By Connie Pillsbury
Take a two-story gabled country home and surround it on four sides with rows of vines loaded with red grapes, and you have Briarwood, the vineyard of Steve and Brenda Olson’s Onx wine label. The home and grounds are true to the name, evoking scenes of a gracious country manor somewhere in England or France.
Landscaping the one-acre grounds of Briarwood throughout the last several years has been an ongoing process for vineyard manager Ben Epstein.
Epstein, an agribusiness graduate of Cal Poly, joined the ONX team in 2006 and took on the project of making the grounds around the home more inviting and interesting.
The view to Santa Rita Creek and hills beyond from the south patio of the home was too good to block, so Epstein’s goal was to create a pleasing landscape near the home without hindering the view.
When he arrived, there was only a lawn and low defining rock walls made from serpentine rock — California’s “state rock” — brought from Cambria. Epstein has added more than 200 trees and plants to the front and back, and down the slopes to the vineyard, leaving the view intact.
He incorporated low-trimmed hedges and roses adjacent to the covered patios as defining elements of a country manor.
From a comfortable seating area in the back patio, the eye first sees “Golden Climbing” roses circling the porch posts and a tight manicured boxwood border about 3 feet high. The eye then follows the lawn to a row of white “Iceberg” roses, beyond which are straight rows of grape vines flowing down to Santa Rita Creek.
Along the pathways leading down toward the creek and vineyard, Epstein created individual focal point seating areas featuring a variety of plants. A round gazebo with built-in curved seats is covered with “Cook’s Purple” wisteria and bordered by native cottonwoods.
In another area, a shady view nook features Adirondack chairs facing south amid evergreens. When asked if he was working from a master plan provided by the owners, he replied, “The Olsons gave me free rein in the yard. I made up the plan as I went along, adding what grows well and what works!”
In the front of the house, another covered porch with inviting wicker furniture and trimmed hedge is accented by red “Ingrid Bergman” and grandiflora “Gold Medal” roses, purple catmint, lavenders and rosemary.
But the area that would normally be a traditional front lawn is part of the vineyard, the neat rows parallel to the house loaded with deep purple grapes. Epstein added native trees and plants near the white ranch rail fence along the perimeter of the yard.
That white rail fence extends south to the creek, where the past meets the present at the juncture of the new vineyard and the old historic road along Santa Rita Creek. This road was the main route to the coast for settlers, as they traveled for many hours in their wagons to Cayucos to get supplies from cargo ships.
The correct word for this vineyard scene is “idyllic.”
The deep red of the grapes is repeated in the trim of the home with its wide porches, and the straight lines of the rolling vineyard behind crisp white roses create a sense of permanence and stability.
“What a beautiful place to work, on this secret edge of Templeton looking south to the hills,” Epstein said, a feeling echoed by associate winemaker Jeff Strekas.
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