Bud break: It happens every year around this time — March 15 is the average date for our region. Some grape vines “bud out” with new shoot growth before mid-March — some already have.

But in general, the vines across this county will remain dormant for a few more weeks, giving them protection from any late-winter frost.

Late winter is a relatively quiet time for winemakers, but there’s lots of activity just around the corner: The whites and rosés from the 2012 harvest are bottle-ready, as many winemakers are preparing spring releases for pinks and certain white varietals.

Right now is also when winemakers hit the road to market their wines to distributers, or directly to the public via festivals and events. World of Pinot Noir just took place in Shell Beach, and in March, Rhone Rangers, dedicated to all things Rhone, returns to San Francisco. Also in March is Family Winemakers in San Diego. In April is the annual Vintners’ Festival, hosted in Solvang this year by the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association.

———

Here’s a story with a happy ending: Jefferson Wilkes, a widely loved industry-insider with a wine brand called J. Wilkes, died suddenly in 2010, leaving the future of his label uncertain.

In 2012, the Miller Family of Santa Barbara, owners of Bien Nacido, Solomon Hills and French Camp vineyards as well as Central Coast Wine Services, purchased the brand. The family’s goal: Re-brand J. Wilkes, but keep alive the spirit of Wilkes’ efforts.

“Jeff Wilkes started working with our family in 1984. He was charged with fruit sales at our Bien Nacido and French Camp Vineyards properties. For 18 pivotal years, Jeff’s diligence, hard work and love for these vineyards helped to elevate these unique sites, and much of what Jeff did has lead to our success today,” said Nicholas Miller, spokesman for the Thornhill Companies, parent company of the vineyards, various other wine labels and the production sites owned by the Millers.

Longtime wine industry employee Vidal Perez is the new winemaker at J. Wilkes, and will oversee the production of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot blanc, all from grapes grown in the Santa Maria Valley appellation.

Born in Ensenada, Mexico, to a large family, Perez graduated from Fresno State University with a degree in Viticulture and Enology. He worked his way up through the wine industry as a vineyard worker, cellar worker, vineyard manager, and eventually became an assistant winemaker at Central Coast Wine Services in Santa Maria, where J. Wilkes made his wines.

“The wines of the Santa Maria Valley appellation have always held a special place in my heart. They have a personality very much all their own and when well made, they can really express a unique terroir,” Perez said. “I am honored to be continuing, in any small way that I can, the great legacy that Mr. Wilkes left behind.”

For more about J. Wilkes brand, visit www.jwilkes.com.

Freelance writer Laurie Jervis can be reached at winecountrywriter@gmail.com. Her blog is www.centralcoastwinepress.com

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