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University of California Berkeley 

Regional Oral History Office University of California 

The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California 

The Wine Spectator California Winemen Oral History Series 


Interviews with 

David B. Ficklin 

Jean Ficklin 

Peter Ficklin 

Steven Ficklin 

With an Introduction by 
Vincent E. Petrucci 

Interviews Conducted by 

Carole Hicke 

in 1992 

Copyright 1992 by The Regents of the University of California 

Since 1954 the Regional Oral History Office has been interviewing leading 
participants in or well -placed witnesses to major events in the development of 
Northern California, the West, and the Nation. Oral history is a modern research 
technique involving an interviewee and an informed interviewer in spontaneous 
conversation. The taped record is transcribed, lightly edited for continuity 
and clarity, and reviewed by the interviewee. The resulting manuscript is typed 
in final form, indexed, bound with photographs and illustrative materials, and 
placed in The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, and 
other research collections for scholarly use. Because it is primary material, 
oral history is not intended to present the final, verified, or complete 
narrative of events. It is a spoken account, offered by the interviewee in 
response to questioning, and as such it is reflective, partisan, deeply involved, 
and irreplaceable. 


All uses of this manuscript are covered by a legal agreement 
with The Regents of the University of California. The manuscript 
is thereby made available for research purposes. All literary 
rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are 
reserved to The Bancroft Library of the University of California, 
Berkeley. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication 
without the written permission of the Director of The Bancroft 
Library of the University of California, Berkeley. 

Requests for permission to quote for publication should be 
addressed to the Regional Oral History Office, 486 Library, 
University of California, Berkeley 94720, and should include 
identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated 
use of the passages, and identification of the user. The legal 
agreement with the University of California requires that the 
interviewees be notified of the request and allowed thirty days in 
which to respond. 

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows: 

"Making California Port Wine: Ficklin 
Vineyards from 1948 to 1992," an oral 
history conducted in 1992 by Carole Hicke , 
Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft 
Library, University of California, 
Berkeley, 1992. 

Copy no . 


David B. Ficklin 

Cataloging Information 

xii, 106 pp. 

David B. Ficklin (b. 1918): discusses establishing Ficklin Vineyards in 
1948, selecting Portuguese grape varieties, building winery, assembling 
equipment, first crush, role of father Walter C. Ficklin, role of brother 
Walter C. Ficklin as vineyardist; growth of the port-making business in 
following decades. Jean Ficklin (b. 1920): on record-keeping, 
entertainment for marketing. Peter Ficklin (b. 1953): recalls growing up 
at the winery, present operations, winemaking duties, computerizing 
record-keeping. Steven Ficklin (b. 1944): on the role of the vineyardist, 
cooperative relationship with vineyardist, diseases in the vineyard. 

Introduction by Professor Vincent E. Petrucci, Director, Viticulture and 
Enology Research Center, California State University, Fresno. 

Interviewed in 1992 by Carole Hicke for the Wine Spectator California 
Winemen Oral History Series, The Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft 
Library, University of California, Berkeley. 

TABLE OF CONTENTS --Fickl in Vineyards 


INTRODUCTION --by Vincent E. Pe truce i vi 




David B. Ficklin 1 

Walter C. Ficklin and His Ranch 1 

David's Childhood 3 

More About the Ranch 4 

David's Grandparents 6 

Education and Schools 8 

Military Service 9 


Studying Enology 11 

Choosing Port and Portuguese Grape Varieties 13 

Building the Winery 15 

The Vineyards 17 

The First Crush in 1948 18 

Equipment 19 

Marketing 21 

Blending 22 

Viticulture: Soil, Rootstocks, and Disease 25 

More on Marketing and Packaging 27 

Wine Judging 29 

Relationships With Other Wineries 30 


Growth 32 

Participation of Other Members of the Family 32 

Background of Jean Ficklin 34 

Early Sales of the Port 35 

Early Days and Changes 37 


Background 40 

Grape Varieties 41 

Diseases and Other Problems 42 

Differences in Grape Varieties 43 

Diseases of the Vineyard in the Seventies and Eighties 45 

The Portuguese Varieties 46 

Picking the Grapes 47 

Employees 49 

Grapes, Varieties, and Other Wineries 50 

Vineyard Operations: Irrigation, Trellising, Soils 54 

Walter C. Ficklin 56 


Growing Up at the Winery 59 

Walter C. Ficklin 63 

Learning to Be a Winemaker 64 

Brandy 67 

Assistant Winemaker, 1978 69 

Vintage Port 70 

Marketing 74 

Tour of Winery 76 


More on Walter C. Ficklin 91 

Marketing: Parrott & Co. 92 

Computerizing the Record-keeping 95 

Port Glassware 99 

Winery Expansion in the Mid- Seventies 100 

Future of Port 102 


INDEX 105 


The California wine industry oral history series, a project of the 
Regional Oral History Office, was initiated in 1969 through the action 
and with the financing of the Wine Advisory Board, a state marketing 
order organization which ceased operation in 1975. In 1983 it was 
reinstituted as The Wine Spectator California Wineraen Oral History Series 
with donations from The Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation. The 
selection of those to be interviewed is made by a committee consisting of 
the director of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley; 
John A. De Luca, president of the Wine Institute, the statewide winery 
organization; Maynard A. Amerine, Emeritus Professor of Viticulture and 
Enology, University of California, Davis; the current chairman of the 
board of directors of the Wine Institute; Ruth Teiser, series project 
director; and Marvin R. Shanken, trustee of The Wine Spectator 
Scholarship Foundation. 

The purpose of the series is to record and preserve information on 
California grape growing and winemaking that has existed only in the 
memories of wine men. In some cases their recollections go back to the 
early years of this century, before Prohibition. These recollections are 
of particular value because the Prohibition period saw the disruption of 
not only the industry itself but also the orderly recording and 
preservation of records of its activities. Little has been written about 
the industry from late in the last century until Repeal. There is a real 
paucity of information on the Prohibition years (1920-1933), although 
some commercial winemaking did continue under supervision of the 
Prohibition Department. The material in this series on that period, as 
well as the discussion of the remarkable development of the wine industry 
in subsequent years (as yet treated analytically in few writings) will be 
of aid to historians. Of particular value is the fact that frequently 
several individuals have discussed the same subjects and events or 
expressed opinions on the same ideas, each from his own point of view. 

Research underlying the interviews has been conducted principally in 
the University libraries at Berkeley and Davis, the California State 
Library, and in the library of the Wine Institute, which has made its 
collection of in many cases unique materials readily available for the 
purpose . 


The Regional Oral History Office was established to tape record 
autobiographical interviews with persons who have contributed 
significantly to recent California history. The office is headed by 
Willa K. Baum and is under the administrative supervision of The Bancroft 

Ruth Teiser 
Project Director 

The Wine Spectator California Winemen 
Oral History Series 

July 1992 

Regional Oral History Office 
486 The Bancroft Library 
University of California, Berkeley 


Interviews Completed July 1992 

Leon D. Adams, Revitalizing the California Wine Industry. 1974 

Leon D. Adams, California Wine Industry Affairs: Recollections and Opinions. 

Maynard A. Amerine, The University of California and the State's Wine 
Industry. 1971 

Maynard A. Amerine, Wine Bibliographies and Taste Perception Studies. 

Philo Biane, Wine Making in Southern California and Recollections of Fruit 
Industries. Inc.. 1972 

John B. Cella, The Cella Family in the California Wine Industry. 1986 

Charles Crawford, Recollections of a Career with the Gallo Winery and the 
Development of the California Wine Industry. 1942-1989. 1990 

Burke H. Critchfield, Carl F. Wente , and Andrew G. Frericks, The California 
Wine Industry During the Depression. 1972 

William V. Cruess, A Half Century of Food and Wine Technology. 1967 

Jack and Jamie Peterman Davies, Rebuilding Schramsberg: The Creation of a 
California Champagne House. 1990 

William A. Dieppe, Almaden is My Life. 1985 

Making California Port Wine: Ficklin Vineyards from 1948 to 1992. interviews 
with David, Jean, Peter, and Steven Ficklin, 1992 

Alfred Fromm, Marketing California Wine and Brandy. 1984 

Louis Gomberg, Analytical Perspectives on the California Wine Industry. 1935- 
1990. 1990 

Miljenko Grgich, A Croatian-American Winemaker in the Napa Valley. 1992 
Joseph E. Heitz, Creating a Winery in the Napa Valley. 1986 

Maynard A. Joslyn, A Technologist Views the California Wine Industry. 

Amandus N. Kasiraatis, A Career in California Viticulture. 1988 

Morris Katz , Paul Masson Winery Operations and Management. 1944-1988. 1990 

Legh F. Knowles, Jr., Beaulieu Vineyards from Family to Corporate Ownership. 


Horace 0. Lanza and Harry Baccigaluppi , California Grape Products and Other 
Wine Enterprises. 1971 

Zelma R. Long, The Past is the Beginning of the Future: Simi Winery in its 
Second Century. 1992 

Richard Maher, California Winery Management and Marketing. 1992 

Louis M. Martini and Louis P. Martini, Wine Making in the Napa Valley. 

Louis P. Martini, A Family Winery and the California Wine Industry. 1984 

Eleanor McCrea, Stonv Hill Vineyards: The Creation of a Napa Vallev Estate 
Winery. 1990 

Otto E. Meyer, California Premium Wines and Brandy. 1973 

Norbert C. Mirassou and Edmund A. Mirassou, The Evolution of a Santa Clara 
Vallev Winery. 1986 

Peter Mondavi , Advances in Technology and Production at Charles Krug Winery. 
1946-1988. 1990 

Robert Mondavi, Creativity in the Wine Industry. 1985 

Michael Moone , Management and Marketing at Beringer Vineyards and Wine World. 
Inc. . 1990 

Myron S. Nightingale, Making Wine in California. 1944-1987. 1988 
Harold P. Olmo, Plant Genetics and New Grape Varieties. 1976 

Cornelius Ough, Researches of an Enologist. University of California. Davis. 
1950-1990. 1990 

John A. Parducci, Six Decades of Making Wine in Mendocino County. California. 

Antonio Perelli-Minetti , A Life in Wine Making. 1975 

Louis A. Petri, The Petri Family in the Wine Industry. 1971 

Jefferson E. Peyser, The Law and the California Wine Industry. 1974 

Lucius Powers, The Fresno Area and the California Wine Industry. 1974 

Victor Repetto and Sydney J. Block, Perspectives on California Wines. 1976 

Edmund A. Rossi, Italian Swiss Colony and the Wine Industry. 1971 

Edmund A. Rossi, Jr., Italian Swiss Colony. 1949-1989: Recollections of a 
Third-Generation California Winemaker. 1990 

Arpaxat Setrakian, A. Setrakian. a Leader of the San Joaouin Vallev Grape 
Industry. 1977 

Elie Skofis, California Wine and Brandy Maker. 1988 

Andre Tchelistcheff , Grapes. Wine, and Ecology. 1983 

Brother Timothy, The Christian Brothers as Wine Makers. 1974 

Louis (Bob) Trinchero, California Zinfandels. a Success Story . 1992 

The Wente Family and the California Wine Industry, interviews with Jean, 
Carolyn, Philip, and Eric Wente, 1992. 

Ernest A. Wente, Wine Making in the Livermore Vallev. 1971 

Albert J. Winkler, Viticultural Research at UC Davis (1921-1971). 1973 

John H. Wright, Domaine Chandon: The First French-owned California Sparkling 
Wine Cellar, includes an interview with Edmond Maudiere, 1992 


INTRODUCTION --by Vincent Petrucci 

It is with great pleasure that I introduce Mr. David B. Ficklin Esq. 
in this series of oral histories with California winemakers. My initial 
relationship with David dates back to 1948 when I was hired by Fresno 
State College (now known as California State University, Fresno- -CSUF) to 
establish an educational program in Viticulture and Enology. 

As a young professor this indeed was a huge assignment. The best 
place for me to go for advice on how to determine the grape and wine 
industry needs for such a program was to go to the very industry itself. 
I approached Mr. Walter C. Ficklin, David's father, about just what did 
he feel should a curriculum in viticulture and enology include to train 
future viticulturists and enologists for industry employment. While 
gathering in his advice I met his son, David, and since that time David 
and I have become friends as well as professional colleagues. 

A few years later, in 1955 to be exact, my wife, Jo, and I along 
with many other guests, which included Para and Leo Dollan (Farm Editor 
Fresno Bee) and Alice and Joe Heitz (then Professor of Enology at Fresno 
State) were invited to the Ficklin' s Annual Vintage Supper of that year. 

The Ficklin families hosting this beautiful vintage celebration 
introduced us to their celebrity guest and motion picture star, Burgess 
Meredith. This grand entertainer joined all who were present in sipping 
the freshly pressed Tinta Madeira grape juice from a "Giant" wine goblet. 
After each guest had sipped the juice, whose grape must (skin plus juice) 
would soon be fermented in the famous "Tinta Port" wines of Ficklin 
Vineyards, we all sat down to a wonderful vintage supper prepared by the 

Through the ensuing years I visited with David and his lovely wife 
Jean at their Madera winery during our class field trip, which had become 
an annual affair. Among the many highlights of this particular field 
trip, two stand out in particular: the first was a tour of the vineyard, 
which featured the outstanding Portuguese varieties: Tinta Madeira, Tinta 
Cao , Touriga, Alvarelhao and Souzao . Also plantings of the newly 
introduced Ruby Cabernet (a red wine variety adapted to the warm climate 
of the San Joaquin Valley) and the Emerald Riesling, a white variety also 
adapted to warm climate because of its sugar/acid balance. 

I consider the commercial introduction of these world-famous 
Portuguese varieties to California by the Ficklins as an extremely 
important contribution to the improvement of California vintage port 


The second field trip highlight was a tour of the winery personally 
given by David B. Ficklin. The students listened intently and took 
volumes of notes as David explained each intricate step in his red 
dessert winemaking procedure. He had no secrets and answered all 
questions asked by these eager- to- learn students. 

At the conclusion of the winery tour and quest ion -and -answer 
session, we would be treated to a tasting of several vintages, beginning 
with the youngest, thence on to some of the very earliest, a real treat 
not only for the students, but for the professor as well. Complementing 
the tasting of these delicious port wines were some very special snacks 
prepared by David's wife, Jean. This field trip always had a "fulfilling 
and happy" ending. 

When mechanical harvesting of wine grapes was introduced, California 
State University Fresno (CSUF) played an active role in machine 
harvesting of wine grapes. One particular research endeavor was to 
evaluate mechanical damage to the grapevine, as well as determining the 
extraneous matter (material other than grapes, later to be known as MOG) 
in the machine -harvested fruit. David Ficklin learned of this CSUF 
endeavor and volunteered his Ruby Cabernet and Emerald Riesling vineyards 
for off -campus trials. About this same time, David learned of the CSUF 
field crusher (a take-off from what had been previously introduced by 
Mirassou Vineyards and Wente Bros.)- As a result of David's interest in 
new technology, the CSUF Viticulture and Enology Research Center (VERC) 
as it is known today set up trials in the Ficklin vineyards to evaluate 
1) mechanical damage to grapevines, 2) MOG, and 3) machine -harvested, 
field- crushed grapes delivered as grape must to the fermented tanks at 
the winery. Needless to say, the CSUF students of Viticulture and 
Enology gained a new and exciting experience thanks to Mr. David B. 

Today David and Jean have taken their proper place in the background 
of this prestigious winery, known worldwide for its truly fine port 
wines, and watch quietly with a great deal of pride and admiration as 
their son, Peter, carries on the responsibility as the Ficklin Vineyards 
winemaker . 

It has been my sincere honor to have been asked to write these few 
words of introduction for David. David is a soft-spoken man, whose 
mannerism is gracious and ever caring for those who associate with him. 
His generosity is evident, as each year during the CSUF Viticulture 
Alumni sponsored celebration of wine he takes the time from his busy 
schedule to personally serve his ever popular Ficklin port wines at this 
prestigious wine tasting as well as others throughout the state. 


In summary I will add that the grape and wine industry of the state 
and country owes a debt of gratitude to the Ficklins and David in 
particular for their vision in utilizing this climatic region, which is 
so wonderfully adapted to producing world class red dessert wine, which 
they have done. 

I consider David B. Ficklin as one of California's premiere 
winemakers and I am proud to be his friend. 

Vincent E. Petrucci 
Director, Viticulture & Enology 
Research Center 

July 1992 

California State University, Fresno 


INTERVIEW HISTORY- -Ficklin Vineyards 

In the history of the California wine industry, Ficklin Vineyards 
has held a unique position as producer of port made from only Portuguese 
grape varieties. David B. Ficklin was interviewed to document his role 
in the history of the winery, which dates back to 1948. His wife, Jean, 
was included in the interview, as she has been president of the winery 
and made a considerable contribution to its success. Peter Ficklin, 
present president and charged with winemaker duties since 1978, and 
Steven Ficklin, vineyardist since 1975, were also included in the 
interview sessions as important contributors. Peter is the son of David 
and Jean Ficklin, and Steven is the son of David's brother, Walter C. 
Ficklin, Jr. , who was the original vineyard manager. The interviews are 
part of the Wine Spectator California Winemen Oral History Series. 

David Ficklin, with his father Walter C. Ficklin and his brother, 
Walter C. Ficklin, Jr., established the Ficklin Vineyards in 1948 to make 
port. He acted as winemaker while his brother managed the vineyard, 
which they decided would be planted with true Portuguese grape 
varieties- -Tinta Madeira, Touriga, Tinta Cao, and Souzao. Concentrating 
on making the finest possible wine, the Ficklins have attained renown and 
respect for their port, while remaining a small family operation. 
Members of the family handle most of the duties, and Peter and Steven 
described the close and cordial relationship between them as winemaker 
and vineyardist that unifies those operations. 

The Ficklins were interviewed on January 16 and 17, 1992, in David 
and Jean's home next to the winery, and Peter took the interviewer on an 
explanatory tour of the winery itself. All four narrators reviewed the 
transcript and some minor changes were made. Jean was prompt in 
responding to requests for photographs and further information. 

This series is part of the ongoing documenting of California history 
by the Regional Oral History Office, which is under the direction of 
Willa Baum, Division Head, and under the administrative direction of The 
Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. 

Carole Hicke 
Interviewer -Editor 

May 1992 

Regional Oral History Office 

Berkeley, California 

Regional Oral History Office 
Room 486 The Bancroft Library 

University of California 
Berkeley, California 94720 


(Please write clearly. Use black ink.) 

Your full name 

Date of birth 

Father's full name / 



Mother's full name 

Your spouse 


rt Birthplace 



Your children 


Where did you grow up? 
Present community 

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Organizations in which you are active_ 




V ineyards 

Ficklin Vineyards Timeline 

1911 Walter C. Ficklin Sr. brings his family to the San Joaquin 
Valley from Illinois. 

1918 Walter C. Ficklin Sr., and wife Mame, buy land in Madera 

1930's U.C. Davis conducts field trials of Portugese grape varieties 
in San Joaquin Valley. 

1945 The Ficklin family grafts first Portuguese grape varietals onto 
their vineyard rootstock. 

1945 Walter C. Ficklin Jr. becomes vineyard manager. 
September, 1946 Ficklin Vineyards is incorporated. 

1946 David Ficklin constructs original winery building from 
hand-made adobe bricks. 

1948 David Ficklin becomes winemaker at Ficklin Vineyards. 
August, 1948 First crush at Ficklin Vineyards, 18 tons of grapes. 
August, 1949 Second crush at Ficklin Vinyards, 45 tons of grapes. 

October, 1952 Release of first Ficklin Tinta Port, with 10 retail outlets 
in California. 

1959 Release of Special Bottling #1, 1951 Touriga, bottled in 
. 1954. 

1963 Release of Special Bottling #2, Lot #5, Non-vintage Tinta 
Port, bottled in February, 1957. 

1965 Release of Special Bottling #3, 1953 Tinta Madeira, bottled 
in February, 1957. 


30246 Avenue 7 '/, 

Madera, CA 93637 


Ficklin Timeline xii 


November, 1968 Release of Special Bottling #4. 1957 Tinta Madeira, bottled 
February 26 & 27, 1960. 

1975 Walter C. Ficklin, Jr. retires and son, Steven Ficklin, assumes 
full vineyard management duties. 

March, 1978 Peter Ficklin completes enology studies at U.C. Davis and joins 
Ficklin as assistant winemaker. 

July, 1983 David B. Ficklin retires and Peter Ficklin assumes full 

winemaking duties. Jean Ficklin becomes president of Ficklin 

November, 1987 Release of Special Bottling #5, 1980 Vintage Port, bottled 
in April, 1983. 

February, 1991 Peter Ficklin appointed president of Ficklin Vineyards. He 
retains his position as winemaker as well. 

September, 1991 Release of Special Bottling #6, 1983 Vintage Port, bottled 
in May, 1987. 


[Interview 1: January 18, 1992 

David B. Flcklin 

Hicke: I'd like to ask you when and where you were born. 

D. Ficklin: I was born in Fresno, California. 

Hicke: Not too far distant. When? 

D. Ficklin: May 31, 1918. 

Hicke: Did you grow up right here in this area? 

D. Ficklin: In this general area, yes, in southern Madera County 

Walter C. Ficklin and His Ranch 

Hicke: I want to get a little bit about your early days, but first 
let's go back and get the story of the establishment of the 
winery. Can you tell me how that came about? 

1 This symbol (////) indicates that a tape or a segment of a tape has begun or 
ended. There is a guide to the tapes at the end of this document. 

D. Ficklin; 

Hicke : 

D. Ficklin 

Hicke : 

D. Ficklin; 


D. Ficklin: 


D. Ficklin: 


D. Ficklin: 

My father and my brother were both engaged in fruit growing, 
raisin growing principally, in the time period preceding World 
War II. 

Let's go back even further. 

How did your father get to 

It was about the time that he was married in 1911 that they 
came out from Illinois and settled in the Kerman [California] 
area for several years on a ranch. Then he bought property in 
Madera County. For a brief time, while they were getting 
housing on the new place in Madera, they moved to Fresno, and 
it was at that time that I was born. We came out to the 
Madera property in about a year. I've been here essentially 
most of the time since. 

What was your father going to do with the property? 

He developed it into fruits- -grapes and that type of thing. 
He was fascinated by the productivity of the land in this 
area, the climate, and all the possibilities. He planted many 
different varieties of peaches and grapes and was always 
trying something new. He would work with the agricultural 
people --the farm advisors, the people from the university, and 
so forth. I guess he planted some things that worked out 
successfully financially. He really had a lot of interest and 
curiosity about agriculture. 

Had he been farming before? Did he grow up on a farm? 

No, he didn't. He grew up in a small town in Illinois. 
Before he was married he tried homesteading in North Dakota 
for several years, and that didn't suit him. I guess it was 
quite a struggle in that area. He had always had a dream 
to- -can you see the hawk out there? [points out window] 

Oh, yes, I can! 

Anyhow, he always had a dream to come to California. He had 
his chance when he was married, and that's what happened. 

He just picked up stakes and came out here, not sure what he 
was going to do? 

Oh, he was pretty certain that he wanted to farm. It is 
rather curious that the name of the community, Kerman, is a 
contraction of two names, Kerchoff and Mansar. Those families 

are distant cousins, and I think that's probably the reason he 
settled in that particular area originally. The soil there 
was apparently more alkaline; it wasn't very good farm land at 
that time. They've done a lot of work with gypsum and 
different types of soil renovation, so now they can grow 
cotton and a lot of crops that weren't possible in those days. 

Hicke: It takes a while to grow peaches and some of those things, 
doesn't it? 

D. Ficklin: That's true, so it must have been rather a slow start for him. 
And of course he didn't put it all in at once. He had a 160- 
acre parcel at that time, and he didn't develop it all at once 
by any means . 

Hicke: Did he have to go to the bank and get a loan? 

D. Ficklin: Yes, that's right. 

Hicke: Was it the Bank of America? 

D. Ficklin: Let me think. I believe it was; it used to be Bank of Italy. 

Hicke: I ask that because I know they had offices in various places, 
and they also were interested in promoting agriculture. 

D. Ficklin: Yes, I recall that, too. 

David's Childhood 


So you grew up on the ranch? 

D. Ficklin: That's right. In the summers we would work in the fruits, 

drying apricots, peaches, and that type of thing. We'd work 
in the vineyards trying to control leaf-hopper and dusting 
with sulfur for mildew. It was mostly hand labor in those 
days'. [laughs] 


And probably a lot of yours . 

D. Ficklin: I did put in quite a bit of time. We would get paid something 
like ten cents an hour. 


Did you go to school around here? 

D. Ficklin: Yes, I went to the neighborhood school, Eastin Grammar School, 
which I started attending when I was six years old; that was 
in 1924. We used to walk a mile to get to school and a mile 
to get home. I'll never forget the first day I attended. 
Everybody lined up outside in front so we could salute the 
flag. Above the door was a sign, "Eastin School," and then it 
had the date, "1919." I looked at that, and I thought, "Gee, 
that's a long time ago." [laughs] It's all relative, isn't 

I went through the first eight grades there, and I had 
some very fine teachers. One in particular, Mrs. Fender, was 
an outstanding and dedicated teacher. Then I spent four years 
being bussed to the high school in Madera. At that time I was 
interested in the sciences and mathematics primarily. 

More About the Ranch 


Let's go back to some of the things your father was growing. 
I know he was in the raisin association [California Associated 
Raisin Company, forerunner to Sun-Maid Raisin Association]. 

D. Ficklin: Yes, he helped in the founding of that, as I remember. 


What was the purpose of that organization? 

D. Ficklin: It was sort of a cooperative processing and marketing idea 
instead of independent packers, whom the growers felt had a 
tendency to more or less arbitrarily set a price to the farmer 
which was to the advantage of the packer, really. It was 
quite a big problem to get participation in that organization 
originally because there were just an awful lot of stubborn, 
independent thinkers out there in that farming community. But 
apparently they put it together, and of course it has grown 
and is still going. It's a little difficult to say just how 
successful they have been, but certainly the growers have 
gotten very favorable returns, I would say. So from that 
point of view, I think you could say it was successful. 


What were the problems in getting some of these independent 
growers to join- -getting them to agree on the prices or the 

D. Ficklin: 


D. Ficklin: 


D. Ficklin: 


D. Ficklin 


D. Ficklin: 


D. Ficklin: 


D. Ficklin: 

No, just to join and become a member and to be committed that 
way. Also, they couldn't be paid in a lump sum; they were 
paid in payments as the raisins were sold at market. So it 
meant that to get going initially in that organization, it 
created somewhat of a hardship financially for some of them. 
I'm not a real expert on all of the aspects of the Sun-Maid, 
but that's my general understanding of it. We are members; we 
have a little parcel or block of raisin varieties, too. 

So you're still growing raisins? 

Yes. I'm not involved in the farming part; it's leased to my 

Whom did the raisin association market to? 
involved in that? 

Was your father 

I'm not aware that he was. I think they hired professional 
people for that purpose. They didn't have chain stores in 
those days. There were also export markets, perhaps wholesale 
brokers in the East, and of course bakeries. I'm not certain 
how they handled it. 

I notice that he grew currants also. 

The real name for those is Zante currants, and there's another 
name, Black Corinth. 

Was that a big crop? 

It depends on what period you're talking about. At the height 
of the Depression, nothing was really that great. In recent 
years it certainly has been profitable. 

And he grew peaches? 

Yes, several kinds of peaches, including the Freestones, which 
were used for drying, and some Clings that were intended for 

Was there a cannery nearby? 

Not in Madera. They had to be trucked up to the Turlock or 
Stockton area to the Libby plant, as I recall. During the 
Depression early in the thirties, the market for the canning 
peaches just collapsed totally. My father ended up fencing 


off the orchard and putting hogs in there, just letting the 
fruit drop. It wasn't easy. 

He made a successful living out of the ranch? 

D. Ficklin: He kept food on the table. In the mid- thirties , when he went 
to the bank to finance the next year's crop, the bank finally 
said no. So he gave up the place and moved the family to 
another parcel he had. 

Hicke: Was that also a ranch? 

D. Ficklin: Yes, it was practically all vineyard. 

Hicke: So the grapes were still selling? 

D. Ficklin: Yes. That's where Sun-Maid came in. There wasn't big money 
in it, but it would keep him alive. 

David's Grandparents 


Let's go way back and pick up some notes about your 
grandparents . 

D. Ficklin: While I think of it, I might just mention that our family of 
Ficklins is descended from a William Ficklin who came over 
from England to the United States in the 1720s. We have a 
complete record of that, but we've never been able to get any 
information about his family in England. 


Do you know what part of England he came from? 

D. Ficklin: Suffolk, very possibly. There are a lot of Ficklins there 

now. As a matter of fact, we had a young man by the name of 
Ficklin visit us last September and October for about a month 
He came over, and we showed him around California as much as 
we could. It was very interesting to get to know him. 


Did he think you were a long lost relative? 

D. Ficklin: I think it is very possible, yes. [laughs] 

Getting back to my grandparents, on my father's side my 
grandfather was Alfred Colquitt Ficklin, and my grandmother's 

maiden name was Emma Weiss. I never knew my grandfather 
Ficklin; he died before I was born. But I did know my 
grandmother quite well. 

Hicke: Did she live here? 

D. Ficklin: Yes, she came out here from the Midwest in the twenties, and 
she lived in Pasadena for quite a few years. When my uncle 
Otto retired, my father's brother, they moved to Beverly 
Hills. I stayed there, too, part of the time when I was at 
UCLA [University of California at Los Angeles]. 

On my mother's side, my grandfather was Dr. George Canby 
Lewis. His wife was Ella Beach. My middle name comes from 
the Beach family. They lived in Fairbury, Illinois, which is 
near Bloomington and Pontiac. 

Hicke: How did they get out to California? 
D. Ficklin: My grandfather never did. 
Hicke: Did you go back there? 

D. Ficklin: That's right. When I was talking earlier about my growing up, 
I wonder if I didn't dwell too much on the Depression and the 
hard times, because it wasn't all like that. We had some 
wonderful trips back to see my Lewis grandfather. I remember 
in the late twenties when we all went by train. We were in 
Pullman cars, and of course I slept in an upper berth and the 
whole bit. It was really quite a thrill. Coming back we 
detoured and went down to New Orleans . 

In the thirties we had several automobile trips. The 
first one of those was about 1932, when we took what was 
called Route 66, going through the southern states and up into 
Illinois. In those days it wasn't all paved, especially in 
places like New Mexico; it was just graded dirt. When it 
would rain, the clay soil was just terrible. The car would 
get stuck, and we'd have to push. It was quite an adventure. 
We would stop and see all the national parks between here and 
there. We really had some nice experiences in those days. 

Hicke: Your father traveled around the world, didn't he? 

D. Ficklin: Oh, my word, yes --both he and his brother, but they didn't go 
together. [laughs] On a couple of occasions they would both 
be in, say, Switzerland, but they would be so busy doing their 

own thing that they couldn't get together. My father had some 
especially nice trips, such as in France in the wine country, 
where he would be with friends , and they would rent an 
automobile and be on their own; it wouldn't be a conducted 
tour. He was very enthusiastic about travel. 

Education and Schools 

Hicke: So you were growing up in the Depression years. 

D. Ficklin: That's correct, in my high school years particularly. 

Hicke: What was it like here? 

D. Ficklin: Rather discouraging. At that time I couldn't see any future 
in farming, and I wasn't interested in it. My older brother 
studied agriculture in high school and took it up afterward. 
He's retired now, but he kept at it all his life. 

Hicke: He studied agriculture in high school? 

D. Ficklin: Oh, yes. 

Hicke: What kind of agriculture courses did you have in high school? 

D. Ficklin: I can't tell you exactly, because I wasn't in them. 

Hicke: You were in another course? You could choose agriculture or-- 

D. Ficklin: To a certain extent. There were a lot of required courses, of 
course. In my case, I took four years of mathematics, because 
I kind of liked that, and I guess I took three years of 
science for the same reason. We also had English, history, 
and so forth, that everybody took. 

Hicke: Instead of math and science, your brother was taking 

D. Ficklin: Yes. 

Hicke: What did you decide to do after high school? 

D. Ficklin: I enrolled at UCLA as a chemistry undergraduate, but I didn't 
complete everything there. For a couple of years or so I was 

able to get a job with the telephone company back in the 
Midwest in Tulsa, Oklahoma. 1 started out as a draftsman, and 
then I worked as a central office switchman, which had to do 
with the dial phone -connect ing equipment in the central 

Military Service 

Hicke: You left UCLA after a couple of years and took this job? 

About what year are we in now? Was this still before the war 
[World War II]? 

D. Ficklin: Yes. As a matter of fact, in March of 1941 I was drafted and 
went into the service in the field artillery at Fort Sill. 

Hicke: You were drafted out of this job with the telephone company? 

D. Ficklin: Yes. I started out as a private draftee, and I ended up 

spending four and a half years in the service in the army. 

Hicke: Where were you stationed? 

D. Ficklin: Various places. After a year or so in the field artillery at 
Fort Sill, I was transferred to the signal corps and went to 
Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. After attending school there, for 
a time I was an instructor in telephone repair and that kind 
of thing. I finally decided to go to officer candidate 
school, so then I was commissioned probably in the summer of 
'42. From there I was sent across the country to Spokane, 

Hicke: What did you do there? 

D. Ficklin: I was in radio repair, in charge of a shop for aircraft radios 
that needed repairing. The shop had civil service employees. 
After perhaps a year there I went overseas, first to England. 
I was assigned to a signal corps detachment that was providing 
communications in the way of telephone cables for the air 
bases and that kind of thing. It was a matter of working with 
the English telephone company, because it was tying into their 
equipment as well as into the American equipment at the 
airfields. It was one of the early attempts for direct burial 
of telephone cables; at least the English hadn't been using 
that technique. It was a matter of overseeing the operation 


Hicke : 

D. Ficklin: 


D. Ficklin: 


to see that the cable was buried at the proper depth, that 
nothing in the way of damage would occur, and then to do the 
proper backfill. 

Where in England were you working? 

It was north of London in the general area of Ipswich. 
Ipswich had a lot of American army air corps. We were working 
with the Eighth Air Force at that time --the strategic air 
force. As things were getting ready for the invasion of the 
continent, they were forming the Ninth Air Force, which was a 
tactical type of operation. I went to southeastern England 
where they were organizing these new fighter groups. When the 
invasion came, our unit went over rather soon after the 
initial wave. We weren't involved in the initial wave, but we 
did go onto Omaha Beach. 

Then were you in France for a while? 

Yes. We were somewhat behind the lines. When we first 
arrived, it was just like sardines squeezed into that little 
area they had. Fortunately, the Germans at that time didn't 
have too much left in the way of aircraft, but they still had 
their artillery. Their artillery actually outperformed ours; 
those 88 -millimeter , high-velocity shells kept pounding every 

They did a lot of damage? 

D. Ficklin: Our ammo [ammunition] dump went up one time, and there were 
quite a lot of fireworks there. 



Studying Enology 

Hicke: After the war, what did you decide to do? 

D. Ficklin: For a brief time I returned to the telephone company. We 
considered the possibility of starting a winery. 

Hicke: You and your brother? 

D. Ficklin: Yes, and my father. I think it really was a dream of my 

father, first of all. He had educated himself about wines and 
was fascinated. He had visited about every winery in the 
state by that time, so he had a lot of acquaintances in the 
wine business. 

We were able to finalize some plans, and we officially 
incorporated in September 1946. 

Hicke: Were you bonded at that time? 

D. Ficklin: No, we weren't bonded, because we had no premises. I went to 
Davis and spent a year up there in enology and then came back, 
made the adobe bricks, and built the original building. 

Hicke: You incorporated in '46, and then you went back to Davis after 

D. Ficklin: I think that was about the time I was already enrolled. I 
started in the fall of '46. 



Hicke: You said your previous work in chemistry was a big help? 

D. Ficklin: Yes, indeed, it surely was. It helped me immensely. I had a 
good understanding of the basics. [Dr. Maynard A.] Amerine 
didn't mind tossing us terms of the chemicals- - 
hydroximethylfurfural and many others. 

Hicke: What courses did you take? 

D. Ficklin: Oh, gosh. It was primarily enology and that type of thing. I 
forget the precise names. The other course I took was 
bacteriology. That's one area where I was having trouble, 
because in high school I had never even taken biology. I had 
to do a lot of extra studying, but I finally put it together 
and got through in good shape . When I first started I had no 
idea what they were talking about. 

Hicke: What were your impressions of Dr. Amerine? 

D. Ficklin: Oh, absolutely tremendous. It was a wonderful course. He 
simplified things and led us by the hand on tastinghow to 
taste from just simple solutions of maybe sugar and water in 
different amounts. You were supposed to be able to find out 
what your threshold was for determining different degrees of 
sweetness. There would be other constituents that he would do 
the same thing with, like acids such as tartaric acid. Then 
he would start in with some of the aromas that develop your 
awareness of what to look for, such as the acetic acid, the 
vinegar component of wine- -different levels of that in wine 
tastings. You were supposed to rank them and find out just 
how far down in dilution you could pick it up. 

Then we got into actual wines themselves and evaluating 
them. He'd go over them and tell us what he was experiencing, 
and then he'd have a different sample and call on us to give 
our views . 

Hicke: Is developing your palate and sense of smell something you 
could learn fairly quickly? 

D. Ficklin: An older person would have more trouble, of course, but a 

young person who applied himself I think could learn an awful 
lot, yes. This was the sort of thing we were doing on a 
regular basis; it wasn't just a hit or miss type of thing. 


So that's how we learned about wines. Then we had actual 
hands-on experience with crushing grapes, fermenting, and that 
type of thing, and then analysis afterward. It was really 
quite an experience. 

Hicke: You worked with Dr. [Albert J.] Winkler also? 

D. Ficklin: Yes. Oh, my, that was a privilege, too. His knowledge and 

expertise in the area of viticulture- -well, there are none any 
better than he, I can tell you that. The other person who was 
quite neat was Dr. [James F. ] Jim Guynon. He was in 
distillation. In the case of ports, for example, we had 
brandy, and the quality of the brandy is very important, 
obviously. He was teaching analysis and some of the 
constituents and tasting also, which is very difficult because 
of high- alcohol content. 

Hicke: The tasting is more difficult with high-alcohol content? 
D. Ficklin: Yes, judging of spirits like that is more of a challenge. 

Choosine Port and Portuguese Grape Varieties 

Hicke: Had you already decided on port? 

D. Ficklin: Yes. I was up there studying, and my brother was getting the 
first early vines planted, which are right out here 
[ indicates] . 

Hicke: How did you and your family decide on port? 

D. Ficklin: I guess initially my brother and my father contacted the 
university at Davis and were finding out what the 
possibilities were of doing something with wine grapes in this 
area. Their suggestion was to look at dessert wines because 
of the hot summers. They showed us quite a few samples of 
ports, among other things --but primarily ports --that they had 
produced in their experimental vineyards up there at Davis, 
particularly from Portuguese varieties. 

Hicke: Who was your contact at Davis? 

D. Ficklin: Winkler and Amerine were the principal ones. That was so 

neat. They must have had, oh, thirty or forty different port 


wines there to sample at various times. It was a matter of 
talking with them, tasting, and making a decision. Out of 
that initially we picked out four varieties. We have three of 
them remaining [Tinta Madeira, Tinta Cao, Touriga] ; the fourth 
one, Alvarelhao, developed a virus in the vineyard, and we had 
to remove it. 

Hicke: Did you ever consider anything other than port varieties? 

D. Ficklin: We did experiment a little bit with a couple of Dr. [Harold 
P.] Olmo's hybrids, the Ruby Cabernet and the Emerald 
Riesling, to produce table wines. We did have reasonably good 
success, but we never really made an effort to distribute it. 
We didn't make it in that big a quantity; we just depended 
mostly on friends and neighbors who would come and want to buy 
it. There again, I think the same virus that took out the 
Alvarelhao got into these two varieties also, and they went 
downhill very quickly. That really took us out of the table 
wine aspect of it. I think initially Peter wanted to continue 
it, but the problem was that you couldn't make good wine out 
of the fruit. 

Hicke: To go back to your choosing the Portuguese varieties- -the 
grapes had been brought over to the University? 

D. Ficklin: Yes. Back in the thirties, after the repeal of Prohibition, I 
guess Amerine and the enology people at the University were 
rather appalled by some of the dessert wines that were being 
made in California and were searching for ways for 
improvement. They were looking at all types of wine, I guess. 
One of the things they did was to go over to the principal 
wine -growing regions of Europe, searching out varieties and 
finding out what was going on over there, including going to 
Portugal. So they obtained cuttings from some of the 
promising varieties, brought them back, and used them to 
establish experimental plantings at Davis. 

Hicke: How did you settle on the varieties that you chose? 

D. Ficklin: It was a matter of the three of us going up to Davis and 

sitting down with Amerine in particular and Winkler, trying 
these different samples of wine that they had made, talking it 
over, and looking at the composition of the wines --the 
acidity, color, stability, and that type of thing. We finally 
settled on the four that I mentioned. 


Hicke: So you chose them on the basis of the wines that they made; 
others would have done well in this climate, but you liked 
these wines? 

D. Ficklin: Yes. Hopefully we selected some of the better of the 
Portuguese varieties. 

Hicke: Clearly you did. [laughter] 

D. Ficklin: That's what we were trying to do. 

Hicke: So you knew what the wines were going to come out like, in 
some sense? 

D. Ficklin: Yes, we had some idea of their basic character. 
Hicke: All right. You attended Davis in '46-- 

D. Ficklin: Yes, I enrolled in the fall of '46 and spent one year there. 

Then I came home, and of course we were getting anxious to get 
started with things here. 

Building the Vinery 


D. Ficklin: 

Your brother had already been planting? 
three times] 

[cuckoo clock chimes 


I'm trying to think of exactly when he started. It might have 
been in the spring of '46. Anyhow, in 1947 I came home in 
June, and immediately I and a hired man started making adobe 
bricks . We found an area at the back of what was then my 
father's home where the soil had a nice combination of clay 
and sand composition. Incidentally, I used the UC Extension 
bulletin on making adobe bricks. [laughter] That was the 
easy part to read the bulletin! We had an old cement mixer, 
and we'd put some water in there. Then we put a waterproofing 
agent, which is an emulsified asphalt, in with the water. 
Then we started shoveling dirt in there and let it mix. We 
had a little wooden frame that would make, I think, two adobe 
bricks . 

How big were the bricks? 


D. Ficklin: They were four inches thick, twelve inches wide, and sixteen 
or eighteen inches long. They weighed about fifty pounds 
apiece. [laughs] 

Hicke: How did you know you had the right soil? 

D. Ficklin: That isn't difficult. You can take a jar of water and put a 

sample of the soil in there, shake it, and the sand will go to 
the bottom right away. Then there will be intermediate 
levels, and the clay will be the last to settle out. You end 
up with strata there. 

Hicke: Did this bulletin tell you what was the right combination of 
sand and clay? 

D. Ficklin: Yes. As I said, the mold for the bricks would do two of them. 
You were supposed to mix up the adobe material so that it was 
fairly stiff so that you could lift this mold off right away 
and it wouldn't slump that much; it would hold its position. 

Hicke: How many of those could you make in a day? 

D. Ficklin: A couple hundred of them. [laughs] After maybe a week of 

drying, we'd have to go along and tip them up on edge so that 
the underside would dry, as it was in contact with the ground. 
Of course, this was in the summertime. 

Hicke: Yes, the heat [helped]. 

D. Ficklin: That was the summer of '47. 

Hicke: Who designed the winery? 

D. Ficklin: I was basically responsible for that. I had had a short 

course up there [at Davis] on farm structures, as I recall. 
It gave me some basic understanding of what I was supposed to 
be doing and how to go about it. Then I talked to the 
instructor and showed him some plans that I had been 
developing. He made some very constructive suggestions, which 
I followed, and off we went. We must have started in the fall 
of '47, and we finished it just barely in time for the first 
crush in 1948. 

Not only did we have to finish the building, but we had 
to get all our permits --the bonding and authorization from the 
Bureau of Alcohol and Tax, which is now the Bureau of Alcohol, 
Tobacco , and Firearms . 


Hicke : That was a federal agency? 

D. Ficklin: Yes. I remember that before we finalized the plans I got the 
federal regulations on construction and waded through all of 
that. It wasn't clear to me whether something like adobe 
bricks would qualify as security protecting the revenue in the 
eyes of the bureau, so I went up to San Francisco one time to 
the bureau office to ask them about that. It was a typical 
bureaucratic operation up there, and they chastised me for not 
going to Fresno; I got nothing out of them. 

So I came back to Fresno; they hemmed and hawed about it 
and never gave me a direct answer. I finally decided to go 

Hicke: How did you do the electricity and the plumbing? 

D. Ficklin: That's another thing that I had a little bit of knowledge 
about . 

Hicke: You had done a lot of work with electricity. 

D. Ficklin: Somewhat, yes. I knew how to make the circuits work and that 
type of thing, and I knew enough about plumbing to put in the 
drain lines. 

Hicke: Everything you had done came in handy, didn't it? So you had 
the winery built by the fall of '48. Who helped you build the 

D. Ficklin: A couple of the ranch employees. 

Hicke: Were they already working for your father? 

D. Ficklin: Yes actually for my brother, because he was handling all the 
farming at that time. 

The Vineyards 


There was more farming than just the vineyards? He was doing 
the other ranching as well? 

D. Ficklin: The raisin varieties , yes. 


Hicke: By that time there were no more peaches and so forth? 

D. Ficklin: No. That had been on the original property. 

Hicke: So you had just grapes on this property? 

D. Ficklin: Correct. 

The First Crush in 1948 

Hicke: What was it like to get the grapes in that first year? 

D. Ficklin: The grapes were all picked in fifty-pound wooden boxes in 
those days. Since we didn't have any refrigeration for 
fermentation, we put the boxes of grapes under the vines when 
they were picked and left them overnight, because the 
nighttime temperatures are down in the sixties. That was some 
free cooling. And then we started crushing promptly the next 
morning. I don't know whether you've heard mention of how the 
crusher ran backwards . 

Hicke: No, I haven't. Tell me the story. 

D. Ficklin: It was a big occasion for the family, so they all gathered 

over here to see the crusher get started. We had the machine 
running, and one of the workmen put the first box in, and 
whoosh, it all came back in his face. [laughs] He didn't see 
any humor in it. 

Hicke: The crusher was turning backwards? 

D. Ficklin: Yes. That was a little electrical problem, and I solved it. 

Hicke : Could you fix it there on the spot? 

D. Ficklin: Yes, -right away. Then we crushed the first lot of grapes 

(eighteen tons). We had one fermenter, which at that time was 
wooden with an open top and held maybe fifteen hundred 
gallons. Everything was fine; we got the yeast in there, and 
it was fermenting. We were punching the cap and doing 
everything we were supposed to do, but when it came time to 
draw the wine out and do the wine spirits and so forth, 
nothing would come out of the valve. Nothing. There was 

Getting Started 

Right: putting in trellis wire. 
Two employees and a mule, 1948. 

Lower left: bringing in the 
grapes for the crush, ca 1949. 

Lower right: An employee helps to 
build the adobe brick winery, 


nothing to do except to bucket that wine out, bucket by 
bucket. [laughs] The problem turned out to be that the 
valves were just too small. By going to the next larger size 
valve, why, we solved that problem. I learned that the hard 



What kind of a crusher did you have, and how did you decide on 


D. Ficklin: It was a used crusher. Martin Ray, in the Santa Cruz 

mountains, had been making table wines- -premium Cabernets and 
that type of thing- -and he had had this crusher built for him 
some years earlier, I guess before World War II. For some 
reason he decided to sell out his business, so that crusher 
became available as a used piece of equipment. I had heard 
Amerine mention this crusher, because it was all stainless 
steel, and there weren't many built of stainless in those 
days. When I heard it was for sale, I immediately followed up 
on it and purchased it. It did a reasonably good job for that 
time. We still have it, as a matter of fact, but it's been 
remodeled a couple of times; we've reworked it and improved 

Hicke: It's the same one you started with? 

D. Ficklin: Yes. We've got some antique equipment over there that I can 
show you. [laughs] That's another thing- -the original wine 
press we are still using. It's been changed some, but the 
mechanical part of it- -the hydraulic cylinder for pressing- - 
was a used piece of equipment from a cotton gin for 
compressing cotton. It does the job for us. You'll see it 
tomorrow when you're over there. 

Hicke: Did you get it from someplace around here? 

D. Ficklin: Yes, one of the cotton gins over in the Kerman area, I think 
it was. Then the basket and the tub part came from what used 
to be the Healdsburg Machine Shop, which did a lot for the 
wineries up in that area. 

We needed several pumps, such as a pump to transfer the 
crushed grapes from the crusher to the fermenter, and wine 


pumps and so forth. Right about the time we were ready, 
probably early in '48, this large winery in Los Angeles went 
out of business and had a big auction. We bought quite a 
number of things at quite a saving for us, really. We still 
have most of it, I think. 

Hicke: How did you hear about these pieces of equipment? 

D. Ficklin: That auction we read about in the Wine Institute Bulletin that 
all the members get. They have a "for sale" and "wanted" 

Hicke: You had joined the Wine Institute immediately? 
D. Ficklin: Yes, we did. I'm not sure which year we joined. 


[Jean Ficklin joins the interview session] 

Hicke: You were saying that the equipment was pretty primitive. 
J. Ficklin: It wasn't only primitive, it was self -engineered. 
D. Ficklin: That's right, so to speak. 
Hicke: Tell me about that. 

D. Ficklin: For example, I think it was in the seventies that we did the 

most recent modification of our crushing setup. We completely 
redesigned the dumping system. We had discontinued picking in 
boxes earlier, and we had a rather crude method of dumping our 
little gondolas into the crushing equipment. So that was all 
redone, including a much better-designed dumping arrangement, 
and we've been using it successfully ever since. 

Hicke: What did you have to start with in the way of dumping? 

D. Ficklin: It was sort of a homemade thing that just barely got the tubs 
up, and then you had to tug around to invert them and make the 
fruit fall into the hopper. Under this system, that part is 
all automatic. 

Hicke: What about corking? 

D. Ficklin: Originally we started with a hand-corker that you operate with 
a lever. 



You're kidding! 

D. Ficklin: No, that was the way to do it in those days. 
Hicke: My husband brews beer, so I know about that. 

D. Ficklin: Well, we didn't have an awful lot of bottles in those days. A 
number of years later a used power corker became available, 
and I bought it. It's been worked over a number of times, and 
that's what we're using today. It's still one bottle at a 
time. The girl on the bottling line takes an empty bottle out 
of the carton and puts it on the filling machine. Then she 
takes a full bottle from the filling machine and puts it in 
the corking machine. The second girl drives the cork, takes 
the corked bottle, and puts it into the carton. It gets the 
job done. 

Hicke: How many bottles did you have the first year? Do you recall? 
D. Ficklin: I should have looked that up. Maybe Jean will remember. 1 



D. Ficklin 


What did you do with the wine the first year? 

Now we're getting into marketing. Of course, nobody had ever 
heard of us; we were brand-new. This is where my father came 
in. He was a natural-born salesman, you might say, and he had 
become acquainted, for example, with the wine manager of 
Verdier's Cellars, which was in the City of Paris [department 
store] in San Francisco, plus locally in Madera and Fresno and 
I think a couple down south. The Balzers were one of them, 
and Lord's & Elwood. There, too, Jean can give you more 
details, because she was doing the bills of lading. 

"That's essentially how we started out. 
Are these distributors? 

1 Early articles indicate the first crush was eighteen tons of grapes; 150 
cases of Tinta Port were bottled. 


D. Ficklin: No, they're all retailers. Initially we shipped direct to the 

Hicke: Was there any such thing as wine writers? 

D. Ficklin: Yes, and we began getting very favorable reviews of what we 
were doing. That built gradually. 

J. Ficklin: John Melville. 

Hicke: Was he a writer? 

D. Ficklin: Yes. And I guess Bob Balzer himself--. 

J. Ficklin: Yes, with his newspaper. And, of course, Leon Adams- - [brings 
out Adams' book, Guide to California Wines 1. 

Hicke: When was that published? 

D. Ficklin: About mid-fifties. 

Hicke: Fifty- five. 

D. Ficklin: That was a good guess, wasn't it? [laughs] 

J. Ficklin: And John Storm. 


Hicke: Did you blend the varieties? 

D. Ficklin: Yes. We used what is technically called a fractional blending 
system. It's similar to a Solera- type of aging, whereby you 
have a block of wine barrels that represent your product. 
When you bottle, you take out just a small portion from each 
container and collect that for bottling. Previously you have 
put together a blend of younger wines that was used to go 
around and refill all of these containers; so it's a sort of a 
perpetual aging system. Theoretically there would be some of 
the very first wine that you ever made within that system, but 
it would be infinitesimal, of course. We like to think that 
the younger wines going into it add a freshness and a 
fruitiness. The older stock wine has the finesse, the age 


character, and it's a matter of getting a pleasing combination 
of those. 

Hicke: How do you go about getting that combination? 

D. Ficklin: As I say, in the aging process. The nature of fractional 
blending accomplishes that for us. 

Hicke: Every year do you use the same fractions, or do you have 
different ideas? 

D. Ficklin: We can vary the composition of the younger vine going in if we 
choose to, and I think perhaps my son has been doing a little 
bit of that for the past several years, but I don't think he's 
made any drastic changes. 

Hicke: When you were doing the winemaking, you established the 

general idea for the blending, and then you didn't have to 
change it from year to year? 

D. Ficklin: No, not really. After a few years we gradually built up a 

pretty good stock of aged wines that we could choose from to 
put together this initial blend in whatever available tank 
there was. After the bottling had been removed from this 
block of barrels, the cellar man would go around and refill 
each one. If you are thinking of a fifty-gallon container, 
ten or twelve gallons might be withdrawn each time. 

Hicke: Can you talk a little bit about the difference between the 
blended port and vintage port? What are the differences in 
the goals and so forth? 

D. Ficklin: What we would call our regular port, or Tinta Port or blended 
port, will certainly improve with aging in the bottle, but I 
think it's basically meant to be used at a younger age. The 
nature of the vintage port- -the tannins and such in it- -call 
for longer aging to really develop and acquire bottle age. 
It's rather curious. We still have a little bit of the very 
first ports that we made in 1948. I haven't tasted it 
recently, but the last time I tasted it, the bouquet was just 
magnificent; it just came up in the glass. There's no way you 
can imitate something like that; it's just time and nature. 

Hicke: Have you ever made vintage port? 

D. Ficklin: Yes. The last one that I bottled was the vintage of 1957. 
Incidentally, we kept some of that back, and just this last 


Christmas Peter released about a hundred cases of that. Of 
course, it sold for a very nice premium. 

Hicke: Does it keep getting better and better? 

D. Ficklin: Oh, yes. 

Hicke: When will it peak, if ever? 

D. Ficklin: He had to recork, because the original corks were starting to 
deteriorate. I wouldn't ask it to go many more years. You 
could, for curiosity's sake, but as far as improving- -that's 
thirty- odd years old. If you want it at its best, I think 
it's real close to that right now. 

Hicke: So about thirty- five years? 

D. Ficklin: Yes. That's relative; it depends on how it has been stored 
and all of that. 

Hicke: Is it true that when you're starting a winery, you really 
can't afford to make wine that requires a lot of aging, 
because it would take so long before you could sell it? 

D. Ficklin: What a number of the vintners are doing now is vintage -dating 
certain bottlings and then letting the customer do the aging 
in the bottle. That way they can sell it at a more modest 
price . 

Hicke: The customer can get a port at a reasonable price and save it. 
It would be very expensive if you waited and bought it thirty 
years later. 

D. Ficklin: You can think of how much money and time we have tied up in 
that '57 vintage. 

Hicke : Do the grapes change from year to year so that you have to 
take that into consideration? 

D. Ficklin: There is some variation, yes. Some years everything goes just 
right, and that's what Peter watches for. He's been bottling 
several vintages on that basis. For example, if you get an 
extremely hot spell right at harvest time, that is a pretty 
severe condition, and you have to get right in there and 
harvest. Our vintages were relatively short anyway, and when 
we start crushing, we just keep going until it's all taken 
care of. 


Viticulture: Soil. Rootstocks . and Disease 


D. Ficklin 


D. Ficklin: 


D. Ficklin 


D. Ficklin; 


D. Ficklin; 


D. Ficklin: 

Could you tell me a little bit about the soil and how that 
affected your choices? 

It's a curious thing. This valley has compacted clay, and 
here it's about three to four feet below the surface, which 
sort of acts as a seal for moisture- -irrigation and so forth. 
The vine roots will grow down to where that clay is, and the 
irrigation water goes down there, too. The irrigation water 
doesn't continue percolating down and down indefinitely, so 
that's beneficial in conserving water, you might say. The 
soil itself above that is in this area a sandy loam, which the 
vines seem to like. It promotes vigorous foliage growth for 
protecting the fruit from sunburn. We get good sugar, 
favorable acid and pH; so we're pleased with the way the vines 

Is it similar to the soil in Portugal where port is grown? 

My father did all the traveling over there- -around the world, 
as a matter of fact. I think it is not identical. I think 
they have more of a rocky condition where their vines are 
growing. They don't get the abundant foliage, for example, 
that we experience. 

Did you do a soil study before you chose your varieties? 

We didn't do the soil study ourselves; the soil conservation 
people mapped it out. 

I have down here that you made 150 cases in the first lot. 
Would that be about right? 

That's possibly true. I saw that, and I wanted to check it. 
You'll have a chance to check that with Jean. 

It was called Tinta Port? 

That's right. That's still our main label. 

Essentially. We had corrected the problems with the 
fermenter; of course, we did that for the second batch in '48. 


Let's see, somewhere along in there we got more fermenting 
capacity, I remember. I'm not sure whether that was '49 or 
'59. Basically, yes, we continued on, because we were pleased 
with our first year's wines. We had more grapes as the vines 
got a little further along in development. 

Hicke: Your brother continued planting, apparently. 

D. Ficklin: Yes. 

Hicke: How long did it take to get it all planted? 

D. Ficklin: Oh, I would guess he spent three years or so. That's my 

Hicke: Did he have any major problems with pests or disease? 

D. Ficklin: Early he didn't, but later on they began showing up. It ended 
up to be quite an expensive proposition to straighten it out. 

Hicke: What were the problems? 

D. Ficklin: There was the fan leaf --a virus type of thing that wasn't 

picked up by the people at Davis. If they had known about it, 
they would never have sent wood from those vines out at all. 

Hicke: It came on the vines? 

D. Ficklin: Yes, on the scion wood. The vines are planted on a rootstock 
that is resistant to nematode , and then they were grafted 
using scion wood from the port varieties that you want to 

Hicke: This pest was actually on the cuttings that you got from the 

D. Ficklin: Yes, and eventually we just had to abandon those varieties -- 
pull them out. It involved the soil, too, and they didn't 
know what to do about cleaning up the soil originally. My 
brother was working with the University on that, too, and I 
think they finally came up with some kind of treatment that 
would rid the soil of the problem. It was quite a setback for 
my brother. 


When did this take place? 


D. Ficklin: In the sixties and seventies. 

Hicke: So it took a while for this to appear? 

D. Ficklin: Yes, that's right. It went downhill rather gradually. My 
brother knew something was wrong, but he didn't find out 
immediately what it was. 


Did it affect other varieties besides the Alvarelhao? 

D. Ficklin: It got into the Ruby Cabernet and the Emerald Riesling later 

More on Marketing and Packaging 


D. Ficklin: 

Hicke: How did you decide what price to sell your wine at? 

D. Ficklin: I guess we looked at our costs, but even that wasn't too good 
because our volume was so low. We also considered what would 
be reasonable in the marketplace , looked at other wines and 
how they were priced, and tried to fit in. We didn't want to 
go too high. We could look at the imports and different wines 
that we thought we would market with. 

There weren't any other California ports made from Portuguese 
varieties, were there? 

L. K. Marshall up at Lodi had a planting of Tinta Madeira, I 
think. I think originally they were using it with other 
varieties, but at some point they did produce some of that 
variety solely. It wasn't anything that was promoted that 
much in the marketplace. That's the earliest one I can think 

Hicke: So you really had a unique product? 
D. Ficklin: Essentially, yes. 

Hicke: Did you have to differentiate it from other wines that had 
been called ports but really weren't? 

D. Ficklin: Are you thinking in terms of the inexpensive ones? 
Hicke: Yes, the ones that really were just sweet wines. 


D. Ficklin: Our label, our packaging, and our price would be a clue to 
customers. We were trying to get the word out the best we 
could. We had a little brochure that we had prepared that 
told about our operation and how it worked, and we had another 
folder that had suggestions for serving it and that type of 
thing. That's the way we went about that. 

Hicke: Who did those and the label and packaging? 

D. Ficklin: [laughs] It was all our own effort. I sketched out two or 
three ideas for labels, and we finally settled on one of 
those. Then I went up to the old Grabhorn Press. The 
brothers came up with what we're using now, of course, and the 
very first labels they printed were remnants from book pages 
that they had printed and torn off. That was kind of 

Hicke: I think your label has gotten some very favorable reviews. 

D. Ficklin: Yes, we're quite proud of it. We had always used a plain 

metal capsule on the neck, but recently my son came up with 
the idea of a black capsule. The first time I saw it, I 
realized that it made the label stand out quite neatly. I 
think he did an amazing job on that. 

Hicke: How did you happen to go to Grabhorn? 

D. Ficklin: I heard about Chaffee Hall, who was an attorney in San 

Francisco with a little winery in the Santa Cruz mountains 
named Hallcrest. Grabhorn printed his labels, and I liked 
what I saw. 

Hicke: How much was your father involved in the winery and in the 

D. Ficklin: His area of expertise and where he spent most of his time was 
in the sales end of it. 

D. Ficklin: He was quite an outgoing person and had quite a few friends in 
the industry in retailing. He was very much interested in 
wines- -intensely interested- -as a consumer, and over the years 
he acquired quite a fine personal cellar. He was very 
generous with us , and we had many fine dinners and 


Hicke: Where did he get his interest in wine? 

D. Ficklin: He was self educated, really. At the time when I was up at 

Davis, he found out when some of the wine tasting classes were 
being held and managed to be allowed to attend some of them. 
I'd almost forgotten that. He got an awful lot out of that. 

Vine Judging 

D. Ficklin: In my particular case, an experience that was extremely 

educational to me was my serving as a judge at the California 
State Fair. . 

Hicke: Oh, tell me about that. 

D. Ficklin: I served sixteen years, from 1953 until 1967, under the old 
original system. Then the whole structure of the fair 
changed, and they had a different arrangement for wine 
judging. There were some very fine people whom I worked with, 
including a number of the University professors. I remember 
that after a number of years of serving, they decided to hold 
qualifying tests for the judges, where there blind tastings of 
young varietal wines, both red and white. It was a matter of 
identifying what variety each one was from the aromas and the 
taste. There was quite a large group of prospective people 
who were hoping to be chosen, and I was one of them. 

I went through the testing, and I think I got a score of 
87, which turned out to be the highest score. Everything was 
just right that day, I can remember. I wasn't nervous or 
worried; I felt very confident and was able to concentrate. I 
felt pretty good about that. 

Hicke: Did you have to identify the variety and the vintage? 

D. Ficklin: They were all young wines, chosen right out of the cooperage. 
The enology people at the University put this test together, 
and they were chosen to exemplify the good examples of the 
different varieties all the high-quality samples. 

At that time the red table wines were the most popular, 
and I was chosen to head up the red table wine committee. 


Hicke: What are some of the challenges of being a judge? 

D. Ficklin: Of course you had to be objective and try not to let your 

prejudices get in the way. It does take concentration, and at 
the end of the day you have put in a pretty strenuous session. 

Most of the time I was on the committee judging brandies. 
The committee chairman was Dr. Guymon. He had trained himself 
and was so sharp. The samples were just coded for 
identification, and he'd start sniffing. He'd put a little on 
his tongue, roll it around, and the whole bit. After the 
tasting was finished, he'd proceed to tell you which winery 
produced it and who operated the still. [laughter] He was 
unbelievable. He was a marvelous instructor, too, so very 
patient and thorough in explaining things. I admire him very 

Relationships Vith Other Wineries 

Hicke: Did you have relationships with other wineries? 
D. Ficklin: Not really. You mean product ionwise? 
Hicke: In any waybusiness or trade associations? 

D. Ficklin: There were certain business arrangements. Our winery doesn't 
operate any distillation. In order to get the wine spirits we 
purchase it from another winery. 

Hicke: Who do you buy that from? 

D. Ficklin: We've been getting it for quite a few years from Vie -Del 

[Company]. They're southwest of Fresno, out in the country. 

Hicke: Who did you get it from originally? 

D. Ficklin: It was a place in Fresno called California Products. Al Paul 
was the owner. 


Did you ever buy grapes from anybody? 


D. Ficklin: No, we've always used only our own production. In fact, for 
us to put estate -bottled on our label, it has to be that way 
I think at one time my brother sold some grapes to other 
wineries, but that was quite a while ago. 





D. Ficklin: 


D. Ficklin: 

Once you got your grapes planted and your winery going, did 
you ever think about expanding it a lot? 

We started out with the original adobe -brick building, and I 
believe it was in the early sixties that we added on a second 
building that gave us more storage space, facilities for 
bottling, and that kind of thing. Then we had a third 
building that was put up in 1978, about the time that Peter 
decided to come into the business. So we really have a pretty 
good capacity for aging now. 

Might I ask how long it took before you were breaking even? 


I went through the old ledgers, and I couldn't pick it up. 
must not have been too big an event, and I don't think the 
first profits were that much. [laughs] I would have to guess 
it was in the late fifties or very early sixties, because we 
were able to put money aside for the second building, which 
went up in maybe '63. 

Participation of Other Members of the Family 

Hicke: It's always been a family operation? 

D. Ficklin: Oh, yes. From the very early days Jean helped out with 

reports, correspondence, and all of that kind of thing, which 


was a big help, especially during the vintage --keeping track 
of the grapes that were crushed. We were responsible for 
reporting all of that to the government, of course. When 
you're running the crusher and pressing, you don't have time 
to do a lot of record keeping. 

Hicke: Were your son and your nephew always interested in the 

D. Ficklin: My nephew, Steve, stepped into his father's shoes and is now 
responsible for growing the grapes. Peter, after he finished 
his studies at Davis, came home and was initially the 
assistant winemaker. In 1983, I believe it was, I stepped 
aside, and he became the winemaker. 

Hicke: Did you have to twist his arm? 

D. Ficklin: No, he was anxious to have responsibility. 

Hicke: I mean to come into the business. 

D. Ficklin: That's an amazing thing. He was originally in agricultural] 
engineering at Davis, and after a couple of years, on one of 
his visits home, out of the blue he said, "Mom and Dad, I'd 
like to go into the winery." That was pretty neat. 

Hicke: It was a surprise, then? 
D. Ficklin: It was a total surprise. 

J. Ficklin: David had never pushed him in this direction, so this was 

something that he really--. I think one of the things that 
was a real influence on Peter was that David had had many of 
the professors up at Davis , and when Peter went up to Davis in 
ag engineering, some of it sort of drifted over; he was 
running into professors and different people who wanted to 
know why he wasn't in viticulture or enology and why he wasn't 
going into the wine business. I think he heard a lot of that 
up there. But we had decided that the boys had to go their 
own directions. We hadn't pushed Dave to come in, and he'd 
gone off into electronic engineering; and Peter was off in ag 
engineering, so it was a real surprise a most pleasant 
surprise --and it has worked well. 


Background of Jean Ficklln 

Hicke: Let's get a little background on you, too, Jean, and start 
with when and where you were born and grew up. 

J. Ficklin: I was born in Lake Park, Minnesota, a very small town. 
Hicke: What part of the state is that in? 

J. Ficklin: It's up in the lake country, about two hundred miles north of 
Minneapolis. I lived in Lake Park until I was about seven, 
when my family moved to Frazee, Minnesota. Dad bought a 
drugstore; he was a pharmacist. Both my mother and dad were 
graduates of the University of Minnesota. Mother was an 
English teacher. 

Hicke: Did you go to their alma mater? 

J. Ficklin: No, I went to North Dakota State. This was when times were 
pretty rough, and I had a brother who was going to start at 
Minnesota. We had relatives in Fargo, where North Dakota 
State was located, and I was invited to live with them so that 
I could go to college. I had my fees waived because I was in 
ROTC [Reserve Officers Training Corp] ; I played flute in the 
ROTC band. So my college expenses weren't that much. 

Hicke: There must have been other women in ROTC? 

J. Ficklin: Yes, there was another flute player. Most of the band were 
fellows, though. I think they were short of flute players, 
which is the way I really got in. My first year in college I 
sat solo chair, and I was scared to death. 

Hicke: I happen to know that you majored in home economics. 

J. Ficklin: That's right. 

Hicke: After you graduated, what did you do? 

J. Ficklin: I taught a year in the little home town of Frazee, Minnesota. 
I was qualified as a Smith-Hughes vocational teacher, and they 
had a Smith-Hughes vocational department in Frazee; but they 
couldn't get a teacher, and they would lose their federal 
support if they didn't have a teacher who was qualified. The 
superintendent whom I had started school under in Lake Park 
and then graduated under in Frazee was the superintendent 


there, and he asked me if I wouldn't take it for a year. I 
said I would. I really wanted to be out on my own and doing 
something else, but it was a good year, and I enjoyed it. 

Hicke: How did you get to California? 

J. Ficklin: I told them I could teach for only one year, and I put in my 

application for the Red Cross and the Bureau of Home Economics 
in Washington, D.C. Then I had a friend who had come to 
Hawaii, so I put my application in there. I was accepted at 
all three, and it was a matter of deciding which one I wanted 
to do. Hawaii drew me, and it was a great adventure. I loved 
it, but I was ready to come back to the mainland. 

Hicke: You were there a couple of years? 

J. Ficklin: About two years. I stopped and visited relatives in Berkeley 
on my way home, and they had friends who were connected with 
Ag Extension. They said, "Why don't you put an application in 
here?" I think my family had talked to them about trying to 
get Jean to stay on the mainland instead of going back to 

I was accepted at [UC] California [Berkeley] , and 
eventually, after an orientation period up there, I was 
assigned to Madera County. That's where David and I met. 

Hicke: When did you get married? 

J. Ficklin: We were married in November of '49. 

Hicke: Right after the second crush? 

J. Ficklin: Right. We were courting during the first crush. [laughter] 

Earlv Sales of the Port 

Hicke: Did you go right to work keeping track of the grapes and so 

J. Ficklin: I think I was helping David with reports and doing different 
things for a few years. I don't remember exactly when I 
started doing more of it. I know that when we started selling 
things --when we began to market in '52- -I was at that time 

David and Jean Ficklin in their Madera home, 1992 


very much involved in the invoices 

bills of lading, and so 

Hicke: He said you could tell me about some of the people that you 
sold to. Do you recall? 

J. Ficklin: Yes. On October 20, 1952, we shipped out our first load of 
wine, which was twenty- five cases. It went to ten retailers 
in the state of California. The reason that I remember that 
is because it was our oldest boy's birthday, and everybody had 
been working, trying to get the foil capsules smooth. We had 
a birthday dinner for Dave, and that night everybody's thumbs 
were so sore. [laughter] 

We shipped to City of Paris in San Francisco, Albert 
Balzer Company in southern California- -this was the company 
the Bob Balzer 's father had founded and that he inherited-- 
Lord's & Elwood, and Jurgensen's. Locally we had a couple of 
s tores --M & B and A. Franchi Company in Madera, three Sherry's 
Liquor Stores in Fresno, and Jim Dermer's. Anyhow, the 
twenty -five cases were divided around among ten retailers. 

Hicke: How did you sign them up? 

J. Ficklin: David's father had done a lot of scouting for us. He had some 
friends, and I think the City of Paris took five cases to 
begin with. He had a very good friend who was up there in 
Verdier Cellars, I think it used to be. A five -case order was 
marvelous . 

Hicke: How did it go from there? 

J. Ficklin: Then David's father was on the road quite a bit, trying to 

introduce the wine and find more people. David and Walt did a 
little bit of that, but it was really Gramp who was the 
promoter and the salesman. He had a personality for it. He 
was just a wonderful guy. 

Hicke: Did he take around bottles and offer samples? 

J. Ficklin: Yes, he'd sample it to people. He belonged to the French Club 
in San Francisco, and some of his cronies and friends up there 
began to ask for it. So just by word of mouth and some nice 
articles by some of the wine writers, and it gradually spread. 
In those early years we never really had any great, big sales; 
but it was growing. 


Hicke: How much of each year's production would you sell, and how 
would you decide that? 

J. Ficklin: That wasn't part of my record keeping. 

Hicke: Does someone decide how old it is going to be before you sell 

J. Ficklin: I think this is a decision that David and his brother and Dad 
had worked on. I was not involved in that decision. 

Hicke: Have you developed your palate? 

J. Ficklin: Yes. David has a very fine palate, and I think I have learned 
a lot from him. 

Hicke: Can you tell from year to year if there is a change, or is it 
the goal to make it not change? 

J. Ficklin: I think the goal is to make it a consistent quality product. 
Peter has tried some new methods, and I think there have been 
some changes as a result of that. He can tell you about that. 

Early Days and Changes 

J. Ficklin: One of the early memories I have of those years when we were 
just starting out is the little thing of developing the yeast 
culture. Dave would start it out in a six- or eight-ounce 
prescription bottle. I'll have to ask him the name of the 
stuff he put in there --agar perhaps --and then he would 
inoculate this with a little bit of the yeast. That would 
develop, and then he would take a larger jug- -this was all 
done in my kitchen [laughter] - -and put a little more grape 
juice in it. Then he would perhaps go to a larger one, and go 
from one to the other as it developed. [David re-enters the 
room] What did you put in that prescription bottle to start 
it out? 

D. Ficklin: The start was the agar, and then under sterile conditions I 
would just remove some of the yeast that was growing on the 
surface. You'd put it in a small container of sterilized 
grape juice. 

J. Ficklin: Until we got up to a demijohn. 


Hicke: What was it like raising your children and having all of the 
family here in the business? 

J. Ficklin: You know, as I look back on it now, it was a pretty happy 
time. It got a little confusing at times, but I have good 
memories of it all. The boys were a great help in the winery, 
especially when it came time to grab the hoses and hose down 

Hicke: That's a big part of winery operation, isn't it? 

J. Ficklin: Yes. There were some terrific water fights, I remember, 

Hicke: Did you build this house yourselves? 

J. Ficklin: Yes. 

D. Ficklin: About fifteen years ago. 

J. Ficklin: Yes, in 1976. Our other house was right on the same spot 

here. We had developed the trees and the pool, so we decided 
we would rebuild right here on the same spot. The old house 
was torn down, piece by piece. It was a good decision, 
because as we saw it being torn down we realized that we 
couldn't have done much more to it. We had added on, 
refurbished, and done different things, but it had had it. 

We had the little guest house out there, which originally 
was the boys' bedroom, and a twenty -one -foot trailer parked 
around behind it with a little patio in between. We lived in 
that for sixteen months while the house was being built. But 
we were so busy with the winery expansion that we didn't have 
time to be unhappy about it. 

Hicke: So the winery was undergoing expansion at the same time? 

J. Ficklin: Yes. 

Hicke: You had your hands full. 

D. Ficklin: In the summertime we would spend our evenings outdoors, of 

J. Ficklin: We ate outdoors quite often, too, because we had a picnic 
table right outside the door. There wasn't room for the 


microwave in the trailer, so that was on a platform right 
outside the door of the trailer. At that time we had a basset 
hound and a pussycat who had to be with us, too. With the 
house being torn down, they were a bit upset. 

Hicke: You gradually got more and more involved in the management? 

J. Ficklin: I've really been involved in the office part of it, and I've 
been a director for a number of years. When Dave retired I 
became president, and in February of '91 Peter became 
president and I stepped down as an officer. I'm still a 
director, and I haven't found a replacement in the office for 
me yet. [laughter] The computer has helped tremendously; it 
has really cut the workload. Peter has been so very clever in 
the way he's been able to put things into the computer that it 
has reduced much of the- -I no longer do invoices or bills of 
lading; he's got all of that computerized: the monthly 
records --the 702, which every winery has to do. 

Early Days 

Clockwise from top left: bottling, 1951; An employee punching cap, 1951; David Ficklin a 
the barrel racks, 1951; David Ficklin at the wine press (still in use), 1950. 



[Interview 2: January 19, 1992] 


Hicke: Would you tell me when and where you were born? 

S. Ficklin: I was born in Fresno, California, in 1944, and have been in 
the area ever since, outside of a small stint in the service 
that lasted about eighteen months. 

Hicke: So you grew up with the winery here? 

S. Ficklin: It was kind of separated; my father did the farming, and David 
was the winemaker, but, yes, we were all together in a sense. 

Hicke: Your father took over your grandfather's ranch, didn't he? 

S. Ficklin: Yes, he was farming that. In my lifetime it has just been all 
grapes. When Dad was getting started here, they had some open 
land, and he was growing some cotton, sweet potatoes, and that 
sort of thing; but the only thing I remember is grapes. 

Hicke: What did you do when you were growing up here? 

S. Ficklin: Followed my dad around in his pickup a lot, I tell you. I 
really enjoyed being on the ranch and liked the freedom we 
had. I helped Dad out as much as I could when I was smaller, 
and after I got out of the service my dad and I formed a 
partnership. That was in about 1972, and I got more involved 
at that point. I was having a problem making up my mind, 
"What do I want to do?" But after being overseas and going 
through the Vietnam war- -when I was over there and people were 
shooting at me- -I finally decided, "You know, that ranch 
really looks pretty darned good." That kind of pushed me in 


this direction, and I'm really glad; I don't have any regrets 
about anything. It was really a great decision; I thoroughly 
enjoy what I'm doing. 

Hicke: What did you father draft you to do around the ranch? 
S. Ficklin: Irrigating, driving a tractor that sort of thing. 
Hicke: Did you have to prune? 

S. Ficklin: Oh, yes. Maybe I should back up. When I was in high school I 
belonged to Future Farmers of America, and I had little acre 
plots of vines that were my project. I guess that was a 
start. I had to keep track of all the expenses, do all the 
pruning, tractor work, and irrigating. He left it entirely up 
to me: "Either make this work and make money or you're going 
to lose. It's going to be a good experience for you to kind 
of get your feet wet and see what the business is all about." 

Hicke: Dare I ask how your plot turned out? 

S. Ficklin: He gave me the worst piece of vineyard on the ranch. [laughs] 
I think this was some kind of a test or something. But it 
turned out very well, and I learned a lot by having a piece of 
ground that was very marginal . The vines were very old and so 
forth, and there was a lot of work involved, trying to build 
it back up. I really learned a lot having to farm a bad piece 
of ground, rather than something that was handed to me, had 
been established, and there weren't any problems with it. 

Hicke: Your dad was pretty smart. 
S. Ficklin: Yes, very smart. 

Grape Varieties 

Hicke: What" kind of grape varieties were on your plot? 

S. Ficklin: They were Thompson Seedless. 

Hicke: What were the rest of the varieties that your father had? 

S. Ficklin: All of the port varieties that we're now using plus a couple 
of other raisin varieties. 


He was still growing raisins when you were growing up? 


S. Ficklin: Yes. 

Hicke: Do you still have some raisin grapes? 

S. Ficklin: Yes, we still have raisins, all the port varieties, and I've 
gotten into a few table grapes for the fresh market, too, so 
we're involved in all phases of vines. 

Diseases and Other Problems 

Hicke: David was telling me about some problems you had in the 
seventies with diseases. 

S. Ficklin: Yes, in the early seventies. Frost was the main thing; we 
lost pretty much all of our crops during that one year. I 
can't remember the exact date, but it was in the early 
seventies. It was ironic, because I think it was the first 
year my dad and I formed the partnership. Here I go, thinking 
everything was great, and all of a sudden the freeze hit and 
we lost all of the crop. I would guess that we lost 75 to 
80 percent that year. 

But that's just part of the business. If you can't 
understand that, you don't belong on the farming end of this. 
On the whim of Mother Nature and all the diseases and things; 
there's always something new, and you always have to stay on 
top of all these things. But thank goodness for the 
University, I'll tell you. Without them, I don't know what 
we'd be doing. A lot of people don't appreciate all the work 
and trials and so forth that they do. We've got test plots 
for the University pretty much on every ranch. For each 
specific problem, we work with them and have our trials out so 
that we're always learning and trying to overcome whatever 
they are- -soil-borne diseases or anything like that. 

Hicke: Can you tell me about one disease as an example? 

S. Ficklin: We're working on one now in one block not too far from here. 
We have a soil-borne disease called fan leaf. It's not the 
same as phylloxera, but it is a soil-borne disease. We have 
two or three different rootstocks out there with all of our 
port varieties on them, and we're seeing which rootstock is 
going to do the best for our varieties. The University is 
constantly testing, two or three times a year, to see if these 
particular rootstocks are picking up the viruses that are in 
the soil. Hopefully we'll come up with one where Peter will 
be satisfied with the quality of fruit, plus the vine will be 


able to grow under these circumstances. That's just one that 
we're working on right now. 

Without the University, we wouldn't even have the trial 
rootstocks, because they're the ones who developed them. 
They've been a tremendous help to us. 

Hicke: Whom are you working with? 

S Ficklin: Mainly with the Madera County farm advisor, George Leavitt. 

Mike McHenry, a nematologist down at the Kearny field station, 
is involved, and Jim Wolpert I think is out of Davis. Between 
the three of them, they are coordinating this, and hopefully 
we're going to learn something. 

Hicke: Do you work with or have associations with other growers in 
the area? 

S. Ficklin: Not any more than social associations, because we're so 

specialized with the different varieties we have. If Peter 
can't use all the grapes and I sell them outside, I have to 
spell the names. They say, "What is that?" because there just 
aren't that many acres of these Portuguese varieties. The 
cultural practices and so forth are so different from what 
most people are doing. Primarily in this area here there are 
the generic French Colombard, Thompson Seedless, and that sort 
of thing, and we don't have a lot of those varieties. So, no, 
I don't have a lot of interaction with other growers. 

Differences in Crape Varieties 


S. Ficklin: 


What are the differences in cultural practices with your 

It just depends on which variety you're talking about. On 
some we have bunch rot problems. Typically, Tinta Madeira is 
our worst one, and we go in and thin them and pull leaves. We 
have to really be careful of our irrigation practices; over- 
irrigate, and the berries swell. You get one berry that will 
break in the bunch, and then you've completely lost that 
bunch. It's just a combination of things. Whereas if you're 
farming a Thompson, you can irrigate it all you want and do 
what you want to do; you don't have these little problems that 
we have to contend with. 

You have to keep rather careful records, I would think. 


S. Ficklin: Everything I do. Like I told Susie, my wife, "If the house 
ever burns down, grab my little black book and leave 
everything else there." I have a diary I keep, and every day 
I enter what I do in it. Records are very important, because 
I'll even go back sometimes three, four, or five years, trying 
to figure out what I did to try and produce better fruit for 
Peter. If I run into a problem, that's what I do; I go back 
and look at what I've done, and maybe I'll change something 
and try that for a few years. It's constantly making 
adjustments . 

Hicke: Yes, there are so many things you could do. 

S. Ficklin: It's very interesting. If I just had to farm one variety that 
was easy, I don't think I would be as interested. It's really 
a challenge. 

Hicke: Because of each variety being different? 

S. Ficklin: Yes, and all the problems you encounter trying to grow that. 
I think one of the biggest joys is to be able to produce the 
fruit, and then Peter makes such a great port. To be able to 
see the end productmost people just throw them in a truck, 
go to a winery, get their check, and they're done with it. 
But I can follow this all the way through, and it makes it a 
lot more enjoyable. 

Hicke: Do you work with Peter closely? 

S. Ficklin: Absolutely. Especially closely when it comes to harvest time, 
because Peter is out checking the pH and acid once or twice a 
week. When he figures that day is here, we don't wait, 
whereas most wineries will put you off for a week or two, 
depending on their schedule. When it's time, it's time, and 
we go. So we work very closely, especially at harvest time. 

Hicke: Can you tell me a little bit about the characteristics of each 
variety and how it differs from other varieties? Is that a 
fair question? 

S. Ficklin: I really think Peter will be able to answer that better as far 
as acid, pH ratios, and how he does his blending. As far as 
the cultural practices, all four varieties are light 
producers; we don't get anything more than probably six to 
seven tons to the acre. But of course we're holding that 
production down with what we're doing now with our pruning, 
because we don't leave a lot of spurs, stations or buds on the 
vines, which ultimately gives Peter a better quality of fruit. 


More flavor per grape? 


S. Ficklin: Yes. Typically speaking, the more fruit you have the more 
junk you're going to have. If you can limit the amount of 
fruit that vine has to mature and work with, you're going to 
end up with a better quality grape, which will hopefully 
result in a better quality wine. 

Diseases of the Vineyard in the Seventies and Eighties 

Hicke: Can you tell me a little bit about the seventies and how the 
vineyard evolved into the eighties? Were there changes? 

S. Ficklin: I think cultural practices were probably the biggest change. 
We finally realized that- -Dad planted this vineyard here, the 
original planting, in 1944. The fan leaf, for example -- 
finally, after all these years, we picked up that we had some 
infected wood, and so we had to deal with that. Also, George 
Leavitt was instrumental- -in fact, he's writing a paper on it 
now- -in our discovering that we have an air-borne fungus 
called Eutypa that comes from the north down here. In the 
seventies we didn't even know we had this, and then all of a 
sudden, after all these years, we have spur stations that are 
starting to die. So we have to cut the vines off below the 
infected wood and retrain the vine. These were things we 
didn't know about in the seventies. Again the University- -I 
would have the farm advisor come out here, and we'd look and 
look, but we couldn't figure it out. Finally, after all these 
years we've found what it is, and now we know how to deal with 
it and how to cope with it. 

Hicke: What do you do? 

S. Ficklin: We go through in the springtime when the growth on the vines 
is three to four inches. In a vine that's infected, you can 
see the shoot actually start to shrivel up, so we mark that 
vine. When we get done pruning, we'll come in and start 
cutting on that vine. What you see on an infected vine when 
you cut it is that it is all good tissue except for one pie- 
shaped wedge. 

Hicke: You're looking at a cross -section? 

S. Ficklin: That's correct. We start cutting on the vine until we get 
down to clean wood. From there we let the vine sucker out, 
and we will retrain it. We're losing probably a year and a 
half of production on that, but if you just let it go you'd 
eventually have to pull the whole vineyard. 

Hicke: That's very interesting that you've been able to develop a 
technique for dealing with it. 

S. Ficklin: Like I say, we work with the University, and they develop the 

techniques. But anything they would like us to do or any way 

we can learn, we're more than happy to do it to find out how 
to cope with these problems. 

The Portuguese Varieties 

Hicke : Do you know anything about these varieties as they grow in 
Portugal? Do they grow in a similar climate? 

S. Ficklin: I can't answer that. David and Jean have been to Portugal. I 
have yet to have the privilege to go, and I'm really looking 
forward to it. I've grown up watching these vines, and I 
really think I understand the varieties very well; but I'd 
really like to see them in another country and to see how they 
deal with these problems and if they have the same problems. 

Hicke : Have you ever looked at any of the other Portuguese varieties 
that the University has besides the ones that your father 
originally started? 

S. Ficklin: Yes. In fact, we've still got a few here. My dad had what 
you might call a library, and at one time there were ten to 
fifteen different varieties. They weren't in large blocks but 
maybe twenty vines of each. Uncle David would take a few of 
those and possibly make a little bit of wine, and that's how 
they decided whether we wanted to plant more of those or have 
less of that. But that was a little bit before my time. 
We're working mainly now with rootstocks and that sort of 

Hicke: Which varieties are you working with now? 

S. Ficklin: Tinta Madeira, Touriga, Souzao, and Tinta Cao. 

Hicke: What are the differences between these varieties? Maybe I 
should ask Peter. 

S. Ficklin: I think that would be more on his end. As far as culture 

goes, one of the main differences going back to talking about 
the diseases --are that some of them have harder wood, and this 
Eutypa for some reason does not affect them. Some of the 
varieties have a softer wood, and that spore enters the softer 


Hicke : 

S. Ficklin: 

wood. It's in the first four or five rains that we get it, 
and it is just tremendous then. I think the Tinta Madeira is 
probably the most susceptible to the Eutypa, because it seems 
to be just about the softest wood we have. 

As far as the tonnages of the different varieties, 
they're pretty much all similar. They're right around six or 
seven tons. Some, like the Souzao, can be down to five, and 
the Touriga can be maybe up to seven. But six or seven tons 
is pretty much the average tonnage on them. I think Jean and 
David have some pictures of the different sizes of the 
clusters; that's another thing, too. The cluster size really 
varies between the different varieties. 

Does that vary the amount that the vine produces? 

Not really. The only problem we get into with the smaller 
bunches is that it's a lot more difficult and a lot more 
expensive to pick the grapes. It's just twice as much work on 
a variety with a small bunch versus a big bunch to pick your 
tons . 

Picking the Grapes 

Hicke: How are the grapes picked? 

S. Ficklin: They're picked all by hand, and we're very, very particular 
about the way we pick. Peter and I have a deal. They're 
picked in gondolas, and there are two tubs on each trailer, 
which is two tons per trailer. I take care of the outside of 
the gondolas, and Peter takes care of the inside. On the 
inside he paints them every year with food- grade paint, so 
there's no rust; they're absolutely clean. After every day 
that we're done picking, Peter cleans each individual gondola 
out. I take all the picking pans, and they're cleaned every 
single day. So every day that we pick, we're starting with 
everything absolutely clean. I don't know if you've ever 
watched other people pick grapes, but it's not a pretty sight 
at times, I'll tell you. We are very particular about our 
cleanliness . 

Hicke: I do know that cleanliness is extremely important in any kind 
of winemaking operations. 

S. Ficklin: It is. I think that's one advantage to being smaller growers 
in a smaller winery. We have a lot more control over that. 
Just take Gallo as an example: if he calls somebody up and 


says, "I want you to pick a hundred acres of grapes today," 
they kind of lose control of the cleanliness and so forth. 
It's really an advantage to be small, and we can keep tabs on 
it very closely. 

Anyway, the grapes are picked, and we bring them in. 
Peter weighs them, and he crushes them. The next day we're 
back doing the same thing again. 

Hicke: How many days does it take to pick them? 

S. Ficklin: It depends on the year, but normally I would say three weeks 
would be just about the length of it. Most of the time we 
only pick half days. We pick when it's cool in the morning so 
Peter can get the grapes crushed before they get too hot. 
Then I'll take our crews from here, and we'll pick raisins for 
the rest of the day. In the morning we'll come back and pick 
the wine grapes again. It works out really well having the 
raisins and the wine grapes, because you can't hire somebody 
for a half a day; it's just absolutely impossible. We can go 
back and forth, and pretty much whatever Peter wants, we can 
move out of one block and come back in. However he wants them 
picked, we can do it almost down to the hour. 

Hicke: That gives you a lot of flexibility. 

S. Ficklin: Yes. You asked earlier if Peter and I worked closely. We're 
always on the phone to each other --he needs this, and we're 
going back and forth- -coordinating everything. 

The raisin grape can wait; if you pick it today, 
tomorrow, the next day, or the next week, barring any rains, 
you're okay. But for Peter and what he's trying to do, it's 
so important that we pick the grapes exactly when he wants 
them in the coolest part of the day. Really, you couldn't ask 
for anything better in that respect, because we can keep our 
crews busy. Labor, as you've probably heard, is becoming a 
tough situation. People don't want to come out and do this 
type of work. For us, as small as we are, to pick mechanical 
would almost be cost prohibitive. To spend $175,000 on a 
machine is --we'd have to stretch the heck out of our budget to 
do that. 




S. Ficklin: 

Hicke : 

S. Ficklin: 


S. Ficklin; 


S. Ficklin: 


How many full-time employees do you have in the vineyards? 

It just depends; we're really seasonal. As far as the ranch 
goes, I have about one and a half employees- -one full time, 
and another person will come and work, he'll leave, and 
somebody else will come and work. Except when we're doing our 
seasonal work. When we're picking for the winery, we probably 
have about thirty people. During this part of the year, when 
we're pruning, we probably run a crew of fifteen or so. 
Usually our harvest lasts thirty days overall- -raisins and 

When you first started working in the early seventies, was the 
number of employees about the same? 

I think it was pretty much the same. 
You've got the same amount of vineyard? 

Yes. We're really fortunate in the employment aspect, because 
there are still people who worked for my grandfather and my 
father who come back and work for us seasonally every year. 
Now their children are coming back, and even some of their 
children are starting with us now. We're really, really 
fortunate that we don't have a different crew every year. 
When they come out to pick grapes for the winery, they pretty 
much know what we want them to do, which is really important, 
because when they pick there are no leaves in the gondolas; 
it's all clusters. And there are no clusters that are rotten; 
they have to throw them out. So it helps to have the same 
people every year. 

These are local people? 

No, most of the people who work for us will come here 
seasonally, and then they have homes and families in Mexico. 
They'll come up for two or three months, pick grapes here and 
maybe move north and pick elsewhere, and then they'll go back 
to their families. When pruning comes, most of the same 
people and families come back and prune for us. We've been 
blessed with having good labor, but we treat them well. They 
never ask, "How much are you going to pay me? It's not 
enough." When they go in a field, they know we're going to be 
fair with them, and it really makes it a lot easier. 

If they haven't been here before, do you have to spend some 
time training them? 


S. Ficklin: Not really, because usually they're either a family member or 
a friend of a friend, so we'll put that person with a person 
who has been here. They teach themselves and work along with 
each other. We don't really have to worry about that too 
much. In fact, it's almost nonexistent now. We always have 
to be out in the field, because everybody gets a little lax, 
and maybe they want to make a little bit more. We just 
mention to them that they're putting too many leaves in the 
gondola, and they'll straighten right up. We have a very good 
rapport with our workers. My philosophy is, if we didn't have 
them, I don't know where we would be. We all are in this 

Hicke: So they contribute a lot to the [success]? 
S. Ficklin: Absolutely. 

Hicke: For the rest of the year you have one other employee and 
somebody coming in part time? 

S. Ficklin: Yes. I call it an employee and a half, but really on the 

ranch I only have one full-time salaried employee. He and I 
pretty much take care of everything. 

Hicke: It keeps you off the streets, I guess! 

S. Ficklin: Well, we have our seasons that are a little bit slower than 

others, like usually we figure on the month of November, after 
we get everything wrapped up from harvest. We usually don't 
start pruning until the first week of December, so we've got 
that month. He disappears, I disappear, everybody gets 
refreshed, and we're back at it for another eleven months. 

Hicke: You would need that time, I would think. 

S. Ficklin: I think so. My wife especially tells me that I need it. 

[laughter] I can get a little bit hard to live with during 
harvest time. It's just the pressure, but I thoroughly enjoy 

Grapes. Varieties, and Other Vineries 


The winery was expanded in '78. Did that affect your vineyard 
out here? 



S. Ficklin; 

S. Ficklin: It really helped our vineyard operation because of fact that 
Peter was able to use more of the fruit. In other words, he 
had more capacity. You asked about interaction with other 
farmersmost of them don't know what the varieties are, and 
even wineries, if they don't what they are, are not willing to 
pay anything for the grapes. So the more Peter can use in our 
production, the better off everyone is. The expansion 
definitely helped. 

What were you doing with the extra grapes before? 

When I first started farming, they were going to Christian 
Brothers. Then Christian Brothers planted some of their own 
port varieties. I think it was in '74 or '75 when they no 
longer took our excess. They planted some varieties, and I 
think for a time there they kind of got out of production of 
dessert wines. 

Hicke: They were making port? 

S. Ficklin: Yes, they were. I think it was a Ruby Port, but I'm not sure. 

Hicke: They weren't just tossing your grapes in with other varieties; 
they were using them as a variety to make port? 

S. Ficklin: No. They wanted these varieties. 

Hicke: How did these Portuguese varieties compare in price with other 
Valley grapes per ton? 

S. Ficklin: That's one of the problems with selling them outside; you 
don't get anything for them. You can cover your cost of 
production, and that's about it, because people don't realize 
what they are. Plus, we use a majority here and have such 
small lots to sell outside that it's not really beneficial to 
anybody to take such a small lot- -a couple of truckloads- -and 
expect them to start producing a bottle of wine. 

Hicke: Are there other vineyards or wineries that are planting 
Portuguese varieties? 

S. Ficklin: I just looked at the acreage report for the state of 

California, and it seems to me that in the past few years very 
few Portuguese varieties have been planted. The production is 
pretty stable right now. 

Hicke: Quady [winery] makes port, don't they? 
S. Ficklin: Yes, they do. 



S. Ficklin: 


S. Ficklin: 


S. Ficklin 

S. Ficklin 


They don't use Portuguese varieties? 

I have heard that they've planted some, but I can't really 
answer that. They planted them up north. When they first 
startedand Peter would be the better one to ask about this- 
-as I recall he was using Zinfandel to make his port. Peter 
and Andy know each other. I think his emphasis now is more on 
muscat -type wines. 1 I don't know what his production is or 

The reason I ask is that it is interesting to me that you have 
been so successful here with your vines and wines that I would 
think people would come along and try to imitate you. 

I think some people probably have tried to, because when I was 
growing up we had the only plantings of some of these 
varieties. Dad made a tremendous amount of cuttings, because 
people would come to him. In fact, Gallo was one of them; 
they would come here to get the cuttings because they wanted 
to get into port production. Whether they were trying to 
imitate or not, I don't know. 

Duplicate, perhaps? 

Yes. There was a big interest in it there for a while, but it 
seems to have leveled off now. We haven't had anybody come to 
us for cuttings for ten or fifteen years at least. Plus we're 
not really anxious- - 


We've got some disease problems, first of all, in some of 
these --like the Eutypa. You don't want to sell somebody a 
piece of wood that they're going to have a problem with. 
That's just not ethically proper. And after all these years 
of blood, sweat, and tears that David, Dad, and my grandfather 
put in, we're not anxious to just give away all our ideas and 
cultural practices. If someone asks --don't get me wrong- - 
we'll tell them, but it's been a long process to get to where 
we are today. 

You've developed something very special, and obviously the 
benefits should stay within the winery. 

1 Quady began producing vintage port from Zinfandel grapes, then added 
another dessert wine, "Essensia," a 15-percent Orange Muscat, and a Black Muscat 
wine named "Elysium." 


S. Ficklin: To a certain extent, yes, I believe that. 

Hicke : 

S. Ficklin: 


How about the eighties? Did anything particular develop? 

No, it's pretty much year to year. Like I say, we might find 
a new problem or something, and we cope with it and deal with 
it and maybe put in another test block. We've got some new 
rootstock out here now that we're trying to develop as far as 
the Souzao and Tinta Cao goes. Every year there's always 
something, and we're dealing with it as it comes along. 
Specifically in the eighties, no, I can't put my finger on 
anything . 

What about the differences in the climate from year to year? 
How did that affect your vineyard operations? 

S. Ficklin: Mother Nature is always watching. In another couple of months 
we'll be having to be careful of frost so that it doesn't 
freeze the new shoots that come out in the springtime. 

Hicke: Do you have some kind of frost [prevention]? 

S. Ficklin: The only thing we do now is run water. We pump underground 
water and run it every three or four rows, and that will 
change the temperature two or three degrees. So if it's going 
to be twenty-nine or thirty degrees, we can pretty much make 
our way through it. Any colder than that, we're going to have 
a little bit of a problem. This past year, not necessarily 
affecting the port varieties but some other varieties, we had 
some non- typical cool weather, and then we had a heat wave of 
105 [degrees] for about a week. It was a problem keeping up 
on irrigation and so forth, because the vines were really 
stressed because they weren't used to the warm weather. With 
Mother Nature it's always something. Maybe just before a 
harvest some years, we'll get a rain, so then we're worried 
about mildew and the grapes holding up. Then we really have 
to push and get them off before we do run into a problem. 

I don't make a big deal out of it, because I've learned 
that- you just have to learn how to live with that. Some 
people get so excited, which I do too, but it's just one of 
those things, and you never know what's going to happen from 
one year to the next. But it makes it interesting. One of my 
philosophies, too, is that maybe it keeps some other people 
out of the vineyard business who shouldn't be in it. If you 
can't accept the fact that Mother Nature is a big force, then 
maybe you shouldn't be in the business. It's another 
challenge that you have to overcome, and you have no control 
over it. [laughs] 


Vineyard Operations: Irrigation. Trellisinc^ Soils 

Hicke: What kind of irrigation system do you have? 

S. Ficklin: We have surface water, which comes from a lake up in our 

foothills herewhich hasn't been the greatest for the past 
five years, since we've been in a drought. We're typically 
pumping more underground water, which we don't really like to 
do. We're in a very good water stratum here. We feel that 
the underground water strata follow the San Joaquin River, and 
we happen to be on a good one. Ours will deplete at a lesser 
rate than somebody maybe twenty miles north of here. Also, 
even during light-rain years, our water replenishes itself a 
lot faster and a lot better. So we've got good underground 
water, but if there is surface water available, our first 
priority is to use that. It's a lot less expensive, of 
course , than pumping from underground because of the PG&E 
[Pacific Gas & Electric Company] rates. 

Hicke: So the drought affects you mainly in the price you have to pay 
for water? 

S. Ficklin: In the pumping of the water, yes. 
Hicke: You haven't had to curtail watering? 

S. Ficklin: No, absolutely not. The blessing is that we have a good 

underground stratum here. We're pumping here from probably 
eighty- five or ninety feet, and if you go twenty miles north 
from here, they're pumping from three hundred feet. So you 
can see that the water from the Sierras just doesn't filter 
in, and it really affects them. The farther down you go, the 
more it costs to pull that water out of the ground. We've 
been very fortunate. 

The surface water comes in canals. You drove past some 
canals when you came in. It comes out of our reservoir at 
Lake Millerton through the canals. That's what I call surface 

Hicke: When were those built? 

S. Ficklin: I would guess '55, because we moved into my mom and dad's 
house in 1950, and I know that when they were digging the 
canals Dad had the guy come over and dig a wine cellar for 
him. I can barely remember that. David would remember. It's 
a strange thing to look back at it now, because a lot of the 


farmers around here didn't want the canals: groundwater was 
plentiful and this and that, and, of course, you were taxed to 
build the canals. But now nobody says a word. They think, 
"What a blessing that we do have surface water." Because if 
we were solely dependent on underground water, it would just 
be a disaster I think. 

Hicke: Good foresight. 

S. Ficklin: Absolutely. It really was. 

Hicke: What about trellising? 

S. Ficklin: There again we've got a number of trials out and are working 
with the University. We're constantly trying new trellising 
methods. Going back to the bunch rot problems that we have on 
some of the varieties, trellising is very important. If you 
can open a canopy up and get more air circulating in under 
those vines, your bunch rot problem is going to go down by 50 
or 75 percent. So it is absolutely crucial, plus on some 
varieties it even affects the tonnage; vines will produce more 
if they are raised up and spread out more instead of just 
having them on a single wire. With the rootstock problems 
we've got, which I mentioned earlier, we've also got some 
trellising trials mixed in with them; we've tried different 
stakes, different widths of cross arms, and that sort of 
thing, too. 

Hicke: How long does it take before you can tell what is working? 

S. Ficklin: I would say it would take us five years, because you don't get 
a crop until the third year, and then the vine needs a little 
bit of age on it to see how everything is going to work and to 
produce the quantity and quality that Peter would want for the 
winery. This last plot that we planted out here is three 
years old, so it will be another year or two before Peter 
would take any samples off of it to see if he thinks one 
rootstock is better than the other. It's very expensive and 
time consuming, but it's the only way we're going to learn. 

Hicke: Then does he have to make a little wine out of that one 

S. Ficklin: Yes, he'll take a small amount, crush it, and follow it along. 
We haven't quite reached that point yet, but I think that 
within the next year or two we'll be there. He'll make a 
small lot of wine and see what he thinks. Eventually we're 
going to have to do some planting, and I want to make sure 
he's happy with what I'm doing. If I just plant this 
rootstock and think it looks great, but he doesn't get the 


quality of grape, that comes back to communication again that 
we always need to have. That's why we have the small test 
plots, so we can make our decision and branch out from there. 

Again, I say it's all a lot of fun. You're always 
learning something. Somebody who thinks he knows it all is 
showing his ignorance as far as I'm concerned, because I will 
never know it all, and I don't think anybody will ever know it 
all. Every year you are learning something new and trying to 
apply it. 

Hicke: What are the differences in soil in your vineyard? 

S. Ficklin: Even on this ranch here, a forty- acre block of grapes, if you 
start from the north and work south, these are deeper, better 
soils than if we go to the south, where we get into some 
streaks of hard pan and so forth. We plant different 
varieties on the different soils from past experience, knowing 
that one does better on a shallower soil than on a deeper one. 
Generally speaking, all the port varieties are on very good 
soil; we've planted them on the best soil. They seem to do 
better on a deeper, sandy, loam soil. 

A soil map is very interesting. In any given area there 
is good soil and less desirable soil. That's just the way 
Mother Nature created it. 

Hicke: Can you tell from the vines what the differences in the soil 

S. Ficklin: Yes. Typically, on a shallower soil you will have a weaker 
vine and a lesser quality fruit. We work around those areas 
and maybe plant raisin grapes in them, which aren't quite as 
critical as the port varieties. 

Walter C. Ficklin 

Hicke: Let me go back and ask you for some recollections about your 

S. Ficklin: Oh, he was a great guy, I'll tell you. 
Hicke: Did you follow him around? 

S. Ficklin: When I was starting to get into the business, and even before 
that, he traveled quite a bit. 


Hicke : 

S. Ficklin: 

Hicke : 

S. Ficklin: 

Hicke : 

S. Ficklin: 

Hicke : 

Yes, he was doing some of the sales and marketing. 

Exactly, and he was having a great time doing it. I don't 
know if anybody has ever met a better salesperson than he was. 
He could get along with anybody. He was just a grand, grand 
guy. When I got into farming, he was getting a little more 
elderly, and it was probably just before he first went into 
the convalescent hospital. He always had a smile on his face, 
and 1 can still remember him walking around with a cane. Dad 
had just bought a machine that we picked raisin trays up with, 
and I was standing in front of his house, making sure 
everything was going okay. Here came my grandfather with his 
cane, and I'll never forget him pointing that cane at the 
machine and saying, "Why do you need that? Why do you need 
that?" [laughter] He was used to the old-style way. 

When Dad first starting farming, he and Grandpa used all 
the old- -there were no tractors or anything, which I can't 
even remember; I just remember the stories. You can imagine 
somebody getting a little bit older and seeing this machine 
going through the field, doing the work that you used to do 
when you used to bend over and pick each individual tray up. 

Does some of your philosophy about farming derive from your 

I think from the whole family, really. If I had been around 
when they started it, I don't know if I would have had the 
foresight to even think that something like this might work. 
I think the family as a whole has brought it all together. 
David made the wine, my dad grew the grapes, and everybody 
worked together. That philosophy just came through, and I 
hope I picked some of it up. 

You've given me a lot of information. 

I'm not that involved with the actual making of the wine; 
that's Peter's expertise. We have a great relationship, and 
he's really appreciative of the fact that he knows he can't 
make good wine without good grapes. So everything gels 
together. It's very enjoyable. 

I wish I could give you more insights about Grandfather. 
Without him, I don't know where any of us would be. I'd 
probably be on the end of a shovel somewhere. [laughs] 

How about your grandmother? 


S. Ficklin: 


S. Ficklin: 


I don't remember her that much. She was ill quite a bit. I 
just remember going down there, and she had a jar of pennies 
that she'd give to the grandkids . She was a great cook, and 
they enjoyed food. I can remember some of the great dinner 
parties I attended when I was about that [indicates] big. I 
always got a little bit of wine with a little bit of water, 
and I got to sit up with the big folks for a while. I have 
very, very fond memories. 

Do you taste the wines? 

Peter makes all those decisions, but, yes, we are always 
interested. We're interested in wine, period. I don't know 
that much about it, because I don't have the education or the 
expertise that Peter has, but we thoroughly enjoy tasting 
wine. When Peter comes out with something new, he'll bring a 
bottle over and we'll taste it. It just goes back to- -here 
are the vines, and we're just pruning and starting a new 
season. At the end of the season there will be something in a 
barrel and eventually in a bottle. I'm fortunate to be able 
to follow it through like this. 

It's a wonderful story and a wonderful family, 

Thank you very 



[Interview 3: January 19, 1992 ]//// 

Growing Up at the Winery 

Hicke: Let's start with when and where you were born. 
P. Ficklin: I was born here in Madera on May 19, 1953. 
Hicke: Obviously you grew up here. 

P. Ficklin: Yes, right here next to the winery. This house that we're 
sitting in was not always here. My father had a house that 
was more or less on the same property, and I grew up in that 
one . 

Hicke : What kind of work were you drafted to do around the winery? 

P. Ficklin: Well, I wasn't really drafted; I think there was a lot of 
interest there. There were always exciting things to do. 
It's hard for me to remember the first time I actually went 
over and poked my head into the winery, but I remember going 
over there after school and seeing what the people my father 
had hired were doing as they were repairing barrels, pumping 
wine, or when they used to package the wine- -capping and 
wrapping. I remember going in and talking to the ladies who 
were hired to do that occasionally. I would just sit and talk 
with them, and they would do their work. Maybe I would do a 
little bit of something or other and watch the things work. 
So I kind of hung around. 


I remember climbing up in the barrel racks I'll show you 
through the winery in a little bit- -and hiding up in there, 
watching people go around and do their work. I used to play 
out in the vineyard, and I had a little tree house up in the 
tree where we could spy on all the tractors going back and 
forth. It was an interesting life. 

Hicke: I have to admit that I have a little prior knowledge here; I 

know you used to wash down the wineries and have water fights . 

P. Ficklin: Oh, yes. My brother and I used to get into all kinds of 

trouble. I remember being fired once by my father because we 
were spending more time squirting each other than we were 
actually doing the job we were supposed to do. [laughs, 
sounding just like his father!] Most of this was summer work, 
and during the harvest was the most exciting time because 
there was so much going on; and, of course, that's when my 
father's patience was right on the edge. 

I was nine or ten before I started doing things that 
really accomplished anything and was paid ten or fifteen cents 
an hour back then to get me started, and I'd work up to a 
little bit more. In late grammar school and during junior 
high and high school , I'd work on Saturdays and on other days 
when work needed to be done , I could really help out and do 
things that were perhaps more worthwhile than just hosing my 
brother off. 

Hicke: What things would you be doing? 

P. Ficklin: When we were crushing, the most exciting thing to do was drive 
the tractors. At the end of the harvest day there are all the 
stems and skins from the pressing, and those needed to be 
taken back out to the vineyard and spread in the vineyard 
rows. That was the most exciting job, as far as I was 
concerned, to be in the right place at the right time so that 
I could be the one to take this out. After a while we'd trade 
back and forth, and we'd have to figure out whose turn it was 
to drive the tractor. When grapes would be delivered, we'd 
have to weigh them and drive the tractor for that. That was 
the most exciting thing to start with. 

There were a lot of the other things- -pressing, helping 
shovel the skins out of the vat, unloading the press, hosing 
down the cement at the end of the day, and things like that. 

Hicke: Did you ever have equipment breakdowns or crises? 


P. Ficklin: Yes. Perhaps I wasn't as aware of that in my younger days. 
That wasn't my responsibility at that time; I just did the 
jobs I was assigned. 1 remember at bottling times helping to 
bin the bottled wine; we used to bin bottles up in the back. 
The bottles would go in a cart, and we'd hand them up by hand 
One person would be on the ladder, and you'd hand two bottles 
up at a time as they got stacked higher. It would work out 
that I could help do those things. After the bottles had 
aged, we'd get them down here. We had a large piece of pipe 
with a little tube on the end, and we'd slide the bottles 
down , one by one . 

As far as equipment malfunctions, the first that I 
remember is when the crushing area was redone- - 


P. Ficklin: 

Was this in the seventies? 

Yes, I believe so. The electric hoist that lifts things up 
and down to dump grapes had broken down, so we borrowed the 
forklift from Steve that had the bin dumper on it and finished 
crushing that day by coming in at an angle with the forklift, 
with the bins, and dumping them with the big forklift. There 
were things like that. After I finished up at Davis in 1978, 
then I became more aware of things breaking down. It was a 
little more my responsibility then. [laughs] 


P. Ficklin 

Let's back up a little bit. 
Did you work in the winery? 

What did you do in the summers? 

Yes. Lots of little things in the summer. It was more day- 
to-day stuff in helping to bottle and bin wine, get wine down, 
and wash bottles. When we used to bin them up, they would 
collect a lot of dust. If you had a bottle up higher in the 
bin that would push a cork out, this sweet wine would spill 
over the rest of the bottles. The alcohol and a lot of the 
moisture would evaporate, so you'd have this caramelly, 
sticky, honey- like material that would be stuck to the 
bottles. I remember washing bottles, getting bottles down, 
putting bottles up, and driving the forklift when we'd have 
the big, glass truck come in to deliver glass. Also at 
bottling time I'd use the forklift to bring a pallet of glass 
over and take out the empty pallet. 

Some of the summer work involved cleanup around the 
winery weeds and trimming things. I believe when the 
concrete building was put up in 1967- - 


Hicke: Is that for storage? 

P. Ficklin: Yes, it's the second winery building. The original adobe 

building was built in '46 or '47. We got too big for it, so 
we'd stack all of these barrels and empty glass that we 
weren't using outside and cover them up. In 1967 we put 
another building up. We were going to put a tank in there, 
some barrel racks, pallet of bottled wine- -actually , bins of 
bottled wine; we had bought some bins --and of course the empty 
palletized cartons of bottles that were emptied as we got them 
off the truck. 

My brother and I were in 4-H [Club] at the time, and part 

of our 4-H project was to do the electrical wiring in this 

building. I was fourteen, and he was about sixteen. It was a 
summer project, and it was a lot of fun. 

Hicke: How did you learn to do that? 

P. Ficklin: We had a lot of help from my father. He helped us put 

together basically what he wanted in the way of electrical 
equipment. We'd both been in 4-H since we were ten years old. 
We put together what the final product would be, and then 
talked to our father about certain things he wanted. He 
helped us put together a bill of materials and sketched out 
some drawings on how to do it. Of course, from the drawings 
you can easily determine what you need. He helped us get 
started by showing us where he wanted things and how to do it. 
Then it was a matter of putting the conduit up, pulling the 
wires through, and doing all these things. It worked out 
really well. 

That was one of the earlier summer projects. There's a 
big metal building out there and perhaps one of my earliest 
memories is when we had a r^-lroad car. You used to be able 
to buy old refrigerator cars, and this was an old Pacific 
Fruit Express, wooden boxcar. It was before they had 
refrigeration units on them, and it was an ice car, basically; 
they would drop big ice chunks in the ends, and air would 
circulate as the car was driven along. I think my father 
bought this for storage; I don't have a date on that. This 
went on the south side of the adobe building, and I remember 
when it came in. Some house movers brought it in, and they 
had to lift it up over the vineyards. Then he had these big, 
fifty -five -gallon drums that this thing was set down on, and a 



P. Ficklin: 

cement truck came in and put cement In the drums and kind of 
settled it in. 

This was originally for storage of empty cartons and 
glass, and they built a little loading dock on it. That was 
always fun. There were always interesting things. It was 
painted orange over the letters of the railroad. My brother 
and I had a train set and built a little train table up in the 
storeroom a small shop area. We would go out and trace out 
the letters on the old boxcar; you could easily see the 
difference in the paint of the markings and number of the 

To make a long story short, when we eventually put the 
steel building up, the boxcar was moved over to my father's 
eighty acres to be used as a storage shed. A number of years 
ago it became empty, and when some people came in to cut up 
some junk metal for Steve at some point, they left some hot 
metal next to it, and the thing burned down. [laughs] So all 
of these things come and go. Fortunately there wasn't 
anything else around it, so we just let it burn down to 
nothing and then cleaned the metal out. 

There were always things like that. There were always 
leaves to rake in the fall with the big ash trees, there was 
the harvest time, the different bottlings, binning the wine, 
washing the bottles . 

Did your family drink port after dinner? 

Yes. I remember getting a little taste now and then when I 
was young. We'd get together for a family birthday or 
something, and the adults would sit around the table and the 
kids would all be playing or reading or doing something 
together. I always enjoyed going over to my grandfather's 
house, because he had all of these interesting things to look 

Walter C. Ficklin 

Hicke: Tell me about your grandfather. 

P. Ficklin: He was quite a guy. I always remember his beret; he always 

used to wear a beret. He was involved with a lot of different 


people. He was somebody who was involved not just locally but 
internationally. He used to go to the French Club in San 
Francisco and be involved with people. When he would travel 
overseas, he would always come back with some spare pocket 
change from the different foreign currencies, and he would 
divide that up between my brother and me. We had a coffee can 
or a cigar box with all these coins from all over the world 
that he'd bring back. He used to travel to Japan and all 
these different places. I can't even remember all the 
countries he had traveled to. 

Hicke: Was this because he was interested in travel? 

P. Ficklin: He loved to travel, yes. He'd go to France and many other 

places. He used to write such interesting letters, and we'd 
all sit down while my mom read the letter to us about where he 
had been. 

Apparently when his house was built in about 1948 or '49, 
it had an adobe floor, and it had heating wires underneath the 
bricks. Every now and then, because of the contraction and 
expansion of heating this floor, one of the wires would break. 
I remember when he'd be gone on a trip and the heater wasn't 
working, Dad would go over to fix it. He'd made a special 
electrical box to detect where this break would occur, and 
he'd dig up the brick, patch the wires back together, and put 
the brick down again. I remember going over there and horsing 
around while my father was doing those kinds of things . 

Hicke: Had your grandfather built the house? 

P. Ficklin: Yes, he had it built. It was an adobe house; well, it's still 
there, as a matter of fact. When I was married in 1978, my 
wife and I rented it for almost ten years. He had a local 
architect design it, and I think my father did a lot of the 
wiring and some of the work on it. 

Learning to Be a Vinemaker 


When you got older, did you get involved in the blending or 
the tasting of the wine? 

P. Ficklin: Not really, not until I was in college at Davis. I had made a 
decision at that point to get a degree in enology and come 


back into the family business. Most of what I did up until 
that point was the physical labor in a cellar. I did organize 
things in a supervisory sense, so that if we needed to rebuild 
the scale that we weighed the grapes on, I would see that we 
had the materials and the labor so that it could get done. I 
worked on layout of barrels. I worked on the design of the 
new building quite a bit. I was involved in enology at Davis, 
so I had some background on that. And I worked on rearranging 
the crush and the fermentation area out there a little bit. 
So I did a few projects like that, and I started to get 
involved more and more in those kinds of decisions. 

1 learned all about winemaking at Davis, and it's a 
wonderful program. I was thrilled to be able to go up there 
and have some of the same professors whom my father had 
studied under Or. Guymon, Dr. Amerine, and people like that. 

Hicke: How did you decide to take enology? 

P. Ficklin: I started out towards engineering. I had always been pretty 
good in math in high school, and when I hit college math was 
not as easy as I thought it would be; it was different than I 
expected [laughter], and I struggled with that. I think I 
went about two years and then took a break from school. It 
was quite a struggle. It was at that time that 1 came down 
and worked here at the winery for about a year. I really got 
a sense of what was going on at the winery and seeing how 
things were done. I worked on bringing records up to date for 
my father and things like that, and working for that year 
really stimulated an interest in it. It was at that time that 
I thought about going back and writing my own program between 
engineering and winemaking- -winery design and winery layout 
from an engineering standpoint. 

When I went up and talked to the people in the enology 
program and in the engineering program, there really wasn't 
any program that was done that way. I had a pretty good 
engineering background at that point, a good sense of it, so I 
just decided I would go ahead and get a degree in enology 
instead. One thing leads to another. [laughs] So here I am. 

So it took a little longer to graduate. I started at 
Davis in the fall of 1971, and with the period of in and out 
and changing majors, it wasn't until the end of the winter 
quarter, in March of 1978, when I actually finished up. The 
five-year planor six, or seven. [laughs] 


Hicke: Tell me about some of the professors you had. 

P. Ficklin: My first class was the introduction to enology, and that was 
taught by Dr. Amerine. That was a lot of fun; I really 
enjoyed that. There were lectures and discussion groups, and 
the discussion group that I was in at that time was led by 
Andy [Andrew] Quady. He was the T.A. [teaching assistant] in 
the course. I had absolutely no idea who Andy Quady was, but 
he somehow knew all about the Ficklins, of course. It's funny 
how it goes around and comes around. 

Hicke: Was he from this area? 

P. Ficklin: I'm not real sure about that, but I know that when he finished 
up at Davis- -and he finished up before I did- -he came down and 
worked for United Vintners over here. So he was established 
in the Madera area several years. He started making a little 
bit of wine on his own when he was down here and then started 
his own winery in the mid seventies . 

Hicke: While we're on the subject, Quady makes port, but doesn't he 
make it out of Zinfandel? 

P. Ficklin: It's only recently- -and I can give you a copy of an article -- 
that other port producers are starting to produce ports using 
Portuguese varieties in California. Andy Quady 's first 
vintage was in '85 or '87, using Portuguese varieties. He's 
got a fellow in Amador County growing a few acres of 
Portuguese grape varieties for him. Also Tim Spencer at 
St. Amant winery in French Camp has just started doing some 
Portuguese varieties. There are a few others who are starting 
to experiment with it. It's something only very recent. 

Hicke: They see what's happening here. 

P. Ficklin: Yes. Some wineries make a wonderful port from Cabernet, 

Zinfandel, some of the Sirahs, and varieties like that, but I 
don't think it comes up to what people expect in a Portuguese- 
style port. They're wonderful wines, but it's kind of like 
comparing apples and oranges . 

You were asking about the professors at Davis . I also 
remember Dr. [Vernon L. ] Singleton, Dr. [Ralph E.] Kunkee, Dr. 
[Cornelius] Ough, [Dr.] Ann Noble, and Roger Boulton from 
Australia. And there were also several of the viticulture 
people --Lloyd Lider and Dr. Olmo. 



Hicke: Were they all people who had known your dad? 

P. Ficklin: Oh, yes, and it was so interesting to chat with and get to 
know each of them. You'd get off the beaten track of just 
enology classwork and talk about their experiments and 
projects they had in the experimental winery. Dr. Guymon and 
his brandies, all the different things we did there- -I took a 
distilled spirits class from him, and it was a tough, tough 
class. He had information on how the continuous stills work 
and how to calculate all these various things. That was tough 
for me. But what I learned beyond thatwhat goes into 
brandies, tasting, and all of the other things --was absolutely 
marvelous . 

Hicke: That's something you have to know quite a bit about, isn't it? 

P. Ficklin: Yes, because of the brandy that goes into the port. I really 
enjoyed that class tremendously. 

Hicke: Your dad took a course from him, too. 
P. Ficklin: Yes. 

Hicke: He was telling me that it is a lot harder to taste distilled 
wines because of the higher alcohol. 

P. Ficklin: Yes. There are different ways to get around some of that. 

You can get a general feel or ballpark idea just by putting a 
little bit of a high-proof on your hands and rubbing them 
together. If you're not wearing hand cream or shaving lotion, 
you can get a sense of some of the aromas. Another thing that 
works out real well for me is to dilute the brandy sample down 
to the level at which it would be in a port- -down to about 20- 
percent alcohol. Then you can get a real idea for what you're 
going to have in a wine. 

Hicke: What are you looking for? 

P. Ficklin: There are a lot of different aspects to brandy. Certain 
components add to or detract from a brandy as far as I'm 
concerned. Different people like different things in a 
brandy. For instance, alcohol has a sense of heat in your 


mouth, and some that will vary with the higher alcohols 
present. So you want a little bit of heat to give a sense of 
the alcohol there, but you don't want so much that the whole 
balance of flavor of the finished product in your mouth is 
overwhelmed. I'm looking for certain characteristics in the 
final picture. 

Some of the fusel oils , which come off in a still at a 
different level, have a desirable character in a small 
quantity. Others can give you some very disruptive odors- - 
things that you might start thinking of in descriptive terms 
like turpentine and kerosene type aromas. Of course, you want 
to keep those kinds of things out of your wines. 

Hicke: How much does the brandy contribute to the final wine in 

P. Ficklin: Quite a bit. 'The brandy that I use is obtained through Vie- 
Del Company, which is down south of Fresno. I work with Eric 
Lin down there. The company is owned by Mike [Massud Shahim] 
and Diane Nury, father and daughter, and they've managed the 
business down there for years. I work quite closely with Eric 
on the brandy, and he knows more or less what I'm looking for. 
When he sends me a sample at the end of spring or in early 
summer of what kind of brandy he has available, I don't have 
to sift through twenty samples and come down to two or three 
that are real close. He can send me a couple of samples, and 
usually they're pretty much right on the money. He knows the 
characteristics I'm looking for. 

The brandy has a sense of the grape in it. Usually it's 
just under 170 proof. The laws and regulations state that 
it's considered neutral spirits above 170, so it's distilled 
just under that and is still considered a grape brandy at that 
point. Brandies that are distilled above 170 proof still have 
a character of the fruit it was made with, but there's a legal 
limit involved there. I usually get it at about 168 or 169 
proof, and, yes, there is a definite sense of the grape there, 
no doubt about that. 

Hicke: Does the brandy change every year? 

P. Ficklin: A little bit. It depends on the crop year and the varieties. 
I think they're using consistent varieties that go into it. 
I'm really pleased with the consistency and the quality that I 
get from them. 



Assistant Vinemaker 1978 

Let's go back to '78, when you started actually working, 
were you doing? 


P. Ficklin: I was the assistant winemaker. What did I do? I did 

everything, in a sense. Instead of working on a specific 
project, such as rebuilding the scale or painting equipment, I 
started learning about how the blending is done; how the paper 
trail from the grapes to the finished wine was laid out as far 
as weight tags, work orders --work orders every time the wine 
is moved. Of course we keep track of the gallons in, the 
gallons out, what containers, et cetera, who initials it and 
why, and how that's recorded in the system. Also inventory 
reports from doing inventories twice a year and filling out 
the forms. It was kind of a gradual move as I started coming 
into the whole operation. 

Once or twice a week I would sit down with my dad and 
say, "Okay, these things are done. What is the schedule for 
bottling? Do we need to schedule another one?" If the answer 
was yes, we'd go ahead. He'd say, "The first thing when 
you're doing a bottling is that you need to blend some wine to 
replace the wine in the solera system, you need to collect the 
wine," and so forth. So I'd go and organize the work, and 
we'd go over it. Then we'd go on to the next step. 

After doing that for a period of time, I gradually worked 
to the point where I was handling it, anyway. When you work 
through the whole process, eventually you're doing it 
yourself. There are a number of areas like that which I 
worked up through and became the winemaker. 


Have your goals as winemaker changed since you took over the 

P. Ficklin: I'm hot sure I knew what goals to set when I started out. 

P. Ficklin: My priorities at that point were to learn how to make the port 
with the consistency of quality that my father did and to 
learn the techniques and all of the surrounding paperwork that 
goes into it- -things that you need to know in order to keep 


that consistency. From that point I think my goals were still 
short term, and then I began developing some growth. One of 
the things that I wanted to do was to reinstate the program of 
doing vintage ports. That was something that had been kind of 
rolling around in the back of my mind for a while. 

Hicke: Why were you thinking about that? 

P. Ficklin: My father and I had talked to various people about it. We 

took Parrott & Co. on as a distributor- -or they took us on- -in 
'78, about the time I finished up at Davis. So all these 
things were happening at once. I got married in 1978, started 
work here in the winery, got Parrott & Co. , and we were 
putting up a building. [laughs] The first time the group 
came down from Parrott, that metal building was nothing but an 
open dirt field. We took them out there and said, "This is 
where it's going to be." 

Vintage Port 

P. Ficklin: 


My goal then was to learn the style and development of what 
was in the non- vintage Tinta Port program. There had been 
only four special bottlings. There was a period of growth in 
the sixties, and there just wasn't the cellar space to lay 
down additional wines for a vintage program. So now I've got 
this beautiful, new building over here, and it was half empty. 
It was great; I had all this room to handle special wines. 

The other aspect of it is that you need to look at the 
cost, because to lay wines down for a period of time, you have 
an inventory cost, and you need to balance that. I remember 
looking in '81 at the harvest of the 1980s and the '78s, and I 
decided I was going to go with a 1980 vintage port. This is 
something I was starting to get into when doing my own blends 
for the non-vintage, checking with my father and what he 
thought, and things like that. 

So I put some trial blends together of the 1980 vintage. 
I went back and forth, talking to my father, and we all 
tasted. The final blend was then finalized; I made the final 
decision on that. 

So the vintage port is a blend of varieties, but nothing from 
the previous years? 


P. Ficklin: Right. For instance, Special Bottling Number Four was a 1957 
Tinta Madeira. 


P. Ficklin: 


Is that the one you just released? 

Yes, I released a hundred cases of it. Not only is it 
vintage, but it's all one variety. Rather than try to do that 
the first time out of the chute, I wanted to use the different 
varieties together, to blend them to bring out some of the 
different characteristics. Each of them has some outstanding 
characteristics that they contribute to the wine, and I wanted 
to use those in a little different way. 

I bottled about a thousand cases of the 1980 vintage 
port. Meanwhile, I was thinking about what I was going to do 
next. My focus at that time was some growth in the non- 
vintage program and developing a quality vintage style. I'll 
be very candid with you: I told myself that when I bottled 
the 1980 vintage, I would wait a full year before I tasted it, 
because I had certain things in mind that I knew I wanted the 
wine to be like. I figured that in a year it was going to 
settle down in the bottle, the flavors will come together, and 
it will have a chance to get started. 

So I waited a full year, and then came the big moment. I 
opened the bottle of '80 in the lab and was really 
disappointed. [laughs] It just wasn't what I thought it 
should be at that point. You have to understand that this was 
the first vintage I had made, and I did not have experience 
making vintage ports. So I forgot about it for a while, and I 
went back in another year or year and a half later, and-- 
surprise- -the flavors were really coming around to where I 
hoped they would be. I was really excited. 

There was an article in the Vine Spectator about vintage 
ports, talking about when was the right time to drink them. 1 

P. Ficklin: Yes, I've seen that article. 


When is the right time? 

] Steve Heimoff, "When to Drink Vintage Port, 
1992, p. 64. 

Wine Spectator, January 31, 


P. Ficklin: I think it has to do with the consumer's palate, period. This 
is a whole other topic we can pursue here --the American 
palate. I have a name for it; I call it the "drinkability" 
quotient for wine. I think this is why tawny ports and the 
non- vintage port is so popular, because it is very drinkable. 
It's smooth, it has some distinct flavors, it comes through-- 
the balance, the finish, and the whole nine yards --all on what 
you taste. But it's the drinkability of it. 

I think some of the young vintage ports coming out of 
Portugal- -and even some of the California ones that are really 
big, thick, and tannic , and people say it's going to last 
fifty years into the next century. Well, that's all well and 
good, but the consumer has to take that bottle and stick it 
somewhere for twenty- five or thirty years before he can really 
enjoy it. 

My philosophy is to make the port perhaps a little 
lighter in style than the Portuguese, but at the same time, 
instead of releasing the '80 port in 1983 or '84, to release 
it a little later, so it's got more bottle age on it and is 
starting to come around as far as age in the bottle and 
developing the character that you're looking for. It's 
something that can be enjoyed a little bit more than a young, 
tannic, big port. Again, that's why the non- vintage is so 
popular, because it's a wine that will age for ten or twenty 
years as well as something that can be used the evening the 
person purchases it. 

I had a lot of short-term goals. The vintage port 
program is, I think, successful. My second vintage release, 
of a 1983, is out now, and I'm really excited about that. I'm 
holding back about three hundred cases for another twenty or 
twenty- five years; I'll do a fancy release on that. I've got 
an '86 in the bottle and an '88 that's going to be a fiftieth 
anniversary port that I'll release in 1998. The chemistry on 
the '91 crop was excellent, and the '90s show a lot of 
promise. I usually wait until the spring, so it'll be March 
or April before I taste the '91s to evaluate whether I really 
want" to do a '90 or a '91. There will be some more vintage 
port there. 

I'm about seven and a half years into a tawny port 
program. I want to start out in another three years, in 1995, 
to release a ten-year-old tawny port. Of course, that's a 
wood- aged port. I'll start out at about a thousand cases a 
year and will grow from that. Again, this goes back to the 


drinkability, because tawny ports are ready to drink when you 
buy them, and they're very popular. I think it's going to be 
a very successful program and is one that can be built up over 
a period of time. I'll hold a few barrels back from that and 
develop a twenty-year-old tawny. We'll see how long this 
goes. [laughs] 

Those are my plans right now. I see a lot of possible 
growth domestically in the non-vintage market, and I see a lot 
of potential in the tawny program. I want to keep my vintage 
bottlings special and not do more than fifteen hundred cases 
at a time. I'll look for exceptional lots of wine from 
exceptional years, set those aside, bottle them younger, 
bottle age them longer, and then release them. 

Hicke : Do you market the vintage port as something that has to be 
laid down for twenty years or so? 

P. Ficklin: The '83 is very enjoyable right now. It was bottled a little 
bit later, early in 1987, and it's been in the bottle five 
years. It's really nice, and the wine opens up in the glass 
and develops this marvelous, almost coffee-mocha aroma, with a 
little bit of a prune and berry flavors from the Tinta Madeira 
that come through, and a nice, lingering fruit finish a 
little bit of heat from the brandy but almost a caramel, 
lingering finish. Everybody loves it, and that's why I want 
to lay some extra down for the long run and release it in the 
future . 

Hicke: That's a great investment for the winery. 

P. Ficklin: Yes. As far as my goals for the future, I would like to see 
growth; I want to maintain the market, build the market, and 
develop a full line of ports. 

Hicke: In numbers, you mean? 

P. Ficklin: Yes, a little bit. The family has extra grapes, so I don't 
think I'd want to grow to the point where I am buying grapes 
from- somebody else. But we have enough to grow a bit and 
build a tawny port program up, and that's where I see a lot of 
this going into. I want to maintain quality and develop a 
full line of ports, keeping the winery specializing in that 
rather than trying to do a whole line of wines- -red wines, 
white wines, dessert wines, sherries, et cetera. I want to 
focus on the ports . 


Hicke: Was the vintage that you just released, the '83, a single 

P. Ficklin: No, it was all four port varieties. All of my vintage ports 
so far are blends of the four grape varieties. 


Hicke : 

P. Ficklin; 

Have you thought about going into something besides port? 
there been any pressure in that direction? 



P. Ficklin: 


P. Ficklin: 

Not at this time. With the market the way it is, there are 
literally hundreds of Chardonnays and Cabernets out there. 
There are some absolutely marvelous ones and some very good 
ones , and there are some great buys . There are a number of 
mediocre ones, too. To try and break into a market like that, 
especially from the Valley here, that's not the kind of 
venture that I want to get involved in. 

And you're so successful with just port. 

I think there's an excellent foundation that is built on the 
non- vintage ports as far as the name is concerned. I don't 
think I can go wrong by maintaining the quality and marketing 
the name a little bit to get it back out there so that people 
are a little more aware of it. And stay special, so that 
people know that they can buy a bottle, and it's going to be 
good; they can rely on the quality. 

Speaking of marketing, there was a Safeway ad for a special on 
port. Does that come from the winery? Is there a discount 
for specials? How does the pricing work? 

I can't keep track of everything on that. I sell to 
Parrott & Co. , and they set aside a certain amount of money 
from each case that's sold to go into promotions such as case 
discounts and "shelf -talkers" that you see on the shelves. 
For example, the current recipe folder that's on the non- 
vintage was put together with this kind of money. 

They use the promotion money in different ways. They're 
going to be helping on some of my travel expenses for me to 
get out and do some marketing. It's working out really well. 
Parrott is able to work out deals with the people they do 



P. Ficklin 


business with, the people who buy the wine. When you see that 
a chain store is selling it for less than somebody else, it's 
usually because of a quantity discount. 

There are some stores I don't want to have the port in 
because of the marketing image I want to build. I think it 
would undercut what I'm trying to do as far as retaining the 
quality. If you go into a fine wine shop and see the wine for 
a certain price and then also see it at a heavily discounted 
price in a close-out type store, it doesn't build a quality 
image , and it hurts the retailer who really works hard to sell 
your product. 

Numbers of cases are important in what you sell in a 
year, but I think the image and the quality that you build are 
much more important than that. It's nice to have good numbers 
come in, but if we're a little bit down one year, I can live 
with that. For example, a year ago federal excise taxes got 
hiked, and the wine market went down. I could have sold 
another five hundred cases to a chain store at a real 
discount, and the numbers would have been perfect for the 
year. But I don't want to sacrifice what I'm trying to build 
as far as the brand image . 

I guess I never realized that the distributor actually buys 
the wine, so you are paid at that point. 

Yes. It's interesting to look at differences in the sales 
figures. When I talk about case sales --when anybody buys wine 
from me, that's a case sold as far as I'm concerned, and that 
goes on my sales record as done. Parrott looks at depletions 
quite differently. If they sell to a distributor in Fresno 
down here, and the distributor in Fresno sells four cases to a 
wine shop, then that's four cases depleted. Parrott is 
tracking the numbers from distributor to retail. This not 
only gives you total numbers, but specific regional 
information. They use these monthly depletions, so there's a 
lag time between the figures that we talk about. You've got 
this whole pipeline, you might say, of wine that shifts every 
time a case is sold, and you've got to take that into account, 

Do they negotiate every year as to how much they're going to 

P. Ficklin: Not as much as some, perhaps; but, yes, there are goals set. 

When I look at my costs and what it is costing me to produce a 


bottle of wine, I'll discuss price with them and the effect of 
any price changes . 

There are price barriers in the retail market, actual 
psychological blocks in paying more than a specific amount. 
You try to fit your product in so that you are under one of 
the major ones. But every now and then you've got to do what 
you've got to do [laughs] --bust through one of them. 

Tour of Vinerv 

P. Ficklin: [time lapse] [walking through winery] This is the original 

adobe building. It's changed over the years. There used to 
be a row of poplar trees out here, and there was a little 
concrete apron a little bit bigger than that large door. The 
crusher was back against the building. This is the original 
crusher, and it wasn't until later that we expanded and 
started taking more grapes in. We'll crush about twenty tons 
a day, and they'll all go in two fermentation tanks. The next 
day we'll go ahead and crush again and fill the other two. 
Then we can go back to the first two that we filled and do the 
pressing, add the brandy, and all of that. 

This is our press. It's an older one, an original basket 
press. It used to have a redwood tub, but since we've changed 
to these outdoor f ermenters , I need a larger juice capacity. 
We can roll this thing underneath the tanks and use a little 
bit of the juice to wash the skins down into it from the 
bottom of the tank. It takes three or four loads in this 
press to get two of those tanks emptied. The original three 
f ermenters were in a big row up here, made with about eight- 
or nine- inch thick concrete walls, and this is just a little 
sump here. They were wax lined, using a beeswax coating on 
the walls. Since they were removed, all that remains is the 
back wall along here. The grapes were crushed, and we could 
use a hose and a pipe to select which one they went in. They 
were an open- top fermenter, and we used redwood cap -punchers 
to get up and punch the cap down. I remember doing that as a 

With the development of the outdoor fermenters, we no 
longer needed those. They were just taking up space, so I 
took them out. That was another big project. Then I built 


the foundations and bought these other tanks to go in here, 
using the floor space more efficiently. 

Hicke: Are these oak? 

P. Ficklin: Yes. These are Yugoslavian oak. They're relatively neutral 
as far as the flavors go. I'm not looking for flavor from 
them, but I use them as an initial settling tank. I don't try 
to over-process the wine. My philosophy is to allow 
everything to just settle out gradually. Each tank has a 
bottom valve and a side valve and a manhole. So the wine can 
be pumped down to the side valve, and the manhole is opened 
up. At that point a small float apparatus on the end of a 
small hose is used to pump the remaining clear wine off the 

These other tanks are redwood. I don't know if my father 
told you, but they were originally built in railroad boxcars. 

Hicke: No, he didn't. 

P. Ficklin: You're going to have to find out who he bought the tanks from. 
A lot of the equipment here is used. For instance, the 
crusher and the press were used when he bought them. These 
tanks were originally built in railroad boxcars to transport 
wine cross country. They're redwood, so they're very, very 
neutral, and I use them for settling tanks. 

Hicke: A tank would just be built inside of the boxcar? 

P. Ficklin: Yes. Of course, they had to be disassembled to take them out. 
They each have a heavy beam across the top and the extra hoops 
on the bottom to hold the thing together because of the 
vibration as they went rattling down the tracks. 

The press has a hydraulic ram, similar to an automobile 
lift in a garage, and it was part of an old cotton-baling unit 
at one time. Some of this equipment has been gathered 
together over the years and is still used today. 

Hicke: What are these small barrels? 

P. Ficklin: These are what I call half -barrels , about twenty- five gallons 
each. When wine is pumped from tank to tank or barrel to 
barrel, sometimes there is a little bit of leftover, so I have 
some extra barrels to put the remainder in. These aren't 
normally kept here, but a couple of tanks were racked into 


barrels, and these have the extra wine in them. I need to 
move them over to the other building, but I wanted to finish 
pumping down; it was a late Friday afternoon. [laughs] 

Back here is some of the barrel storage. These racks are 
the ones 1 used to climb around in as a kid. 1 remember I'd 
be in the back and make funny noises, and people would come 
and look for what the sound was. As the winery has grown over 
the years, all of the barrels in here have become part of the 
fractional blending, or the solera system. There are 256 of 
these fifty- gallon barrels. When it comes time to collect 
wine for bottling, about a quarter or a little less than a 
quarter of the wine from each barrel is removed and collected 
in a tank. Then a similar percentage of wine is pumped out of 
each of the puncheons to top off the barrels; there are sixty- 
seven puncheons in this building. 

Hicke: What's the difference between what's in the puncheons and 
what's in the barrels? 

P. Ficklin: This [in the puncheon] is a little bit younger. The wine from 
the barrels is partially removed, and then all of these 
barrels are topped off from the puncheons. Then a blend is 
put together in a tank. This is where I'll take wines from 
the different varieties and various years that are in the 
cellar for this blend. Different barrels of different wines 
come together and are blended to produce a non- vintage blend. 
This blend in turn goes through and tops off these puncheons. 
There's a diminishing proportion in these barrels of some of 
the first wine that was ever made here by my father. 

These puncheons- -all the different shapes and types. 
There's an old port pipe up there, and these are sherry butts. 
As a matter of fact, one of these has "Guimaraens" branded on 
the end of it, and the second one in has "ruby" stamped on the 
end of it. These are old Duff Gordon sherry butts here. Of 
course, there's no more of that sherry flavor in there, but 
they're very neutral and allow the wine to come together 

There was a young man from the Guimaraens family who was 
over here visiting the winery once- -David, I believe- -and he 
spotted that puncheon and climbed up there with his camera. 
He was really excited to see that I had some of his old 
puncheons here . 


It's kind of an odd collection of cooperage, but it has 
served very well. I'm not looking for a lot of wood flavor in 
the wine, so the older oak is relatively neutral. These oak 
casks, similar to the tanks in there, serve as a settling 
tank. They allow the wine to settle slowly. Then it is 
racked off the sediment. I usually like to rack it two or 
three times before I put it in a barrel and allow it about a 
year in the barrel to really settle down before I'll consider 
using it in a blend. From that point it goes through the 
solera system, is racked one more time after that, and then 
it's bottled. Really, it's all racking and settling, because 
the only time the wine is filtered is right before it's 
bottled, with a light polish filtration to remove any 
particulate sediment that might have gotten picked up. 

Hicke: Do you use the same fraction of blending every year? 

P. Ficklin: No, it varies 'with what I have in the cellar. In different 
years the chemistry of the individual varieties varies 
somewhat, and I take this into consideration. Maybe I've got 
some exceptional Souzao one year that has a rich aroma and a 
beautiful color, so I won't need to use as much and will be 
able to set aside the rest for a vintage port. There is kind 
of a window or a range of things that I look at. 

It used to take quite a while for a blend to be together. 
First of all, all the records would have to be brought up to 
date with respect to all the work orders for pumping and so 
forth. It would take a day or two, doing it by hand. Then 
all those records would be gone through to determine which 
wines were ready to blend. Then a trial blend could be put 
together on paper, looking at the different grape varieties 
and chemistry- -the alcohol, the sugar, the pH--and then a 
decision is made regarding what is going to go in. You have 
all of these numbers and quantities, and you calculate this 
out on paper. I remember my father used to use a slide rule 
for a lot of this. It took literally a week or so of 
paperwork to get this far. 

" I feel almost guilty, but I've got it on a computer now. 
[laughter] I use a data base program to maintain my 
inventory. Of course, in there are the characteristics that 
I'm looking at and the ranges. I enter any needed 
informationbring it up to date, which might take only thirty 
minutes, sort it based on the characteristics that I want to 
go into the blends, and there- -voilA- -is a list of wines to 
use for blending. Then it's exported into a spread sheet 


program I wrote. With the spread sheet it's easy to change 
one number, and it changes the whole thingand it does it 
quickly. So it takes much less time to put a blend together. 
I can put it together on paper and then go grab samples and 
start doing some analysis and tasting. If I'm not satisfied, 
thirty minutes at the computer, and I'm back in the lab again. 
I've gone from weeks to hours, basically. 

Hicke: I'm really interested in how much paperwork is involved and 
how important all these records are. 

P. Ficklin: It's been interesting, over the years, to see the changes. If 
you produce a wine and label it a 1989 Vineyard XYZ 
Chardonnay, eventually somebody may come in and ask for proof 
that the contents are, indeed, what the label claims it to be. 
So you have to go back and show the bottling records for this 
bottle- -that it was bottled out of a certain tankand that 
the wine collected for that tank came from certain barrels, 
and the wine from those barrels came from other barrels, and 
the wine from those barrels came from certain f ermenters , and 
these fermenters were filled from grapes that were delivered 
on a certain day; and show the weight tags on the delivery of 
those grapes and the varietal certification certificate. 

Hicke: These are federal regulations? 

P. Ficklin: Yes, basically. It's also been interesting over the years to 
see the changes in the BATF. I remember as a kid that my 
father would have an inspection by the BATF, and that was a 
very big, scary thing. It was after Prohibition, there were 
people who were looking for ways to cheat, and there were 
agents who were out to try and find people who cheated. So it 
was almost as if there was an assumption that you were doing 
something wrong, and it was going to be found. 

Over the years that has changed, and the people at the 
BATF now are wonderful. A number of them have gone through 
enology courses and they know the kinds of things that are 
involved in winemaking. They're not assuming that you've made 
a mistake, but if you have, they're willing to work with you. 
If they find in this paper trail that maybe you don't show the 
weight tags, they'll help you work out forms and a system to 
fill in the gaps . 


Hi eke: 

P. Ficklin: 

The BATF used to conduct annual inventory inspections, 
where they would come around and go through, checking all 
containers with you and measure everything. You'd produce an 
inventory on how many gallons you had, and that more or less 
correlated with what you were supposed to have and carry on 
your monthly records. Some losses occur normally, due to 
evaporation and such, and anything out of the ordinary would 
be looked into. 

But their focus has changed so much in the last couple of 
years. Of course, they don't have the money they used to 
because of federal cutbacks; but at the same time, with all 
the gang -related things that are going on, there is such a 
change from alcohol to firearms. So people who were 
originally trained in winery, distillery, and other alcohol - 
related inspections are being shifted over to the firearms 
aspect, where they're learning about the different kinds of 
sales of weapons, what's legal and illegal, and all of the 
regulations involved. I've got to knock on wood, but I 
haven't seen anybody for two or three years. [laughter] 

[walking around] Originally all the bottling took place 
out in the front room of the adobe building. Now I've got a 
specific room to keep all the equipment together. These are 
some of the fittings, different tools and odds and ends that 
are used. 

Speaking about the BATF, the brandy that came in was 
brought in and bonded about 170 proof. This is something that 
they watched over like a hawk, because there was a tax revenue 
associated with this. If any disappeared, there were taxes to 
be paid, and that was tax revenue that was lost, as far as 
they were concerned. Here we have the wine spirits storage 
room, and originally the brandy was purchased in fifty-five- 
gallon drums and was put in here, locked up tight, and the 
BATF had the key. 

I don't know if my father explained about the original 
wine spirits additions. 

No, he didn't. 

When port is made, of course you are halting the fermentation 
using brandy. You want to be able add it at the right time, 
because if you add it too late you won't have enough sugar, 
and if you add it too soon you have too much sugar; it's too 
sweet. During the original days of the winery and I don't 


remember that much about it except some of the complaints that 
my father lodged when he would come home . 

As you are aware, many government organizations only work 
so many hours a day, Monday through Friday. My father would 
have grapes in the tank, and perhaps the fermentation would be 
running a little quick. It could be a Sunday night, and he 
would need to get brandy on them to halt the fermentation. I 
think he would use every trick in the book to slow them down. 
I remember he would take an empty fermenter and fill it full 
of dry ice and then would use heat exchangers to cool the 
fermentation. He tried many different ways to control the 
fermentations, and many worked out quite well. When the BATF 
agent finally showed up Monday morning and unlocked the door, 
my father was ready to go and do his wine spirits addition. 
The BATF wanted to actually watch the brandy going in the tank 
and oversee the calculations . 

This tank, because of its straight sides, was very easy 
to gauge the wine and how much brandy would be added. This is 
the original wine spirits addition tank. When all the 
fermenter s were in use and we were pressing, all the juice 
came right in here. As soon as all the wine was pumped in, it 
was immediately gauged to determine the volume. My father 
would do some calculations on how much brandy he would need to 
add to that, and then the brandy drums would come out and 
would be pumped. It was immediately mixed to halt the 
fermentation. So time was a very critical element on this. 

There was an experimental program established- -I don't 
know the dates at several wineries. It must have been hard 
for the people at the BATF to accept; it was unsupervised wine 
spirits additions, which meant that they gave the wineries the 
keys to their wine spirits storage rooms. As long as proper 
records were kept and it was tracked correctly, the program 
remained in place. That took some of the pressure off, but 
the paperwork had to be there to be able to establish exactly 
what was done. If you were off a couple of gallons or so, you 
had to be able to explain exactly what happened. Due to the 
success of this experimental program, which Ficklin Vineyards 
took part in, unsupervised W.S.A's [wine spirits additions] 
are a common operation now. 

That's the way it goes. I can crush on Thursday and 
Friday and do wine spirits additions on Saturday and Sunday, 
This is possible now, whether at nine o'clock at night or at 
six o'clock in the morning, all depending on the grapes and 



fermentation needs. I still have to keep the paper trail 
going, but that's not the problem it used to be, either. 

Was the supervision still in place when you were here? 

P. Ficklin: I vaguely remember the inspectors being around while the 
harvest was going on. 


But the change took place before you came in as winemaker? 

P. Ficklin: Yes. Even since then there have been some changes in the way 
you can vinify the wine, and it makes it much easier as far as 
getting the characteristics and the quality out of the wine. 

This barrel rack wasn't always here. This is where all 
the capping, wrapping, and packaging were done. I remember we 
used to stack the cases on these little wooden flats, about 
five or six cases high, and the freight truck would back up 
out in front; this was before we had any of the other 
buildings. Ve had a small hand cart, and we'd get an order 
for several hundred cases. Well, they were stacked five high 
on about sixty or so pallets in here, and it was necessary to 
go back and forth, one stack at a time, hand stacking them in 
the back of the truck. It wasn't too long after that when we 
got a fork lift. 

This was the original corking machine. At bottling time 
there would be three or four people working. One would 
control the fill on the bottles, another would put the bottles 
on the filling machine and take them off. Yet another person 
would cork them and place them in the cart to be binned. 

Hicke: So it was one bottle at a time and one cork at a time? 

P. Ficklin: Yes. The corking machine that I use today is basically this 

unit. It's almost exactly the same as this except that it has 
been modified over the years. It doesn't have a handle, but 
it has a hydraulic cylinder mounted up on top and a couple of 
control buttons. You push a button, and it's moved 
hydraulically, but it's basically the same machine. 

This room has the bottled wine library and some more of 
the barrels that are in the solera system. There's a 
mechanical barrel lift over there which makes it easy to get 
the empty barrels up and down from their racks. This is where 
the wines were originally binned after bottling, and you can 
see how they were laid down here. There are several little 


Hicke : 

pieces of lathe, and the bottles were stacked in here after 
they were bottled. Of course, when they get up high like 
this, you need somebody up on a ladder. One person would take 
two bottles out and hand them up to the other, and he'd lay 
them down on the lathe. It was almost the same thing getting 
them down; you had to hand them down, two -by- two. They would 
be binned up, and then they'd be allowed to bottle age for a 
period of time. Then you'd start taking them down, and they'd 
get washed, labeled, capped, and wrapped. 

The wines that are in this room are a library of some of 
the earlier vintages and special bottlings, as well as many of 
the non- vintage lots --the regular non- vintage Tinta Port- -from 
some of the early years . A while back I went through and 
recorked a lot of these. We lost a few bottles here and 
there, but all and all they are holding up really well. 

They don't have caps? 

P. Ficklin: No, this is the way everything has been, just a bottle, the 

wine, and the cork. You can see that they are getting kind of 
dirty after being in there for a period of time. 

Hicke: Are they labeled? 

P. Ficklin: No, not yet, but each bin is separate and has a bin record 
with it. For instance, this is lot No. 17- -twenty -nine 
bottles of non- vintage lot No. 17. This other one is a 1948 
Tinta Cao, which is the single variety but all from 1948. 
This was the first vintage varietal wine that my father made, 
from the first crush. So it's a library of a lot of the old 
wines. The '57 that we're re -releasing was originally down in 
the last bin on the left. That's empty now; the bottles have 
been taken to be washed and labeled. I've got cases that I'm 
saving from each of the non-vintage lots that I've done, so I 
want to add more bin shelves in here so that these wines get 
binned up properly. 

Among the other vintages that I've done --this is what I 
have left of the thousand cases of the 1980, my first vintage 
lot. There are about thirty cases here just for the library. 
This other one is a 1982 vintage. There are a little over 
forty cases here. My son was born in 1982, so this is wine 
strictly for him. My daughter was born in '86, and I've got a 
regular vintage bottling of that year that I will release, 
about a thousand cases; so I'll set aside some for her, too. 


Hicke: What's the temperature in here? 

P. Ficklin: Right now it's probably about forty degrees. [laughter] It 

varies. In the summer it's wonderful in here. It'll be fifty 
degrees, since the roof is well insulated. With the volume of 
wine and the thick adobe walls, it stays nice and cool in 
here. It makes a big difference, I'll tell you. If you get a 
little moisture in here, it just penetrates and makes it seem 
very cold. 

Hicke: What variation does the wine allow? 

P. Ficklin: Ten to twenty degrees is not a problem, especially in barrels. 
If it varied much more than that, I would have some problems 
with corks getting pushed out. 

Hicke: [going out the back door] This is the cement block building? 

P. Ficklin: Yes, we'll come back over here in a bit. This is the wine 

spirits storage tank. I no longer get the brandy in drums; it 
is delivered in truckloads now. I can get about 95 percent of 
what I need by truck, and then I can take the pickup down and 
get a couple of drums to finish out. It works out really 
well, no longer having to break your back moving five-hundred 
pound drums . 

This is a lab and office. When this building was put up, 
I wanted to be able to have a little more room rather than 
working in the old lab in the adobe building. It was about 
half this size. At least I have a place to keep everything 
together and in one spot to do my lab work. 

Hicke: I just read in Wines & Vines about someone who has come out 
with two new glass shapes, one for tawny port and one for 
vintage port. I'd like to know what you think is the best 
shape . 

P. Ficklin: I like a glass that looks like this three- or four-ounce 
glass. It's a little smaller for port use than the basic 
five- or six-ounce tulip-shaped glass. It's closed, yet it's 
open at the top enough. It's not as tall as some of the 
traditional, Bur gundy -style glasses that you see. I like it 
because it holds less of a serving, which is perfect with 

2 Each tulip -shaped glass hold about 8.8 ounces and is 6.75 inches high 
Wines & Vines. January 1992. 



V ineyards 

Ficklin Vineyards Special Bottlings 

Special PQttling #1 The 1951 vintage was made from the Touriga grape variety. 
Bottled in 1954 directly from the puncheons, its aging potential was enhanced by the 
use of an extra long 2 inch cork and sealing wax. With only 5.5 brix, it is an 
excellent choice for those who prefer dry port. 

Special Bottling #2 Lot #5 of Ficklin Tinta Port was bottled in February, 1955. This 
non-vintage port is a blend of Tinta Madeira, Touriga, Tinta Cao, and Alvarelhao. 

Special Bottling #3 1953 Tinta Madeira was bottled directly from 3 puncheons in 
February 1957. This particular wine is a fine example of how the Tinta Madeira 
variety can "stand alone" as a port. Rich and flavorful with a beautiful nose, its 
response to bottle aging is most gratifying. 

Special Bottling #4 1957 Tinta Madeira was bottled directly from the puncheons in 
February of 1960. It has a distinct and complex character which reflects the use of pot 
still brandy made from our own Tinta Madeira grapes. 

Special Bottling #5 Made from three exceptional lots of the 1980 vintage. The blend 
of Touriga (about 40%), Tinta Medeira (about 40%), Souzao (about 15%), and Tinta 
Cao (the remaining 5%) was aged in selected 50 gallon American oak barrels. In 
April of 1983, the wine was bottled and laid down in the cellar. It was released in 
November of 1987. 

Special Bottling #6 Slightly fewer than 1000 cases of this 1983 vintage port were 
produced and only about 700 have been released. Each of the four Portuguese grape 


30246 Avenue 1 / 

Madera, CA 93637 


Ficklin Vineyards Special Bottlings 


varieties used contribute flavor components that complement each other to build a 
unique structure. Souzao (42%) is aromatic, full in flavor, and rich with deep, 
resplendent color. Tinta Madeira (35%) has a rich chocolate flavor with hints of 
raspberry and spice. Touriga (19%) is noted for its concentrated fruit flavor and 
distinctive aroma. Last, Tinta Cao (4%) has a soft and subtle flavor with delicate 



P. Ficklin: 

ports, and it has a nice, open vase shape so that you can 
swirl the wine. Sometimes people use an aperitif glass or a 
liqueur glass for port, and there's not enough room to allow 
the wine to open up. This has room at the top for your nose, 
yet it's closed a little bit so that you can hold the aroma 

This building was built in the late '70s. Some of the 
stainless steel tanks here are used initially for wine spirits 
additions. Wine is pumped from the press and the fermenters 
over to here, the brandy is added, and everything gets mixed. 
It's also here that the initial lees sediment settles out that 
has a lot of the yeast material. I usually rack the wine off 
that kind of material within about a month. I don't like to 
let it sit too long on the yeast, because the yeast will 
degrade and cause some odor problems, especially in a 
stainless steel tank. 

This tank was originally over in the concrete building 
and moved over here when this building was completed. The 
other two hold about forty tons worth of wine, and these 
others will hold about twenty tons. These smaller two tanks 
are used for blending and bottling. I draw wine from barrels 
and pump the blend together, the different years and 
varieties, and it all goes into this tank. 

One of the smaller ones . 

Yes. This one is a little bit bigger than that one. When I 
collect wine out of the other building, it goes into this tank 
to bottle, so it gets mixed and is then bottled. I schedule 
bottlings about six or seven times a year, and I keep all the 
equipment together here. 

Here's the filling machine for bottling. There's a 
filter; it's a plate and frame filter that uses a cellulose 
pad on it and a paper backing sheet. The wine is filtered and 
goes directly into the filling machine; it's a syphon unit, so 
by maintaining a level in the reservoir it's easy to control 
the fill in the bottles. 

The bottles are taken off here- -there's the corking 
machine- -they get corked, go back in a case; the case rolls 
out, gets stacked on the pallet, and goes over to the other 
building. The pallets of empty glass stacked up in the corner 
are brought in here, and then the cases with empty bottles are 
stacked on this conveyor. On a good day it's possible to do 



P. Ficklin: 


P. Ficklin: 


about four hundred cases, so it takes about four days to 
bottle this tank of wine. If it takes four or five days of 
collecting wine and pumping it, another four or five days of 
actual bottling, several days of blending and refilling tanks, 
et cetera, it's easy to see where the time goes. So every 
time you bottle, there is work to get ready for it and some to 
finish up afterwards, too. 

Does it take about three weeks then? 

Yes, roughly. The empty glass over here comes in on a truck. 
I just got a load of glass in, so the overflow is stacked in 
the aisle here. 

Can you use recycled glass for bottles? 

I have, and it's more expensive than new glass. I think if 
the recyclers could deal with a larger quantity and encourage 
everybody to recycle, they could hold costs down. There are 
two different recycling methods. A lot of the glass that is 
made today is from recycled glass. It's broken up, melted, 
and they make new glass out of it. But actual bottles that 
people set out in bins for the recycling centers to be washed 
and refilled, that's quite a bit more expensive. 

Also in here are all the barrels of different wines that 
are sorted by year and variety, and these are the wines that I 
blend from. For instance, these five barrels here are 1990 
Tinta Madeira, Lot No. 2- -designated as 90 TM2 . Those five 
barrels are from racking one tank to another, and there was an 
extra 250 gallons of wine. 

This wine is a 1990 Touriga/ Tinta Cao, when two 
varieties were picked and crushed together. I try and keep 
the varieties separate as much as possible, but there are a 
number of times that I do crush them together, especially with 
the Touriga. I only take a few tons of Tinta Cao, so usually 
I put that in with another variety. Souzao is a difficult one 
to crush because of the very thick skin on it, so I like to 
add a little Touriga into that when it's picked, and it makes 
everything go through the crusher quite a bit better. So 
there are good reasons for it, and you might say it's a little 
bit of a field blend. 

What are the characteristics of the different varieties? 


P. Ficklin: 


Tinta Madeira tends to be very fruity, with raspberry 
flavors --very, very nice; Souzao has a lot of color, depth, 
and richness to it; Tinta Cao has a nice, delicate aroma, very 
soft flavors; and the Touriga has a little bit of a spiciness 
to it and perhaps a brambly character. All of these different 
characteristics come together and enhance each other. That's 
the way I like to describe it. 

I work closely with Steve on getting the fruit when it's 
ready. The family has raisins, currants, and table grapes, 
but when it comes time to pick the port varieties, everything 
else stops. Usually it takes about half a day to pick the 
twenty tons, and then the crews can go finish the day with 
work on the raisins or do whatever needs to be done. It makes 
my job so much easier to get good, sound quality fruit. I 
can't emphasize that enough, because I'm not spending my time 
trying to blend for the deficiencies or to cover up aspects of 
the fruit that are detrimental . I can work more on the 
positive end of things, bringing things together to enhance 
each other rather than work with a variety where the pH went 
up too high and the color isn't there. Getting clean, sound 
fruit makes my job a whole lot easier. 

You're talking about the ability to pick whenever it's exactly 

P. Ficklin: Yes. Steve and I discuss crop size, and early in the year we 
talk about bloom, the weather, and all the other factors. 

As barrels are emptied in here, they're refilled from the 
tanks, and then I can rack the tanks from one to another. If 
there are seventy barrels to blend into a tank, then I've got 
seventy barrels that may be refilled from two or three tanks; 
I like to keep all my wood cooperage full as much as possible 
so that it doesn't dry out. Stainless steel can be empty and 
it doesn't have any problems, but I like to keep all my wood 
tanks and barrels full. 

That's about all there is in here. We can step over to 
the concrete building and see where it goes from there. The 
sales tend to be seasonal, so right now in the winter we're 
spending more time getting wine ready to ship, doing a few 
bottlings, and those sorts of things. In the spring when it 
warms up a bit, more time can be spent doing some winery 
maintenance, work on shipping, and getting equipment ready to 
crush. In the fall, of course, we will be doing our crushing 
and things like that. 


Hicke: Why are the sales seasonal? 

P. Ficklin: Port tends to be a winter drink for a lot of people. They 

associate cold weather, a fireplace, and a glass of port. I'm 
working on that, too. I'm trying to get more people to use 
wine for different things in the spring and summer, but it 
still tends to be quite seasonal. The biggest sales months 
are October to February. 

This is where the bottled wine is aged and then prepared 
for shipping. When the wine is bottled, it is brought over 
here and stacked up on the pallets up in the back. This is 
where it bottle -ages for about a year. When it's time to 
ship, the bottles need to be labeled, capped, and wrapped. It 
takes about a day to label 170 cases. A tin cap is spun on 
each bottle over there, then the bottles are wrapped in tissue 
paper, put in a case, the case is stacked on a pallet, and 
those pallets are ready to ship to Parrott & Co. So this is 
the final step. 

Did you have to change from lead caps? 

Yes. That's something I changed about six months ago. The 
lead capsules are tin coated inside and out, and it's a very 
malleable metal alloy. Of course, the tin capsules are more 
expensive. There are some new aluminum ones out that I'm 
going to look at, and they should be coming out with some new 
alloys that will also be safe. 

Hicke: What about corks? Do you ever have any problems with corks? 

P. Ficklin: Yes, every now and then you get some corks that cause 

problems. You try and get the best corks you can, especially 
important for a port that may be in the bottle longer than 
other wine. They're expensive, too. You just kind of go with 
what's available as well as knuckling down and paying the 
going price. 

'There's the labeling machine over there. I've got 
another one over in the other building that I traded a couple 
of cases of wine for. It was in southern California, so one 
time when I was down there with the pickup, I took this man 
some wine and he gave me his old labeling machine. I've got 
some spare parts now, you see. 


P. Ficklin 



P. Ficklin 

P. Ficklin 

That's basically it, unless you have any other questions 
I can answer. 

I'm interested in the image of port that you're creating. I 
just finished reading some [Charles] Dickens, and I'm reading 
the Forsyte Saga by [John] Galsworthy. Those characters 
always have this huge, long dinner that ends with a sweet, a 
savory, and fruit, and then there's port. It's wonderful, 
because they sit around drinking their port. What kind of 
image are you trying to or would you like to create for port? 

From the image that port had in the fifties , there needs to be 
a tremendous change, and I think it's occurring. 


[back in his office] There was a real problem with the image 
of port for years. My father was encouraged to produce a 
premium port in California, and so here we are today. 

I think the image of port is changing slowly; it's become 
much more acceptable as many people aren't as aware of the 
alcoholics and cheap ports. That's really neat as far as I'm 
concerned, because I'm seeing a lot more younger people who 
are interested and want to know more about it. Especially 
when I pour it at different tastings and charity events, 
they're interested in other wines as well. That's exciting to 
see . 

Rather than just sell to the masses, I'd like to see some 
education go along, too. What could be easier and simpler at 
a dinner party with some friends, rather than having a big, 
rich dessert afterward, than to sit around and sip on a glass 
of port with a little fresh fruit? The conversation lingers, 
and people enjoy it. Sip on a little port, and nobody will 
have that full, burdened feeling when they're done. That's 
what I'm trying to get across. 



/i n e y a r as 



>HOL, 18.5', 

Ficklin Vineyards Tinta Port 

ricklin Vineyards has produced Tinta Port since the winery 
was founded in 1946. In the tradition of European wine 
estates, all of the grapes are grown in the Ficklin' s own 
vineyards that surround the hand-built adobe winery. Only 
the classic Portuguese grape varieties are used in the blend 
which includes Tinta Madeira, Touriga, Tinta Cao, and 
Souzao. Ficklin Vineyards produces about 9,000 cases each 
year. To ensure consistency, the Ficklins have developed a 
unique solera system that blends a portion of each port the 
winery has ever produced into each new blend. 


[Interview continues with David and Jean Ficklin] 

More on Walter C. Ficklin 

Hicke: You started to tell me a story. 

D. Ficklin: This was quite a few years ago for me even. One time I was 

delivering a case of wine to a customer in Fresno. Of course 
our wine cartons have our family name, Ficklin, rather 
prominently printed on the outside. The case was there, and a 
total stranger came up to me and asked me if I were related to 
Walter Ficklin. I said yes, that he was my father. This 
stranger looked me in the eye and said, "He saved my life." 
It turned out that he had been in farming during the 
Depression, and at one point he had no place to turn for 
financing, so he approached the production credit [Fresno- 
Madera Producion Credit Association] people, my father 
included, and was given a loan. 

Hicke: So your father was in this association which actually loaned- - 

J. Ficklin: He was the manager of Production Credit Association. 

D. Ficklin: Yes, in the Fresno office. 

J. Ficklin: And very well thought of. 

Hicke: This was in the thirties? 

D. Ficklin: Yes. 


Marketing: Parrott & Co. 

Hicke: Jean, I wanted to ask you about the marketing entertainment. 

J. Ficklin: We used to do it at least once a year. People would be 

brought in, generally to the Livermore area or the Bay Area, 
and then they'd come down here one day. 

Hicke: Where is the headquarters for the distributors? 

J. Ficklin: Now it's at Livermore. The Wente family own Parrott & Co. 

When we first went with Parrott, it was owned by several other 
families . 

D. Ficklin: Including the Martinis. 

J. Ficklin: Yes, Louis [P.] Martini, the Wente Bros., and then there were 
some other individuals . Eventually the Wentes bought them out 
and now control the stock. They handle all the marketing for 
us all over the country. It was neat to get to meet some of 
the people and have them come in. They'd have a tour of the 
winery, see the vineyard, and get to know the family. Then 
we'd have a luncheon for them, and a couple of times we had 
dinners for them. We'd have some good wine with it and lots 
of sociability. It was fun. 

D. Ficklin: One big family type of thing? 

J. Ficklin: Many times we prepared everything ourselves, and then the 
group got to be pretty big, so we would get part of it 
catered. We always had Armenian sarmas, the stuffed grape 
leaves. We had them the first time the group came here, so 
every time afterwards we had to have them; they'd say, "Now, 
be sure you're going to have those." [laughter] Another 
favorite was guacamole. 

D. Ficklin: Oh, yes. 

Hicke: How did you happen to select Parrott to start with? 

D. Ficklin: Louis [P.] Martini approached me one time about whether I 
might be interested. It sounded good to me. 



J. Ficklin: 


D. Ficklin: 

J. Ficklin: 


D. Ficklin 

J. Ficklin 

thirteen wholesalers, and we were dealing with each individual 
wholesaler, trying to get them to pay on time, trying to keep 
in touch with them. That was sort of my responsibility, and 
it got to be a little much. So when we had this opportunity 
to go with Parrott- -they would send a truck down and pick up 
the wine here. Their headquarters were up in the Bay Area at 
that time. They would warehouse the wine, and then they would 
take care of the shipments going out from up there. There 
would be one invoice for the truckload, and they would handle 
all the rest of the invoicing, collecting, and everything up 

So they actually buy the wine from you. 

Yes, and then they go ahead and distribute it. They have the 
licenses to go out of state into a number of the other states, 
so that's how we've been able to do that. 

What other states do you sell in? 

In the major markets around the country, like New York, 

Peter is going to be heading off to Boston and [gets copy of 
schedule and shows it to Carole] . This schedule is all worked 
up for him by Donna Wilcox, who is a member of the Parrott 
organization. She's our brand manager. 

[looking at schedule] It's a good thing I caught him when I 
did. [laughter] 

This will be his first major experience like this, 
some tastings within the state. 

He's done 

And dinners. On Monday he's going to go up to a very fancy 
restaurant in Sacramento. He and Phil Wente are doing a 
winemakers' dinner. They're going to have Wente wines through 
the meal, and then the dessert will be Ficklin port with three 
different types of chocolate desserts. They'll get a chance 
to talk about the wines. This is offered through the 
restaurant, which will have maybe forty people who will buy 
this dinner. He's done several of those. Well, David has 
done these, too. 


Do you get people calling you after that? 
idea of what kind of impact this has? 

Do you have any 


D. Ficklin: They work through Parrott, of course, if orders are generated, 
so it's a little difficult to evaluate. 

J. Ficklin: The interesting thing about this one that Peter is going to be 
doing Monday night is that they have gotten permission- -and I 
guess this is through alcohol and beverage control (ABC) --to 
actually sell wines after the dinner. 

D. Ficklin: This is a dinner with the winemakers , and the people pay their 
own way. 

J. Ficklin: Yes. I think the charge for this dinner is forty dollars. 
Hicke: Part of the fun is meeting the winemakers. 

J. Ficklin: I think so. This is a dinner that has been arranged by 

another of the Parrott people, Jack Clara, who handles the 
Sacramento area. 

D. Ficklin: One time when Jean and I were in southern California doing 

this type of thing, we had these gourmet dinners three nights 
in a row. [laughter] 

J. Ficklin: It was too much. Instead of making the trip up and down and 
up and down the state, we did three of them. 

Hicke: [looking at pictures] In this picture I can see that when you 
were first bottling you stood them straight upright 
afterwards . For how long? 

D. Ficklin: Oh, just overnight. 

J. Ficklin: Then they would be binned up in those bins that you saw over 

there. This is an old one of about the same time, showing the 
data at the barrel racks. [tape off] 

Hicke: We were just talking about some of the images that port 

J. Ficklin: We think there's a definite trend for young people to be 

appreciating ports now. We've experienced going to tastings 
where years ago we would have older, middle-aged people coming 
up and trying the port, but we would have young people coming 
by and saying, "Oh, I don't like port," and "Oh, port! 
Oooh"--this kind of reaction. Today we're having young people 
bringing their friends over to taste it, saying, "I know 
that," or, "My grandmother drinks that." [laughter] I do 


think there is an appreciation for a quality port today, and I 
think it's growing. We certainly have experienced that, and 
we've done a lot of tastings. 

Computerizing the Record-keeoinc 

Hicke: Jean, can you give me a little review of how things have 
changed, particularly from your viewpoint? 

J. Ficklin: Seeing the expansion, the modest increase in production that 
we've had has been very, very gratifying. With Peter coming 
into the business, this has been tremendous from both of our 
standpoints. He has computerized so much that it has helped 
my responsibilities tremendously, so I'm spending much less 
time. I'm trying desperately to retire. [laughter] 

D. Ficklin: I can add a thought here. Jean is really the glue that holds 
everything together around here. An important part of this 
story is the key role that my wife, Jean, played from the time 
we were first married in November, 1949. It seemed that she 
was always available, volunteering to help in any way that she 
could. I remember one of the early occasions where she found 
me trying to put order into the storage of a collection of 
hardware, spare parts, etc. I quickly learned that this was 
"right up her alley." In no time we had everything neatly 
sorted and labeled on shelves. 

At vintage time her help was especially appreciated. In 
the early years the vintage was particularly busy for me. The 
grapes for crushing were picked in fifty-pound boxes; I was 
the one who dumped these boxes into the crusher. Then, in 
preparation for pressing, the pomace had to be shoveled by 
hand out of the fermenter into the press. If I had any spare 
time, I could always punch cap, again by hand. 

You can see that I might be very grateful for Jean's 
help, tracking down figures and recording them for reports, 
answering the telephone, opening mail, answering letters- - 
whatever needed to be done . These things she did very 
efficiently and unobtrusively. At the same time, she was 
operating our household: three meals a day, rearing two 
little boys, the whole bit. As time passed, she assumed 
responsibility for bookkeeping, records and reports for wine 
taxes, payroll and payroll taxes, etc., etc. She proved that 



J. Ficklin: 


J. Ficklin: 


J. Ficklin: 


she was equal to this and more by preparing lunches or dinners 
for important visitors as well. 

Perhaps now you can understand why I speak of her as "the 
glue that holds everything together." 

Peter talks a lot about the necessary paperwork, and I assume 
that was part of your job. I had not realized how important 
that is. 

Well, you know, we're a permissive industry, meaning that we 
depend upon operating within the code of the government forms 
and the bureaucracy of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and 
Firearms. Anything that we do really has to be pretty much 
approved by them, so we have a code of regulations that we 
operate within. We can only do certain things. For example, 
some states allow wineries to use sugar in wine. California 
does not. You have to keep track of every bit of grapes and 
brandy coming in; your quantities have to be recorded. Then 
you have to show in your records that you have used the grapes 
and the brandy to produce a certain quantity of wine. There's 
an estimate in there, and if you can't account for your 
beverage brandy, you're in trouble, because it comes in in 

Peter told me about keeping it under lock and key, which David 
had to deal with when he wanted to stop the fermentation. 

That goes back to when David would get up in the middle of the 
night and put yeast in sometimes in order to have the wine 
ready at a certain point. It is much, much better today. I 
think our government inspectors are more knowledgeable. The 
paperwork has gotten to be pretty heavy, but at least let's 
just say that some of them can add better than they could 
before. [laughter] 

One of your jobs was keeping all these records? 

Yes. Dave would do the fermentation and the production 
record, and then I would take it from there to get it into the 
daily and monthly reports. We would work together to make 
sure that everything was balanced. Now Peter is doing much of 
this on the computer. 

A daily report would summarize your daily operations, and you 
had to submit a monthly report? 


J. Ficklin: Yes, and we had to have the backup papers. For example, we 

would have a still wine record, and that was on a daily basis. 
If you sold wine, if you made wine- -all of this went on this 
sheet; if you bottled wine it went on another sheet; if you 
removed so many bottles, if you took out samples or anything- - 
this all had to be marked down on these reports. Then you had 
to summarize them at the end of the month and submit them. 

Twice a year we used to have to take an inventory, and we 
would actually have to count the bottles and figure the total 
quantity, count the barrels- -submit so many barrels, so many 
puncheons, and list all of them. The bottled wines were 
summarized; you didn't have to list individual bottles. When 
you bottled in, say, November and then had shipped out from 
earlier wines, you had to be able to show when you took a 
December inventory that you could account for that. 

Hicke: Were they worried about selling on the black market? 

J. Ficklin: I think things going out the back door and so forth. They 
wanted to protect their revenue. The minute that the wine 
comes out of the winery, it's subject to tax. We were paying 
67 cents a gallon on dessert wines. Perhaps you've read about 
how they are increasing the tax. We were going to have to pay 
$1.57 for every gallon in taxes, but because we're a small 
producer, meaning that we produce less than 500,000 gallons a 
year, we get a credit of 90 cents. We still have to submit 
the form at $1.57 and then show the deduction of 90 cents a 
gallon, which brings it right back down to the 67 cents that 
we were paying previously. That's federal. 

For the state it used to be 2 cents a gallon, and that 
had to be paid monthly on any wine removed, unless it was 
removed in bond. That has just gone up to 20 cents a gallon. 

Hicke: And you don't get a credit on the state tax? 

J. Ficklin: No. That's one of the new state taxes. 

Hicke: How does that affect you? Does Parrott handle that? 

J. Ficklin: No, we pay the taxes. 

Hicke: Does that just get added to the price of the bottle? 

J. Ficklin: Yes. When you have an increase in the price of wine that is 
going out, you figure what your taxes are, what your cost of 

production is, and so forth and then have a modest increase. 
We've tried to keep our prices modest. 

Our first wine that went on the market in 1952 was $1.90 
a bottle. 

Hicke: What does it sell for now? 

J. Ficklin: Approximately $9.00 a bottle. 

Hicke: What is your production now? 

J. Ficklin: We're just under nine thousand cases. 

Hicke: Do you recall what it was when you started the winery? 

J. Ficklin: David will know. 

Hicke: It has obviously increased some. 

J. Ficklin: Oh, yes. It was much smaller. Our first crush was 
approximately ten tons. 

Hicke: Your first bottling was in '52? 

J. Ficklin: No, we bottled it earlier and released it in '52. 

This past year was just a little smaller; we crushed 
99.6435 tons. The reason that I know that is because I was 
just figuring taxes on it. [laughs] I came off very lucky on 
that, because a certain grape crush assessment starts at 100 
tons, and we didn't have to pay it this year. [laughter] 

Many of the things I was dealing with in all of these 
reports have now been computerized. Peter and I have been 
checking each other's work back and forth, getting the bugs 
out of this. I could help him where I knew what had to be 
done , he could do the computer operations , and then we could 
check it against- -we kept some duplicate records in some 
places until we had really gotten the confidence. But now our 
required government forms are computerized. 

Hicke: Do you know what kind of computer and software he is using? 

J. Ficklin: In bookkeeping we're using Solomon, and for the rest of the 
winery records, he writes his own programs with dBase. The 
computer is a Compaq. Several years ago, under the new 


federal tax laws, they decided that we had to capitalize our 
inventory. Because we had inventory that we were aging, we 
had to go back to about 1970 and re -figure the values of that 
inventory. The accountant worked with this, and it was just 
when we were getting into the computer aspect. Peter was able 
to do a lot of it by going back and figuring it out. You 
could only take so much of someone's time; it wasn't 
completely deductible any more. Part of it had to go to 
inventory, and part of it had to go to- -this was a whole new 
ball game, and because we had these old, old wines we had to 
go back that many years. We ended up having a terrific 
financial tax that we had to pay, but we were given five years 
to pay it. 

Hicke: That was the new '85 tax law? 

J. Ficklin: Yes. It was a real burden. It boosted our inventory value; 
it did that, and we do feel now that we have a very honest 
appraisal of our inventory. But wait until they change the 
tax laws again! 

Hicke: Do you get some help from the Small Business Administration? 
Do you have any dealings with them? 

J. Ficklin: No, we haven't. We have had a very fine CPA firm that has 
been absolutely outstanding in helping us through some of 
these problems. 

Hicke: Is that a local firm? 

J. Ficklin: It is Stoughton Davidson in Fresno. They're a financial 
accounting firm. John Stoughton is an old friend of the 
family. In fact, his wife was one of David's father's staff 
in production credit. So things go back and are all sort of 
tied together. 

Port Glassware 


[David re-enters] I have an article here about two new port 
glasses that have been developed, one for tawny port and one 
for vintage port. [See footnote 85] You showed me the glass 
that you liked. Do you think these are going to have any 
advantage, or are they just something for people to have fun 


D. Ficklin: [looking at pictures of glasses] It's a little difficult to 
say. It's a whole new concept almost, isn't it? It's a 
generous size, 8.8 ounces. 

Hicke : 

One would assume, I guess, that one wouldn't fill it all the 
way up. 

D. Ficklin: I guess I'm more of a traditionalist and prefer something more 
modest in size. 

Winery Expansion in the Mid -Seventies 

Hicke: One of the things we didn't get to talk much about is the 
expansion that took place in the seventies. Why did you 
decide to build another building? 

D. Ficklin: The market for wines in the seventies seemed very favorable 

for the wine industry, and then with our son Peter coming into 
it, that was a big factor, too. It was something that he 
could build on. 

Hicke: Before that you hadn't thought about expanding? 

D. Ficklin: I was approaching the time when I wanted to think about 

D. Ficklin: 

Hicke : 

D. Ficklin: 


If Peter hadn't indicated his desire to be in the business, we 
probably wouldn't have gone ahead and put up that third 

Had you ever been approached by someone who wanted to purchase 
the winery? 

Oh, I guess so. That crosses Jean's desk. A number of people 
have made inquiries. We haven't ever given selling serious 

I suppose one of the advantage of having a big corporate owner 
or even another owner is investment of capital. Nevertheless, 
you expanded without that. That's a bit more chancey for a 
small business. 

Expansion of the Winery 

Right: cleaning out old 
barrels, 1980. 

Lower left: putting in the 
tank pads, 1978. 

Lower right: installing the 
storage tanks for settling 
the new wine, 1978. 


D. Ficklin: Oh [laughs], a little bit of everything. There's always 

gardening to do, and we have property to oversee. That's what 
this chimney sweep came for; we have a house over there that 
we're getting ready to rent. We both like to swim in the 
summertime, we both ride bicycles, and we have a motor home 
for taking trips. We keep busy. And I have my amateur radio 

Future of Port 

Hicke : 

J. Ficklin: 


J. Ficklin: 


J. Ficklin: 


J. Ficklin: 


D. Ficklin: 

What do you see for the future of port, Jean? 

I think there's quite a future for it. I see people using 
port as an after-dinner drink and as a dessert. I think the 
liqueurs and cordials are being used less and less. I think 
people are using port. 

How do you account for this? 

I think part of it is the emphasis on less alcohol 

Are liqueurs higher in alcohol content? 

Yes, they are. 

The port we just had is so rich tasting, 
and satisfying- - 

It makes a wonderful 

It's a sipping drink. It isn't something that you drink in 
any great quantity. That's one of the things that I think is 
an indication that port is going to be successful. More and 
more people are going to be drinking it, because they don't 
need to drink that much wine to have that pleasant feeling. 

What" do you see for the future of port, Dave? 

I go along with what Peter says, and I'm an optimist. I think 
that if people have an opportunity to taste quality ports, 
they will develop a liking for it. So I think we are going to 
see it be more important in the marketplace than it is right 



D. Ficklin: 


Do you see it becoming more popular in restaurants as well? 

We do see that already. I think Jean mentioned Marriscotti's 
and the Vineyard Restaurant. They have a daughter who lives 
up in the Bay Area, and on one visit they were going to this 
very nice restaurant (I don't recall the name). I guess they 
visited with the owner of the restaurant, both being in the 
same line of work. Someone mentioned that she was a new 
grandparent, so after they had their meal, the proprietor of 
the restaurant brought them a glass of Ficklin port. Yes, we 
hear more about it all the time. 

I think that's a good note to end on. I thank you so very 
much for the time you have spent telling us about Ficklin 

D. Ficklin: It was my pleasure. 


TAPE GUIDE- -Ficklin Vineyards 

David and Jean Ficklin 

Interview 1: January 18, 1992 

tape 1, side a 1 

tape 1, side b H 

tape 2, side a 20 

tape 2, side b 28 

David Ficklin 

Interview 2: January 19, 1992 

tape 3, side a 40 

tape 3, side b 52 

Peter Ficklin 

Interview 3: Jaunary 19, 1992 

tape 4, side a 59 

tape 4, side b 69 

tape 5, side a 80 

tape 5, side b 90 

David and Jean Ficklin (continued) 91 

tape 6, side a 100 

INDEX- -Ficklin Winery 


Amerine, Maynard, 12-14 

Bank of America, 3, 6 
Beach, Ella, 7 
brandy, 13, 81-82, 85 

tasting of, 67-69 
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and 

Firearms, 16-17, 80-82, 96 

California Products, 30 
Christian Brothers winery, 51 

Eutypa, 45, 52 

fan leaf virus, 26-27, 42-43 
Ficklin, Alfred Colquitt, 6 
Ficklin, David 

background and childhood, 1-8 

education, 8-9 

military service, 8-10 
Ficklin, Jean 32-33, 34-39, 95-96 
Ficklin, Otto, 7 
Ficklin, Peter, 24, 33, 44, 47- 

48, 50, 57-58, 59-90, 93 
Ficklin, Steven, 33, 40-58, 88 
Ficklin, Walter C., 1-4, 7-8, 28- 

29,- 36, 56-57, 63-64, 91 
Ficklin, Walter C. Jr., 2, 8, 11, 

15, 17, 41, 52, 57 
Ficklin Winery 

building of, 15-17, 

description of, 76-90 

employees, 49-50 

equipment, 19-21, 61-63, 76-90 

establishment of, 11-18; 

first crush, 18-19, 25; 

growth of, 32-39, 100-101; 

Gallo winery, 52 
Grabhorn Press, 28 
Guymon, James F. , 13, 67 

irrigation, 54-55 

Leavitt, George, 43, 45 
Lewis, George Canby, 7 
Lin, Eric, 68 

marketing, 21-22, 27-29, 36, 74- 

76, 89, 92-95 
Martini, Louis P. , 92 
McHenry, Mike, 43 

Olmo, Harold P. , 14 

Parrott&Co., 70, 74-75, 92-93 

peach crops, 5-6 

port, passim. 

blending of, 22-24, 69, 78-80 
developing yeast culture for, 


drinkability quotient, 72-73 
image of, 90, 94-95 
Solera-type aging, 22-23 
vintage, 23-24, 70-72, 74, 84 

Quady, Andrew, 66 
Quady Winery, 51-52 

raisin crops, 4-5, 41-42 
Sun-Maid Raisin Association, 4-6 
trellising, 55 

University of California at Davis, 
11-16, 33, 43, 46, 47, 55, 64- 

University of California at Los 
Angeles, 7, 8-9, 

Vie -Del Company, 30, 68 
viticulture of port grapes, 25- 
27, 40-58 

Weiss, Emma, 7 
Wente Bros. , 92 
Wine Institute, 20 


wine, judging of, 29-30 
Winkler, Albert J., 13, 14 
Wolpert, Jim, 43 

Wines Mentioned in the Interview 

brandy, 13, 67-69, 81-82, 85 

Emerald Riesling, 101 

port, tawny, 72-73 

port, vintage, 23-24, 70-72, 74, 


Ruby Cabernet, 101 
Tinta Port, 23, 25, 70 

Grapes Mentioned in the Interview 
Alvarelhao, 14, 27 
Cabernet Sauvignon, 66 
Emerald Riesling, 14, 27 
Ruby Cabernet, 14, 27 
Souzao, 46, 47, 53, 87, 88 
Thompson Seedless, 41, 47 
Tinta Cao, 14, 46, 53, 87, 88 
Tinta Madeira, 14, 27, 43, 46, 

73, 88 

Touriga, 14, 87, 88 
Zinfandel, 52, 66 

Carole E. Hicke 

B.A. , University of Iowa; economics 

M.A. , San Francisco State University; U.S. history with emphasis on the 
American West; thesis: "James Rolph, Mayor of San Francisco." 

Interviewer/editor/writer, 1978-present , for business and law firm 
histories, specializing in oral history techniques. Independently 

Interviewer-editor, Regional Oral History Office, University of California, 
Berkeley, 1985 to present, specializing in California legal, political, and 
business histories. 

Author : Heller. Ehrman. White & McAuliffe: A Century of Service to Clients 
and Community. 1991. 

Editor (1980-1985) newsletters of two professional historical associations: 
Western Association of Women Historians and Coordinating Committee for 
Women in the Historical Profession. 

Visiting lecturer, San Francisco State University in U.S. history, history 
of California, history of Hawaii, legal oral history. 

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