Feature Coverage

Longtime Schramsberg employee gets vineyard block dedicated to him

“When Jaime Aguirre was first approached about taking a foreman’s position at Schramsberg Vineyards in 1968 he never dreamed he’d work there for 47 years, let alone have a vineyard block dedicated to him. ‘I said I’d try it, but I don’t know if I’ll stay,’ Aguirre said. ‘I’ve been trying it since.’

“Aguirre who retired a few months ago as vineyard manager said he had been working at Beaulieu Vineyard when his manager told him there was a foreman opening at Schramsberg and Aguirre should take it. Aguirre was 20 or 21 years old at the time and didn’t think he could manage other workers at his young age. ‘I didn’t think they’d listen to me. I didn’t think I was ready,’ he said.

“But after some encouragement, he decided to give it a shot. Almost five decades later, a cabernet sauvignon vineyard block was dedicated in his honor during a retirement party at Schramsberg last Friday.

“He started on March 1, 1968, just a few years after Jack and Jamie Davies resurrected the property that had been lost to overgrowth of trees and other plants. The olive grove that lines the road between vineyard blocks was there back then, but the trees were much smaller, Hugh Davies said. And all around it, a forest had grown in around the vineyards that were then planted to chardonnay and pinot noir.

“Later, Aguirre was the one worked the tractor that cleared the unwanted forest and old vines, removing roots and moving boulders, and he oversaw the replanting of vineyards to cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot, grapes that are used for the J. Davies Estate wine program.

“Jaime played a very instrumental role in establishing this property … in reclaiming the land,’ Davies told the gathered group that included Aguirre’s family and co-workers at the celebration. Aguirre was the first full-time employee at the winery.

“Not many people have given so much of their lives here as Jaime has,’ he said, pausing occasionally to choke back tears. Standing by, Hugh’s wife, Monique Davies, wiped away tears as they slid down her face. ‘Not many of us have not been touched by you and we thank you,’ Hugh said. ‘We thank you for your dedication.’

“A plaque on a boulder in front of one of the vineyards reads ‘Jaime Aguirre Block. Honoring our long-time vineyard manager and his 47 years of hard work and commitment. 1968-2015.’

“Schramsberg started out producing 200 cases back then, and now between the sparkling wine production and the J. Davies Estate program they produce about 90,000 cases,’ Davies said.

“Aguirre and his wife lived on the Davies property for 35 years in a small house just up the hill from the production facility, and raised their children there.

“Our families grew up side by side,’ Davies said.

“Aguirre’s daughter, Patty, was born the day Davies’ grandparents were celebrating their 50th anniversary at the property.

“Connie Aguirre, Jaime’s daughter, said being back at the Schramsberg property for her father’s retirement party brought back a lot of memories.

“It’s home. I don’t know how else to say it,’ she said. There were just the two sets of families living amongst the vineyards, she said.

“Just the Davies’ boys and us,’ Connie said.

“Her father would take her and her siblings out into the vineyards after school on the tractor. There were cleared areas where they would play, and they would run around in the olive grove, and sometimes set up a lemonade stand where visitors could purchase lemonade instead of wine.

“Every once in a while, the kids would sneak into the cave while visitors were touring and turn off the lights, laugh when people screamed at the sudden darkness and run away quickly after they turned the lights back on.

“Jaime Aguirre taught Davies how to flip a tortilla and how to play guitar, and he passed on his knowledge of working the vineyards.

“Davies’ father, Jack, was saved by Aguirre when Jack spent too long in a tank that was lacking in oxygen and couldn’t get out. Aguirre climbed down into the 12-foot deep tank and tried to help Jack, but as Jack started to climb out he fell. Aguirre tied a rope around Jack’s waist and others outside of the tank pulled. But Jack got stuck at the top, and Jaime started to feel the effects of not enough oxygen. They both managed to escape, but a doctor later told Aguirre that he was minutes away from passing out.

“Aguirre had performed ‘just about every single task’ there was to tackle in the vineyard and caves, Davies said, from budding to suckering to stacking bottles, riddling, labeling and anything else that needed to be done.

“Aguirre said he could be called a perfectionist and learned the craft from ‘very, very strict’ people who insisted, as he later would of his own staff, that things be done right the first time. But Aguirre also is ‘always laughing’ and has ‘no stress in him,’ said Felipe Martinez, another long-time Schramsberg employee who started there in 1984.

“Martinez is eclipsed by Efren Torres, who started at 16 in 1974, and Miguel Moreno who started in 1980.

“Aguirre’s wife, Theresa, is still working but plans to retire soon. Then the couple hopes to travel and spend more time with their children and grandchildren.”

Anne Ernst, February 10, 2016
Longtime Schramsberg employee gets vineyard block dedicated to him