“It’s very, very exciting,” said Glenda Cohn, who along with her husband Neil owns Hannah Nicole Vineyards on Balfour Road in Brentwood. “It’s been a huge project and we’ve jumped a lot of hurdles, but everything looks beautiful and we can’t wait to open.”
The Hannah Nicole winery is an 18,000-square-foot facility boasting a processing area, banquet and tasting rooms and a catering kitchen. The Cohns plan to host weddings and special events on site and eventually hope to turn their seven-bedroom home into a bed-and-breakfast once their four children living at home (they are a blended family of eight) leave the nest.
It wasn’t long ago that vintners such as the Cohns could only dream of popping retail wine corks on East County soil, but thanks to an evolving county agriculture department and a supportive Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, the bountiful region is now better poised to reap what it sows.
“I’m very excited for the Cohn family, as they’re proof that we’re headed in the right direction,” said Supervisor Mary Piepho.
And as the Cohns have been pursuing their dreams, others like Barbara Franz have been quietly pushing ahead with their own commercial ventures. Franz, who owns 10 acres on the corner of Bixler and Balfour roads in Brentwood, has designed Tess’s Farm Market, a 5,000-square-foot, community-oriented, farmer-friendly organic venue. She continues to work with the county and investors and plans to open soon.
In Oakley and Byron, where 100-year-old vineyards remain plentiful, owners who have struggled to maintain the family business might be considering a more profitable commercial move to on-site wine making.
But it’s not just grapes that are increasing the agricultural profitability of East County. Roadside fruit and vegetable farmers now can now increase their income thanks to Assembly Bill 2168, passed in January of this year. The bill allows farmers to stock jams, jellies, olives and other “value-added” items that are grown on or near local farms. The bill permits farmers to sell fresh produce as well, including eggs, and even items such as water and sodas, as a way to boost their income.
All of which is good news for the region, said Piepho, although the enterprise is far from finished: “I’ve worked very hard to amend and adjust county policies in order to support our local farmers and agricultural economy. However, I know we have much more work to do. I look forward to these ongoing efforts and making Contra Costa a partner with our county’s agricultural future.”