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A Toast to Mom

Family will carry on matriarch's winery tradition.

September 11, 1997|LEO SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Within the next couple of weeks, the folks at Old Creek Ranch and Winery in Oak View will be picking this year's crop of merlot and cabernet grapes. It's an annual rite that has taken place at the vineyard since the Maitland family purchased the property more than 20 years ago.

It is the same routine as always, except for one all too obvious difference--Carmel Maitland, matriarch of the Maitland family and original owner and operator of the Old Creek Ranch and Winery, won't be around to see the harvest.

Maitland passed away in November at age 75, leaving her son and daughter and their respective spouses and teenage children to keep the vineyard productive.

"We're all kind of on a crash course to keep it up and operating," said son Mark Maitland, 46. "We feel that we have to give it an effort and try to accomplish what my mom started."

Mark Maitland said he and the surviving family members (his father, John, died in 1988) are trying not only to pick up where Carmel Maitland left off, but they are trying to turn the vineyard and tasting room into a productive business.

"My mom was a very astute businesswoman and investor, but this was her hobby, a pleasurable thing for her," said Maitland, who at his day job is vice president of promotion and marketing for Warner Bros. Records.

"Now we are trying to turn it into a business because we don't have the discretionary income she had," he said. "We are trying to make it pay for itself and be more successful."

So far, the effort has focused on maintaining and expanding the retail and wholesale business Carmel Maitland established. Clients include Suzanne's Cuisine, the Ranch House, L'Auberge, The Greek at the Harbor and other restaurants in Ojai and Ventura.

The winery also has been involved with a number of charitable functions over the past few months. And Mark Maitland said the family is looking to expand the vineyard.

A pest infestation ruined part of a crop that had to be destroyed after last year's harvest. But the family owns additional property on the site, which is undergoing tests to determine its suitability for the growing of grapes.

"If we take a shot at it, it could be 20 additional acres," Maitland said. "We'd probably mix it up with some nice red and white, which we would use for our own winemaking, and if we have some left, we would sell to the wine community. We'd probably have Cabernet and Merlot and Syrah, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and maybe a Chardonnay."

It remains to be seen whether the family will go ahead with such long-term plans--it would take at least four years to produce a crop. But until then family members will have their hands full as they continue to learn the business.

"My mom was amazing," Maitland said. "It's taken four of us to do what she did."

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Giessinger Winery of Fillmore will celebrate the harvest Saturday by inviting guests to crush some grapes during a "Wine Tasting Soiree." Along with the stomping, visitors will have an opportunity to sip some of the Giessinger wines. The winery is at 365 Santa Clara St. The party will run from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Cost is $3 for grape stomping, $2 for the tasting. (805) 524-5000.

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So what if you have no culinary background? Be brave and tell your friends you'll whip them up a homemade meal in early October.

And then quickly call the Conejo Valley Adult School and sign up for the series of September cooking classes.

Classes will be taught at Sequoia Intermediate School, 2855 Borchard Road, Room E-8, Newbury Park. Cost for each class is $18 with an additional $7.50 or $10 food fee, depending on the class. To register, call (805) 497-2761.

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