The solution was clear; if he farmed 70% of his land he'd be allowed to do what he wanted with the remainder. Planting grapes to sell seemed an ideal way out, so Jess spoke to local winery Guglielmo and took advice on what to plant. In 2001 he installed 7,000 Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah vines on the hillside, and built his home.
But when the first crop arrived in 2006 Jess decided to have a go at winemaking. The response from friends was so positive that he began to receive offers from neighbours to farm their vineyards on a sharecropping basis.
The winery opened to the public for the first time this month, pouring their 2007 vintage. All the wines are from the Santa Clara Valley, and are matured in new French oak. The whimsical labels were designed by the Castillo's youngest daughter.
2007 Syrah $30
The colour is a hazy purple; the wines are unfined and unfiltered. It reminds me of a home-made Loganberry wine I tried recently, with light tannins and a sweet and sour "Starburst" character.
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon $40
A light nose of blackberries is followed by bright raspberry/blackberry fruit and a smooth finish. It's low in tannins and acidity, and was proving popular among other vistors.
2007 Merlot $32
Another bright nose, also showing a little smoke. Nice plum fruit, with more acidity and tannin than the two previous wines.
2007 Red Table Wine $22
100% Malbec, though not labeled as such. There's an offputting musty nose like an old wet dishrag, but that doesn't transfer to the palate; the fruit shows well and there's decent acidity.
2007 Estate Petite Sirah $42
Castillo's house style of low tannins works well with this tricky grape. It's a big, bold wine with good dark fruit and spicy pepper notes. There's chocolate on the finish from the 14 months in oak. My favourite of the range.
2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Nose of coffee, with hints of sage and mint. Good blackcurrant fruit and a nice, balanced finish. But it's by far the most expensive Santa Clara Valley wine I've ever tasted, and I'm not convinced that the market will bear it.
2008 Chardonnay (Barrel sample)
This is being matured in a barrel that previously held red wine, which has imparted a curious pink tint. The nose shows pear drops; on the palate it shows residual sugar and some odd notes of char (burned paper?) and oxidation.
2008 Sangiovese (Barrel sample)
A deep, glass-staining purple colour. A big, concentrated wine with sweet, spicy fruit and a good finish.
The wines are currently only available from the winery. They are currently trying to sign up a distributor; with 3,000 case of the 2008 vintage in the pipeline this will be crucial to the winery's survival.