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Vineyard Volunteers

03/19/2013 03:43PM ● Published by Sandie Tillery

Burnsini Vineyards in Cottonwood

Story: Sandie Tillery Photos: Kara Stewart

Sometime from mid-August to mid-September, Burnsini Vineyards in Cottonwood will be filled with the happy sounds of friends and neighbors bantering and joking over heavy-laden vines. “Will work for food” takes on a new twist with this crew, because that is literally what they are willing to do. When Tom Burnham tells his wife Joy it’s time to pick the grapes, she gets on the phone and calls faithful friends who have joined them in the harvest year after year. They in turn often invite others who are willing to show up as the early rays of the day creep over the horizon. The workers usually pick for a good three hours before Tom calls his “vineyard volunteers” to the table for breakfast, prepared by a friend who is also a chef.

Tom and Joy Burnham, along with friends and neighbors Jim and Deanna Tomasini, planted their first grapes on seven acres that they own in 1990. It was to be a retirement hobby. For Tom, it has grown into a full-time “hobby.” Jim and Deanna help with the harvesting and tastings and are equal financial investors. Tom holds the title of general manager and Joy does the bookkeeping. Jim helps out with maintaining the vineyard and fills in when the Burnhams take time away. Burnsini Vineyards, LLC, blends of their last names, is a cooperative venture that is still going strong.

Always ready to throw a party, the couples have invited friends to help and to celebrate the harvest with them since the beginning. Wine tasting and breakfast seem to satisfy their volunteers who look forward to receiving their invitations. Some even get a little bent out of shape if they aren’t called, Joy reports. With four to seven harvests in a season, that is a lot of dedicated labor. Tom says, “They’re a non-captive audience. We get to meet new friends and everyone is in a good mood.” And not all are wine drinkers.

Dominic and Debbie DiNino have been helping with the grape harvest at Burnsini Vineyards for the past four or five years. Born and raised in Italy, Dominic explains that the event reminds him of his childhood when the whole family worked together, from picking to stomping to drinking the “fruit of their labors.” The DiNinos agree that it “feels good to be out there.” They enjoy the camaraderie and the community aspect. “The Burnhams and the Tomasinis are great people and fun to be around. And, they reward us with good food,” Dominic says, laughing.

Burnsini Vineyards has occasionally printed special labels for some of their wine to help with local fundraisers. They periodically offer their property for special events, and college winemaking classes often visit. The tasting room is opened for private wine tastings by appointment only, having entertained visitors from as far away as Florida, New York and Switzerland. Unlike most commercial vineyards, Burnsini Vineyards does not charge for wine tasting. It’s as much a part of their hospitality as their early-morning harvest parties.

Since their first sales in 2002 of 300 cases (12 bottles of wine per case), the vineyard has matured and now produces enough grapes to yield 1,800 to 2,000 cases each year of Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Sangiovese. They receive orders from all over the country and have a wide local following. Many local restaurants serve Burnsini Wines. Raley’s, Holiday and Kent’s Markets all carry their wines as well. But the bulk of their sales come from private buyers who purchase anywhere from one bottle up to 20 cases.

Burnsini Vineyards surrounds two sides of the Burnham’s lush backyard. It is a beautiful, peaceful place that has evolved, Joy said, as a place to entertain. Though both Tom and Joy explain that their “hobby” sometimes seems a bit overwhelming, Tom is quick to point out emphatically, “It’s the best time we’ve ever had.”

Information about Burnsini Vineyards, their wines and their “vineyard volunteers” may be found online at burnsini.com or by calling (530) 347-4765.

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