Today, JJ’s great-grandson, Dan Thornton, works in the same shop that his ancestor built. “Now, there is just the two of us, Dad and me,” he said. “We’re adjusting to modern farming in ways my great-grandfather and grandpa could never have imagined. Those first 25 acres that JJ planted are still flourishing, and so is our family.”
In 1974, Toni Scully and her husband established Scully Packing Co., which now processes fruit for about 20 local family farms, and employs more than 450 people at peak harvest time. She said the region is particularly suited to growing the festival’s star fruit.
“Our micro-climate of cool nights and hot days gives those Bartlett pears a real boost in flavor, and also in sugar content,” she said. “(This) creates the high shelf life that makes them ship so well and hold their amazing texture and taste. Our county grows about 25% of all the Bartletts raised in California, and a third of all fresh pears shipped from the state. Bartletts are Lake County’s bread-and-butter.”
Like many of the region’s other pear growers, the Scully family business is a multigenerational operation.
“We’re proud that among our workers are generations of local families, including the teenaged grandkids,” she said. “Our sons Pat and Andy are the leading lights of the business now, although my husband, Phil, is still ‘First Salesman.’ ”
Along with her cohorts from the Lake County California Women for Agriculture, Toni Scully bakes about 100 pear pies and more than 400 pear turnovers to sell at the festival. Also on offer will be pear shakes, pear ice cream, and oceans of pear cocktails and fruity sparkling drinks; plus, locally produced microbrews and wines.
Several wineries will offer generous samples in the Pear Festival Wine Tent and at Main Street tasting rooms. Among them, Wildhurst Vineyards creates wines from grapes planted alongside pear orchards farmed by fifth-generation grower Myron Holdenried, a descendant of pear pioneer Louis Henderson.
Though pears have a long history as a local cash crop, grapes have taken on a larger role in Lake County’s agricultural economy. About four times as much land is devoted to wine grapes as to pears, according to the Lake County Department of Agriculture.
At the pear festival, the two crops appear side-by-side.
“We planted our orchards in 1926, and vineyards in 2003,” said Charlene Gayaldo, a member of one of the three families who own Mt. Konocti Winery in Kelseyville. “Although we have several wine varieties, ours is the only sparkling pear wine produced in the county. It’s called Lady of the Lake, a pale golden, soft and bubbling creation made from a blend of Bartlett and Bosc pears.”
Along with many fruit growers in the area, the Carpenter, Gayaldo and Oldham families at Mt. Konocti expanded into the wine industry and, in 2007, began bottling their own wines.
According to Gayaldo, their old pear packing shed is now a museum- like wine tasting room and event center, rich with photos, antique autos, and artifacts from 90 years of agricultural history. On the side of the building is a vivid, blue-and-white painted quilt square named “Lady of the Lake,” one of many on the local Quilt Trail.
Gayaldo said, “We’ll be pouring sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, and tempranillo in the Wine Tent at the Pear Festival.”
Furnishing a lively musical background for noshing on savory pear treats, taking in the parade, and indulging in refreshing libations at the Pear Festival will be the sounds of fiddlers, rock bands, jazz, and “golden oldies” music on three stages. And finally, the must-have selfie for all festival revelers is in front of the 9-foot-tall Bartlett pear.