Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Yes There are Wineries in Yuba County and Clos Saron is Well Worth a Visit

“Seriously, wineries in Yuba County?”  Yes, I get that question.

Researching the book “Wineries of the Sierra Foothills” took me more than 8 years.  It was a hard job to hone in on the 21 very special wineries that are featured in the book.  They were chosen due to the Risk-Taking and Rule-­Breaking attributes of these wineries and winemakers. 

There is a lot of terrain to cover, and ten counties qualify for the moniker "Sierra Foothills Wineries", based on their terroir (decomposed granitic soils) and elevations for growing certain kinds of grapes (800 feet).

Those counties are:  Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Mariposa, Madera, Nevada, Placer, Tuolumne, and last but not least, Yuba.   There are 280 wineries in the book’s directory, organized by county.

If you have never considered wine tasting in Yuba, do think again.  The county has a long history of wine grape growing, and there are fine producers there.  I’m fond of Clos Saron, in Oregon House.

Gideon in the Home Vineyard
of Clos Saron
Yuba County, on the Western slope of the Sierra Nevada, has a small number of wineries. Historical accounts note that in 1824 General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo sent an expedition to study a river which had wild grapes growing along its banks (uvas silvestres in Spanish) and thus the name “Uba” was given to the river.   Winemaking started with the Gold Rush but died out during Prohibition.  In the 1970’s, it was revived near Oregon House. The relative isolation of this part of the Sierra Foothills has led many truth-seekers and rugged individualists to farm in this region, and those who entered the vineyard and winery business certainly fit into that category.

Clos Saron and its iconic winemaker, Gideon Bienstock, should be a must-visit on your wine tourism list.  You’ll need to plan your visit to Clos Saron in advance because it is by-appointment-only.

Clos Saron is Gideon’s own family-run vineyard and winery.  He jokes that it is a Ma-and-Pa operation because since it was started in 1998, all family members help in some way.  His teenage sons and his younger daughter as well as their mother Saron are all involved. The approach to their vineyard is organic, with natural soil augmentations from the chickens, rabbits, ducks, geese and sheep they raise on site.  Vines are own-rooted and densely planted, kept free of all chemicals.

Gideon of Clos Saron
Small means big when it comes to the quality of his wines.  Gideon studied winemaking in the Burgundy and Rhone regions of France.   His winemaking style has evolved to be on the extreme side of natural.  “The most fascinating aspect of a wine is its potential evolution,” he says. 

Many of Clos Saron’s wines have what Gideon refers to as a “life span” of 20 years after bottling.  His “Home Vineyard” Pinot Noir is so sought after that customers will fly planes in from places as remote as Texas to stock up before the 50-150 cases produced annually are gone.  This, and the “Texas Hill Road” Pinot Noir are terroir-driven, spicy, minerally and with concentrated flavors.   All of Clos Saron’s wines are limited in production… the Pinot Noir, Syrah, and some non-traditional red blends.  They express all that is wonderful about Clos Saron’s terroir, the family that makes it all happen, and the daily attention to detail.

Clos Saron
9269 Collin House Drive
Oregon House, CA  95962


You can now purchase this book in its on-line store.  $19.95 + CA tax + shipping

Friday, December 4, 2015

Lovin’ That Neighborly Feeling in Fair Play AVA of the Sierra Foothills

In addition to making fine wines, the wineries of the Fair Play AVA in El Dorado County make good friends too.  

Linda Neal in wintry Mellowood Vineyard
It’s the time of year when opening a communication from winemakers like Linda Neal at Mellowood Vineyard reminds you what it’s like to be in a warm and close community.

Linda sent along the December calendar of events there, but what caught my eye was this:

A fun Neighborhood Christmas Parade on Saturday, December 19th. , This parade beings at 11:00am at Ravine Rd (off Dorado Canyon) and ends at the home of Cindy and Lee Hodge, on Nob Hill Drive.  

I am told that EVERYONE is welcome and there will be lots of opportunity to visit with Santa and neighbors.  I’m urged to bring finger food to share.  And that there will be Prizes, Games and Fun!!!

If I’m to be a simple spectator, then I need to bring my own folding chair and find a spot along Dorado Canyon Road (between Winter Creek and Nob Hill. 

If I want to participate then come by 10:00am to sign a waiver and line up.  AND if I’m going to participate on horseback (!!!) then, pay attention -- horse trailers stage at 9:30am

I’m not sure I’ll make it, Linda, but your email is just so welcoming.  Gotta love the Wineries of the Sierra Foothills.

Here’s a picture of the tree at Mellowood, reputed to have gifties under it for anyone who comes to Linda’s open house at Mellowood on December 12 or 13th.  

This is very tempting, because of the warm beef stew that’s going to be served, plus fresh bread from Andrae’s Bakery.  (Andrae’s bakery is located in the smallest incorporated city in California, Amador City.  It is so famous that viticulturalist Ann Kraemer of Shake Ridge Vineyards told me that some of her grape buyers from Napa would only come to look at the grapes’ progress on days that Andrae’s Bakery is open.  I’ve been there and its reputation is justified!)

Oh, so tempting!  The whole deal!  That Fair Play Holiday Spirit!

If you want to join the fun, get in touch with Linda:

Linda Neal
Mellowood Vineyard
2979 Mellowood Drive
Fair Play, CA  95684

Open Saturdays and Sundays, 10-4
or by appointment.

What makes Wineries of the Sierra Foothills so special?  You can find out by reading my book when it publishes in early January!   Go to:   http://wineriesofthesierrafoothills.com/#home  

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Bodega del Sur Winery Owner creates Carmesi, a Special Wine in the Fight Against Domestic Violence - Calaveras County, Sierra Foothills, California

Back when Evelyn and Victor Reyes-Umana bought a winery in Calaveras County, there was not much focus in the U.S. wine business on growing and using Spanish grape varietals.  It was a risk in many ways to give the winery a Hispanic name, and decide to produce wines that reflected the deep, rich flavors of wines generally produced in Chile, Argentina and Spain. 

Evelyn Reyes-Umana
Today this is a successful woman-owned business and Bodega del Sur wines have secured their place in the California wine scene.  These good wines with a Latin flair are produced in their own winery, located on the site of a former gold mining camp near San Andreas in the Sierra Foothills.  The full range of flavorful wines is available for sampling in their Hispanic-themed tasting room in downtown Murphys.

Victor and Evelyn shared a dream of owning a winery and Evelyn put her heart and soul into making the dream come true.  Natives of El Salvador, they moved to California with college degrees that served them well in Silicon Valley – Victor as an electrical engineer, and Evelyn as a dedicated teacher of Spanish and special education at a school in San Mateo.  After some years, they found a vacation home in Arnold, close to the wine region of Calaveras County.   In 2007, opportunity arose to buy five acres in Mountain Ranch in Calaveras County. 

Most of the effort of this family venture fell to Evelyn as Victor continued his Silicon Valley career.  “For the first few years, the work of opening a tasting room, designing labels, managing a legally-regulated inventory, and building the brand was hard,” said Evelyn. “But I saw an opportunity to do good things for the community as part of this business, and that’s when I created the Carmesi wine.”  It’s a blend that Bodega del Sur only produces when they can set aside separate lots of special grapes that meld together to make something unique that is rich in taste and deep in color.

Carmesi is a Spanish word that means “crimson, bright red, somewhat darkened with blue; purple.”  It’s a word Evelyn had heard in music and read in poetry as a young girl in El Salvador.  And, it’s the word she chose to use for Bodega del Sur’s red blend that honored the memories of two important women in her life who persevered and built strong families against difficult odds – her mother, Maria Trinidad Aguilar de Alas, and her mother-in-law, Maria Alicia Umana

Each vintage of Carmesi wine continues to honor brave women who, as Evelyn says, “inspire and make an impression on all of us.”  The image of the woman on the label changes with each vintage and Bodega del Sur fans look forward to the story of that woman.  The 2015 Carmesi release, sixth in the series, honored Evelyn’s grandmother, Maria Marcial Melendez de Aguilar.  What does not change is the do-good aspect of this wine.  For each bottle sold, the winery makes a contribution to The Resource Connection of Calaveras County, which provides services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. 

Bodega del Sur Winery
Tasting Room
457 South Algiers St.
Murphys, CA 95247

Winery and Vineyard (not open to the public)
7501 Sheep Ranch Road
Mountain Ranch, CA 95246

Inside the Tasting Room:
Wines with a Latin Flair...

The Tasting Room in downtown Murphys is open Thursday through Monday from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

The winery makes a total of 1,000 cases each year.  The ten different wines use locally-sourced grapes that include the varietals Albarino, Tempranillo, Malbec, Tannat, Sangiovese, Merlot, Marsanne, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.


    You can read more about this winery and enjoy a recipe that pairs well with Bodega del Sur's Carmesi red blend in the soon-to-be-published book, Wineries of the Sierra Foothills.   
      Sign up to get an alert when it's published via a simple process at the book's website,  www.wineriesofthesierrafoothills.com   There will be loads of ongoing features on Sierra Foothills wineries, and notification of book-signing events near you.

Bodega del Sur Winery Owner creates a Special Wine in the Fight Against Domestic Violence - Calaveras County, Sierra Foothills, California

Vinos con un estilo y toque latino

Cuando  Evelyn y Víctor Reyes-Umana compraron una bodega en el condado de Calaveras, en el negocio del vino en Estados Unidos no se ponía mucha atención al uso y cultivo de varietales de uvas españolas.  En muchos aspectos era un riesgo el dar un nombre hispano a la bodega y el decidir producir vinos que reflejaran los  sabores suntuosos y profundos de los vinos generalmente producidos en Chile, Argentina y España.   

Evelyn Reyes-Umana
Hoy en día  éste es un negocio exitoso propiedad de una mujer y los vinos de Bodega del Sur se han asegurado su puesto en la escena vinícola californiana.  Esos buenos vinos de estilo latino se producen en su propia bodega, situada en el emplazamiento de un antiguo campamento minero de oro cerca de San Andreas en las Sierra Foothills.  La gama completa de estos exquisitos vinos está disponible para su cata en la sala de degustación  de temática hispana en el centro de Murphys.

Víctor y Evelyn compartían  el sueño de ser propietarios de una bodega y Evelyn puso su corazón y su alma para hacer que este sueño fuera realidad.  Ambos  salvadoreños, se trasladaron a California con títulos universitarios que les fueron de gran utilidad en el Silcon Valley  - Víctor como ingeniero eléctrico y Evelyn como una dedicada maestra de  español y de educación especial en una escuela de San Mateo.  Después de algunos años, encontraron una casa de vacaciones en Arnold, cerca de la región vinícola del condado de Calaveras.   En 2007, surgió la oportunidad de comprar cinco acres en Mountain Ranch en el condado de  Calaveras. 

La mayor parte del esfuerzo de esta empresa familiar cayó en Evelyn, mientras Víctor continuaba su carrera en Silicon Valley.  “Durante los primeros años, el trabajo de la apertura de una sala de cata, el diseño de las etiquetas, las gestión de un inventario legalmente regulado, y la creación de la marca fue difícil” dice Evelyn.  “Pero vi la oportunidad de hacer buenas cosas para la comunidad como parte de este negocio, y por eso creé el vino Carmesi.”  Este vino es una mezcla que Bodega del Sur sólo produce cuando pueden reservar diferentes lotes de uvas especiales que se funden creando algo único que es de un sabor suntuoso  y tiene un color profundo.

Carmesí es una palabra Española que significa “de color grana, rojo brillante, y de alguna manera oscurecido por el azul, púrpura”.  Es una palabra que Evelyn había escuchado en la música y había leído en la poesía cuando era una niña en El Salvador.  Ésta es la palabra que eligió utilizar para mezcla de tinta de Bodega del Sur que honra la memoria de dos mujeres importantes en su vida que preservaron y crearon  familias sólidas a pesar de las adversidades – su madre, María Trinidad Aguilar de Alas, y su suegra, María Alicia Umana

Cada cosecha de vino Carmesi continúa honrando a mujeres valientes, que como dice Evelyn, “inspiran y dejan una impresión en todos nosotros.”  La imagen de la mujer en la etiqueta cambia con cada cosecha y los seguidores de Bodega del Sur ansían conocer la historia de la mujer.  Lo que no cambia es la buena elaboración de este vino. La salida al mercado del Carmesi del 2015, sexto en la serie, honró a la abuela de Evelyn, María marcial Meléndez de Aguilar.  Por cada botella vendida, la bodega hace una contribución a  la Conexión de Recursos del Condado de Calaveras (The Resources Connection of Calaveras County), que presta servicios a las víctimas de violencia doméstica y asalto sexual.  

Inside the Tasting Room -
Vinos con un estilo y toque latino

Bodega del Sur Winery     
Sala de Cata
457 South Algiers St.
Murphys, CA 95247


Bodega y Viñedos (no abiertos al público)
7501 Sheep Ranch Road
Mountain Ranch, CA 95246


La sala de cata en el centro de Murphys está abierta de jueves a lunes desde las 11 de la mañana a las 5 de la tarde.  Cierra los martes y miércoles.  

La bodega produce un total de 1.000 cajas al año. Los 10 vinos diferentes utilizan uvas locales que incluyen las variedades Albariño, Tempranillo, Malbec, Tannat, Sangiovese, Merlot, Marsanne, Cabernet Sauvignon y Syrah

Thanks to Josefina Adriance for the translation of the story of Bodega del Sur into Spanish.  Josefina,born in Madrid, holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Spanish. From her business base in Napa, she’s taught Spanish for the Wine Business to some of the most prestigious wineries and vineyards of California.Among her publications are Spanish for the Wine Industry and English-Spanish Dictionary for the Wine Industry.More at  www.Spanishforwine.com


     You can read more about this winery and enjoy a recipe that pairs well with Bodega del Sur's Carmesi red blend in the soon-to-be-published book, Wineries of the Sierra Foothills.   
      Sign up to get an alert when it's published via a simple process at the book's website,  www.wineriesofthesierrafoothills.com   There will be loads of ongoing features on Sierra Foothills wineries, and notification of book-signing events near you.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Miller Wine Works 2013 Zinfandel has World-Class Grapes (a Sierra Foothills Wineries story)

Harvest 2015 is in the Books...

The informative newsletter from Miller Wine Works in Sutter Creek, Amador County in the Sierra Foothills, noted that "Harvest 2015 is in the books."

"One of the earliest on record, it brought lower yields after several very big years and exceptional quality by all measures," said Kim Miller.

Kim and Gary Miller of Miller Wine Works
She and husband Gary Miller have a few minutes to take a breath while their Grenache blanc is resting comfortably in barrel, "and the reds - Mourvedre, Grenache, and Petite Sirah are slowly ticking away against the malolactic clock."

There in Sutter Creek, finally, after a very warm summer which felt like it would never end, "we're seeing the first evenings below 40 degrees, another 10 degrees and the vines will be going to sleep, to rest before the next go-around."

2013 Zinfandel-Shake Ridge Vineyard
Gearing up for holiday sales, they mentioned a number of their wines which are "drinking beautifully."   My attention was caught by the 

2013 Zinfandel, Shake Ridge Vineyard, Amador County

Author's note: At $32 the bottle, I think it is a great value.

"This wine is just beginning to flex its youthful muscles - it's a bright, well - balanced effort with that Zinful spice," said Kim.

Gary noted that he enjoys working with Shake Ridge grapes.  (Take a look at a past blog to understand why...

Viticulturalist Anne Kraemer
of Shake Ridge Vineyards

"Working with Shake Ridge is all you would expect when working with a world-class viticulturalist," Gary said.  "It's always nice to team with a grower who is both extremely knowledgeable, and appreciates a winemakers myriad concerns about yield, hang-time, (physiological) ripeness and acid profiles amongst other things.  It most certainly is an advantage to work with someone who lives it from both ends of the spectrum ( ie growing & winemaking )."

Miller Wine Works, LLC
33 Main Street
Sutter Creek, CA  95685

Tasting Shoppe telephone:  (209) 267-5457

Miller Wine Works is included in the up-to-date directory of all wineries in the Sierra Foothills, part of the  soon-to-be-published book, Wineries of the Sierra Foothills.   In the book, you can also read more about Shake Ridge Vineyards and enjoy a recipe that pairs well with grapes from that vineyard,

      Sign up to get an alert when it's published via a simple process at the book's website,  www.wineriesofthesierrafoothills.com   There will be loads of ongoing features on Sierra Foothills wineries, and notification of book-signing events near you.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Madrona Vineyards Winemaker "Elaborates the Wines" in El Dorado County, Sierra Foothills, CALIFORNIA-

Balancing Life and Work While Elaborating the Wine

So much is now written about work/life balance, but it isn’t always do-able.  It takes effort, as winemaker Paul Bush of Madroña Vineyards in Camino, near Placerville in El Dorado County will frankly tell you.

Maggie and Paul Bush
 Paul reveres balance in both life and his work, which is wine.  “Together with my wife Maggie, we find that our greatest challenge is how to be business owners with all of those responsibilities while still growing the grapes, making the wines, doing what’s required for marketing the Madroña Vineyards brand, and at the same time raising two daughters,” he says.  “Any given day can be filled with attending to the vineyards at daybreak, measuring the progress of wines in the barrel in the wine before lunch, working in the tasting room in the afternoon – and then throw in a swim meet or school play for spice.”

Balance is something that Paul believes is crucial in wine too.  When you visit this winery you’ll understand how much he took to heart a statement from a winemaker friend in France:  “One does not make wine.  One elaborates wine!”  With great fruit from the extended family’s own Madroña, Enyé and Sumu Kaw vineyards, Paul is quite content to be the elaborator.  “Most often, I find that the wine knows best about how it should be made, and I’m just along for the ride,” he says modestly.

Lake Tahoe White Wine
on the Madrona bottling line
One nice tip of the hat to the Sierra Nevada is the Lake Tahoe White and Lake Tahoe Red wines, a special bottling in gift packs that wine tourists love.

But more than anything else, the Madroña Vineyards wines are meant to be at a table with food.  They are balanced and focused on the characteristics of the fruit.  Paul does not over-manipulate the wines, doesn’t like to add enzymes during fermentation, and strives to show the character of what his Foothills vineyards produce.  “The quality of a wine is determined predominately in the field,” Paul says.  “By the time the grapes get to the winery, it’s a lot of babysitting.  The mantra is:  don’t screw it up!”

Paul is fond of their Cabernet Franc, saying it has a “glorious nature in that it pairs with almost anything.”   He is equally enthusiastic about their Malbec, calling on serendipity as the force that led them to plant it at 2800 feet – with a result of intense fruit and color and weight with surprisingly soft tannins.

Madroña Vineyards
2560 High Hill Road
Camino, CA 95709
     530-644-5948 or 800-230-7662


     You can read more about this winery and enjoy a recipe that pairs well with Madrona's Malbec in the soon-to-be-published book, Wineries of the Sierra Foothills.   
      Sign up to get an alert when it's published via a simple process at the book's website,  www.wineriesofthesierrafoothills.com   There will be loads of ongoing features on Sierra Foothills wineries, and notification of book-signing events near you.

The Madrona Malbec pairs well with food,
but the book gives you a very special recipe
straight from the Winemaker family kitchen...

Monday, November 30, 2015

Vintage 2015 report from Sierra Starr Winery, Nevada County CA

I always enjoy getting the vintage report from Jackson Starr of Sierra Starr Winery.  

This is an enthusiastic grape-growing/wine-making family that is very characteristic of the Sierra Foothills wineries.  (You can read more about this region in my soon-to-be-published book,  Wineries of the Sierra Foothills.   Want to be alerted when it publishes in January?  Sign up here:   www.wineriesofthesierrafoothills.com  )

Sierra Starr has been producing wines for more than 20 years, and takes great pride in their small-lot wines produced from estate grapes.  Their specialty is Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc.

And what a report - poetic and statistical all at once!

2015 Vintage Report: 
"The 2015 growing season has truly been one for the record books as far as Sierra Starr is concerned.  While wide spread reports of California grape yields being down as much as 50% in some cases, we enjoyed perhaps the most fruitful harvest in 20 years.   What follows are some details about what looks to be a very promising vintage for Sierra Starr Vineyards.
Our vines awoke from slumber with bud break occurring in our 37 year old Sauvignon Blanc vines on April 1st, which was 14 days ahead of 2014 and around 3.5 weeks ahead of average (whatever that is anymore). We have a later bud break date than most of California, so this year we avoided much of the spring thunderstorm and moisture issues that negatively affected bloom, and therefore vineyard yields, through out the state. 
A warm to hot summer followed allowing fruit set and maturation to progress extremely smoothly, without any issues.  Thanks to the help of a few brave souls, our vineyard was de-suckered and shoot thinned in a timely manner which allowed all the vines energy to focus on fruit maturation.  Because our wells have held up nicely (knock knock) during this record drought, our vines did not suffer any significant water stress and were able to bring our fruit to ideal ripeness. Thankfully we were spared experiencing any fire or smoke damage from the numerous wildfires occuring in Northern California this summer. 
Our harvest began earlier than usual, August 14th, with our Sauvignon Blanc. The fruit, picked at ideal ripeness over a 3 day period, attained a lovely balance of ripeness and acidity.  Our Zinfandel harvest began on September 8th, and although these wines have barely been put to barrel we are very pleased with the dark colors and spicy flavors.  The Cabernet Franc picking began on October 2, which is about average for this varietal here at Sierra Starr. We believe this varietal was not early this year due to the fact that it was hanging a considerably larger crop than normal, naturally delaying ripening a bit. We were immediately struck by the color and flavor intensity of this variety and were anxious to get it in the winery to see what we had. 
Looking more closely at our yields we saw our totals up a whopping 17% on average!  Our lowest increase being Zinfandel up around 9% and largest increase being Sauvignon Blanc, up around 20%.   We attribute this increase to three things, warm dry spring with no threats to bloom, dryer and warmer conditions in our lower lying vineyard blocks which are normally challenged with cold and frost, and extensive shoot thinning and green harvesting.  Let’s keep in mind that this increase will put our yields to about three tons per acre.     

As you can see we at Sierra Starr Vineyards are very pleased with the potential of the 2015 vintage and look forward to presenting our customers with outstanding quality, varietal clarity and a sense of place. 

Phil, Anne and Jackson Starr"

The Winery: 
 11179 Gibson Drive
             Grass Valley, CA 95945

Additional Tasting Room:
124 Main Street
            Grass Valley, CA 95945