that the Bloomfield’s will host to showcase their new vintages each spring.
Contra Costa Wine Pioneers
There is no doubt that we can thank Becky and Tom Bloomfield as the pioneers in the ancient art of wine growing and winemaking in Contra Costa County. The Bloomfield’s play an integral part of the farming community in Contra Costa County. Their willingness to face risk, innovate and bring wine to Contra Costa County has altered the agricultural foundation of our community. Tying the historic roots of a community into a modern-day success story is no easy feat. Yet, this is exactly what the Bloomfield’s have done with their wines and with their crops. In fact, we are honored to have been invited to spend an afternoon with Becky and learn her powerful story of wine, unintentional influence, and commitment to family, agriculture and sustainable farming that led to the existence of Bloomfield Vineyards.
If you are looking for a way to support our community, our farmers and celebrate our roots, a quick visit to Coco’s to enjoy a taste of Bloomfield’s pioneering wines is all you have to do. And truly, what is a better way to explore our local backroads than a day wine-tasting?
Other Recommended Articles