A Family Story Built from the Ground Up
Bob and Sue Brakesman spent the early days of their relationship together on cross country road trips in their Dodge Van. While traveling through South America, they fell in love with the seductive wines of Chile and Argentina, and knew then they wanted something more.
On November 12, 1971, Sue received a birthday gift that would change her life forever. Bob presented her with a deed to Summit Lake Vineyards, a 28-acre vineyard “Estate” on the top of Howell Mountain. It sounded like paradise, but when she first arrived, she found it was overgrown and in disrepair. She went to bed anxiously realizing that was required to bring the place to a habitable state. When she awoke the next morning, her breath was taken away when he discovered a beautiful, pristine blanket snow had fallen during the night and the property into a truly enchanting place.
Bob and Sue immediately set to work resurrecting the old six-acre Zinfandel vineyard and adding thirteen new acres of vines. With the help of friends and family, the vines were rooted and grafted by hand, a three-year project which usually involved beer, late-night dinners, dancing, and sleeping bags.
During each stage of the process, they each took on jobs that offered them hands- on access to learning opportunities, from working at a nursery grafting vines to installing drip irrigation systems. In the mid 1970’s, Bob took a cellar position at Freemark Abbey where he learned how to perfect his winemaking skills from then winemaker Jerry Luper, who became a close friend and mentor. In 1985 Summit Lake Vineyard & Winery was bonded, and the Brakesman’s released their first commercial label, a 1978 Estate Zinfandel.
During the renovation years, their children Heather, Brian and Danny were born. From the beginning, they were always part of the action, either strapped on Sue’s back while she worked or supervising the melee placated in an empty stock pot. Young Brian always knew he wanted to be part of the business. He studied Engineering at Cal Poly and after graduating, started making wine with Paraduxx and Ledson. In 2009, he took the reins as winemaker for Summit Lake Vineyards so Bob could focus on farming. Heather left the ranch in her twenties to start her own family and returned in 2003 after Sue’s unexpected passing. Today she manages the sales and hospitality functions of the business.
A visit to Summit Lake Vineyards is one to remember. Always hosted by a family member, guests are seated at the family a selection of delectable wines from their 1200 case production— A rich Cabernet, a spicy Zinfandel, Petite Syrah, a blended Rose’ and a Zinfandel Port, all named after Bob’s granddaughters.
From the beginning, Summit Lake Vineyards has been a family operation built on love and community support. While producing hand-crafted quality wines is what Summit Lake Vineyards is all about, what’s most important to the Brakesman family is that they are doing it together.
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Article By: Laura Larson