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John and Lorraine Schumacher are surrounded by some of the ribbons their wines from Hallcrest Vineyards and the Organic Wine Works have won

John and Lorraine Schumacher's fates are entwined with the Hallcrest land along Felton-Empire Road in Felton.

"I love this property," says John, who bought the Hallcrest site in 1987 when he was 28. "I love Henry Cowell Redwoods park. I met my wife here. I like the Santa Cruz Mountains. I rather be here than showy Napa."

He had interned at the winery when it was called Felton Empire Winery.

Felton is where John and Lorraine make wine under the historic Hallcrest Vineyards name and the Organic Wine Works label, as well as raise their three children and the three nieces they've added to their family.

"We're always in search of balance, both wine and family," says John, who met Lorraine when he roomed with her brother while attending UC Davis.

The couple has been very successful at both family and wine. They speak proudly of the accomplishments of Sean, 23, Jeannine, 21, and Austen, 18, as well as nieces Brandy, 18, Haley, 15, and Kelsey, 14, who all help occasionally in the business.

"The glamor is being with family, not wine tasting," says Lorraine.

Still there are plenty of wine lovers and wine judges sipping Schumacher wine. In addition to buying grapes and making wine, they lease two organic properties, in Scotts Valley and off the Summit, for estate pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon.

Hallcrest Vineyards has won numerous awards for its pinot, and Organic Wine Works has gained note for its reds, making sophisticated wines and dispelling some myths about organic techniques along the way.

"I was expected to show up in tie-dye," a dapper John says about his early attempts selling organic wines. "I was the nuts and twigs guy."

A few sips of more traditional Hallcrest wine opened the door to the Organic Wine Works, and tasters soon became believers.

"It just made sense," says John about the decision to buy organic grapes. "There's life in an organic vineyard. You feel the balance of nature."

He likens it to buying fruit from a farmers market in that the grapes look, smell and taste better, and "you can see how it translates to the taste of the wine."

For John and Lorraine, using organic grapes is not a trend, but a belief system where farming is sustainable and delivers the grapes to make exceptional wine.

"The flavors seem to be wider, rounder," says John, who makes fruit-oriented wines. The organic techniques produce grapes where "more elegant flavors seem to come through."

Organic Wine Works contains no additives and is made with yeast that John grows. Hallcrest wines are also made with organic grapes but sulphur dioxide is used as a preservative, giving John a little more leeway in the winemaking process.

He is well-known for pioneering organic winemaking, though, often working as a consultant for grape growers in Napa, Sonoma, even Chile.

What's his secret?

"I threw out everything I learned" from Davis, says John, who began making wine at 24. It took three vintages, starting in 1989, before he found the right balance.

Which goes right back to the Schumacher belief system of balance in all things. Today, John finds himself using less intrusive and more natural, almost minimalist, winemaking techniques.

He finds balance in Lorraine, who can drive a forklift and balance the books; in attending the sporting events of his kids; and they in turn enjoy his optimism and verve.

"Our lives are so entwined," Lorraine says of their 24 years together. "We shoulder the burdens together in the ups and downs that come with having your own business."

"I've found my soul mate," says John. "The way things lined up, it had to be."

It's a recipe for great wine and a fulfilling life.

If You Go

Hallcrest Vineyards
and the Organic Wine Works
What: Produces under 5,000 cases of pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, zinfandel, syrah, Chardonnay and more
Where: 379 Felton-Empire Road, Felton
When: Noon to 5 p.m. daily
Cost: $5
Details: 335-4441 and www.hallcrestvineyards.com