MORAGA -- The embodiment of a celebration with hearty nods to both the past and the future, the Moraga Pear and Wine Festival is returning to the Moraga Commons this Saturday, in its 14th annual edition.
From 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., the wine aspect -- a new development in the Moraga area in the past several years -- will share the figurative stage with the town's history as a pear-producing region.
Though no longer a viable commercial enterprise, pears still grow in local orchards -- this past year, 10,000 pounds of fruit was collected. Harvested by volunteers, most of the pears are donated to the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, based in Concord.
While pears are more historical footnote than commercial force, the early volumes on Lamorinda's wine industry are just now being written. The Lamorinda Winegrowers Association has six member vintners, five of them -- Captain Vineyard, Eagle Hill Wines and Vineyard, Bullfrog Creek Vineyard, Parkmon Vineyards and Vincenza Ranch Vineyard -- with Moraga addresses.
Susan Captain of Captain Vineyard says all are small, their owners living on the property. And especially given the price of land in Lamorinda, significant expansions appear unlikely.
"It's like neighbors getting together and sharing their passion," said Captain.
But despite small operations and relatively small production each year, that doesn't mean the local wineries don't want a reputation beyond central Contra Costa. And Captain said the Pear and Wine Festival is a great place to start.
"It's a good venue for us to show what a small community can produce," she said. "We're excited we've added some value to our community by producing these wines. And it would be wonderful to have wider recognition for the quality of our grapes." That quality this year is excellent, Captain added.
This is the third year wine has been an integral part of the festival, but the fifth year Captain Vineyards has been involved with it. It was still simply the "Pear Festival" at that point.
When pears were king
James Irvine's company planted the first Bartlett trees in the Moraga area in 1913. Ten years later, Bartlett pears were so plentiful and popular they were shipped to the East Coast or to Oakland's canneries.
Over time, most of Moraga's old-line pear orchards went the way of other Bay Area fruit-producing stands, falling parcel by parcel to burgeoning urbanization. By the time Moraga was incorporated in 1974, its commercial pear harvests had ended.
But some of the old orchards remain to this day. John Haffner, a longtime lead organizer of the Pear and Wine Festival, said the largest remaining stand from the commercial era is at Joaquin Moraga School, between 31/2 and four acres. The other large group of trees is at St. Monica's Catholic Church. These remaining pear trees are pruned by volunteers and "the good Lord provides the water and nutrients," he said.
The way Haffner sees it, the extent to which Moraga's identity is tied to its pear-growing heritage is "related to whatever attention the festival generates."
Approximately 2,000 people are expected to attend Saturday's event, where DJ RyanO will preside over the action at the bandshell, highlighted by an afternoon concert by the Moraga-based classic rock band littledog2, wine tasting with the winegrowers association, grape stomping, pear pies, bounce houses, food, local artist booths, community and business booths and the Pear Political Pavilion, where local candidates for elected office will meet their public.
Recipes for pear pie are encouraged, Haffner said; cooks should bring their recipes, and a fresh pie created using said recipe, to the Moraga Park Foundation booth at the festival. And there will be wine made from local pears, too.
Haffner said he isn't sure how long the remaining original orchards will last.
"The trees at Joaquin Moraga are 50 to 75 years old ... at some point, they wear out, don't produce," he said. "They're the town's 'historic roots,' literally."
MORAGA PEAR AND WINE FESTIVAL
WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 29, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
WHERE: 1149 Moraga Road, Moraga