From the Vine: From Eyesore to Paradise
ACAMPO — Cassandra Durst drove past what was left of a delapidated, two-story home surrounded by chain-link fences with “Danger” and “No Trespassing” signs affixed to it on East Acampo Road several years ago.
Where most could only see a property in distress, the designer by trade saw promise. And as she has for many years with her husband and business partner, Dan Durst of Durst Contract Interiors of Stockton, Cassandra focused her passion on transforming an eyesore into a paradise, and a second career.
The Dursts purchased the gutted century-old, Santa Barbara Spanish revival house, with its white stucco walls and terracotta tile roof, and in the ensuing years turned it into their home and a showplace for their winery. The home is surrounded by manicured flower beds and tall trees, providing shade on a pebble driveway that leads visitors from the dusty road to a smart, functional tasting room set along spacious lawns, fruit trees, grape vines and patio space accented by sofas, long tables and chairs.
And if the setting the Dursts created wasn’t enough, Cassandra, a self-taught winemaker, has a lineup of red, white and sparkling wines that only enhance the experience at their oasis, Durst Winery.
The vision Cassandra had in 1998, when she first sped past the property, has been realized, and the Dursts welcome people of all ages and even their pets to share it with them.
“We love all of the people that come here,” Cassandra said. “They are guests in our backyard. I don’t see this as my business and you come to my business and leave my business. Instead, I see you coming over to my home. Now, you’re part of our family.”
Since 1982, the Dursts have operated a successful office interiors business in Stockton. They raised two children, who have families of their own, and embarked on their wine adventure. Like many commercial winemakers in Lodi, the Dursts started as home winemakers, and joined the Lodi Amateur Vintners Association for guidance.
“It just evolved,” Cassandra said. “It’s a bug that people catch. You should be warned. When you join LAVA, you are going to be smitten.”
Where: 10173 E. Acampo Road, Acampo
Information: (209) 601-1413, durstwinery.com
Online: Read Bob Highfill’s tasting notes on Durst Winery’s selections at recordnet.com/fromthevine
Cassandra immersed herself in wine education through LAVA and on her own. She read books and attended classes at University of California, Davis. She consulted with growers and winemakers. She developed relationships with vineyard managers and lab technicians, always asking questions, always learning. She is becoming a more confident winemaker since her first release in 2009, and the growing number of visitors and wine club members suggests her style has struck a chord.
“It’s been amazing,” said Cassandra, who sources her fruit from Lodi, Clarksburg, Edna Valley and Sonoma. “We really thought it would take us a while. We listened a lot. Lodi has wonderful winemakers. Whatever they recommend, I take that very seriously. I was not prepared for how fast we would take off.”
Durst Winery has about 300 wine club members and projects to have 400 by the end of this year. Last December, the Dursts opened their tasting room (they did all the work themselves) adjacent to the barrel room. The materials used to build the tasting room, as well as the picnic tables and lounge chairs on the grounds, are re-purposed. The tasting room’s walls and ceiling have a patchwork, quilt-like appearance. The Dursts keen eye as designers also is evident in the functionality inside the space, as the bar and tables are set on casters for easy removal to accommodate almost any type of event.
Visitors are bound to meet the Dursts black Labrador, Jack, who runs the place. Expect a tail-wagging greeting and an escort to the front door of the tasting room. If Cassandra isn’t behind the tasting room bar, she likely will be out on the patio talking with visitors, tending to her fruit and vegetable gardens or roaming the barrel room.
“It’s a lifestyle that is so vibrant and full of energy,” Cassandra said. “We thrive on it, so we just enjoy the experience of a big harvest table, sitting outdoors in the shade and drinking wine, and eating the produce we’ve created and sharing it with friends.”
The Dursts are in the process of renovating their 3,000-square foot basement to its original state, when it was as a party room during Prohibition. It’s just one more project to stimulate Cassandra’s do-it-yourself ethic.
“To me, it’s like breathing,” she said. “I can’t imagine not learning every single season, every single harvest; learning every single day how to make a better wine because my passion and fire inside of me is I want this to be a first-class winery with first-class wines.”
— Contact reporter Bob Highfill at (209) 546-8282 or email@example.com.
Follow him at recordnet.com/fromthevine and on Twitter @bobhighfill.