Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cinco de Mayo and the Sierra Foothills: History in Wine Country

There’s good evidence that the first Cinco de Mayo celebration in the USA was held in California’s Sierra Foothills, specifically in the gold mining town of Columbia (now Columbia State Park) in Tuolumne County.  The holiday celebrates the expulsion of the French from Mexico after the victorious Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.  According to a 2007 article in Southern California Quarterly, Mexican miners were so overjoyed at the news that they spontaneously fired off rifles shots and fireworks, sang patriotic songs and made impromptu speeches.”  The holiday has been celebrated in California continuously since 1863, but as many of our Latino citizens and guest workers will tell you, it is virtually ignored in Mexico.

Many Sierra Foothill wineries are enthusiastic about joining the Latino community in this historical celebration, and in celebrating their Latino linkages overall.   When asked for notices about their celebrations, the response was varied.

PERHAPS THE MOST HEARTWARMING CELEBRATION NOTE came from Randy Nathan of Calaveras Creek Winery (   Randy celebrates Cinco de Mayo with this written tribute to his Hispanic workers: 

“Over here at Calaveras Creek I could not have put together my vineyard and organic farm without my wonderful workers from Mexico.  I am so happy for their help that I am now building them a new larger home for their families.

“When I am sick, they take care of me. They feed me at times when I am not able to take care of myself. They watch over me at our vineyard which is fairly remote…we are about 4 miles from my closest neighbor and over 30 minutes from the hospital.  I’ve been going to the hospital lately because of heart  problems.   So without them and their care, I would be forced to live closer to a hospital and close by neighbors.  That’s not for me.  I prefer being at the vineyard enjoying life and I can do that with the help of my workers from Mexico.”

Wow.  Thanks, Randy, that says so much!  Your gratitude is well-placed and ‘way too rare an acknowledgement of what the wine business owes to our Latino citizens and workers.


Borjón Winery in the Shenandoah Valley, Amador County, has a direct connection to the Latino community.  Jesse Borjon and his wife came from Mexico as farm labor and developed a farm labor company.  Son Issy, with his wife, have built the well-regarded Borjon winery.

“Here at Borjon Winery, as a Mexican-American owned winery, we decided to have a VINO EN MAYO celebration.  It’s our 2nd annual, and its our winery’s anniversary party as well.  We have as our Musical Guests the Mariachi Mi Tierra, and Nora Borjón is cooking authentic Mexican food.”  The official announcement on the website is this: May 5th 2012 will be a celebration of the traditions we've become known for. We'll have a wine sale, homemade Mexican food, Mariachi, AND new releases! Come be a part of the culture we've created that has made Borjón winery such a destination. Our wines are spectacular and our events are epic. Anyone who's been to a fiesta at Borjón will testify that the experience is priceless. Where else in Amador wine country can you find a landscape and architecture so traditionally Mexican?  Sadly, this event is already SOLD OUT.  

DeaverVineyards, on Steiner Road near Plymouth, Amador County,  is rolling in the Taco Truck on May 5th from 11am - 3pm.  “Plan on staying for lunch and celebrate Cinco de Mayo with the Deaver clan.  Join us for a blind, horizontal tasting of six 2008 Deaver Zinfandels, each produced from a different Deaver vineyard in Amador County.  Learn the history and stories behind each vineyard and experience the many variations of Zin.  Can you tell which Zin is which?”   Tasting seminars will run on the hour from 11am - 3pm and are limited to 20 people each.   $5/person, FREE/wine club & friends (call 209-245-4099 or email for coupon code).

Lou Cecchi of Long Creek Winery, near Oroville in Butte County, announced special discount pricing for Cinco de Mayo of 20% on all case purchases.

FIESTA de MAYO is what Baiocchi Family Vineyards calls their 6th Annual festival.  Greg and Sharon Baiocchi are looking forward to hosting vineyard walks, a bounce house and petting zoo for kids, and a horse shoe pit for adults at their mountain winery on Hidden Ranch Road in Fair Play, El Dorado County.  They encourage their guests to bring acoustic instruments for a fireside jam after dark, too…. and they are amenable to tents and campers on the property for anyone who wishes to stay overnight.  That’s true mountain hospitality, particularly in light of the fact that they won’t be selling wine at this event!

“Chef Mike with Fixins' will once again providing us with his fine Mexican cuisine.  Currently the weather forecast looks excellent for a great day here at our farm. Greg is very excited to play this year on his acoustic bass,” the Baiocchi announced.

Renwood Winery, on Steiner Road near Plymouth in Amador County, celebrates all day on Saturday, May 5, with delicious Mexican cuisine from MexQuite Mexican Restaurant in Folsom, paired with Renwood wines! Renwood will feature 3 different, freshly prepared salsas along with chicken Chimichanguitas and guacamole - all paired with Renwood wines.

Kevin Luther, Associate Winemaker & Manager at Wise Villa Winery near Lincoln in Placer County, informs us about his plans:  “Cinco De Mayo is a wonderful holiday of great historical significance, but also, it’s a day to celebrate freedom, with traditional Mexican Food, piñatas, and wine at Wise Villa Winery! We’ll be serving traditional Mexican Food catered by local restaurant “La Mexicana,” with live Latin music, piñata games (with prizes!), and more! This will be a family-friendly event and should be loads of fun! Saturday, May 5th, 6-9pm. $22 per person.  RSVPs to Kevin (at)

Villa Toscano, on Shenandoah Road near Plymouth in Amador County, offers an extravagant buffet on May 5th from 11am to 3:30pm at Bella Piazza ‘s event center. The menu features Fajitas, Lime cilantro marinated chicken breast, garlic herb marinated skirt steak – and all the trimmings (sour cream, guacamole, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers). There will also be carnitas and cheese enchiladas with tomatillo verde sauce, served with Spanish rice and south west black beans. The buffet price is $12.95 for Wine Club members and 14.95 for non-members.

Perry Creek Winery, on Perry Creek Road, Fair Play, El Dorado County, is hosting its 1st annual Cinco de Mayo event from 12:00-3:00pm on May 5. “Join us for our 1st annual Cinco de Mayo celebration at Perry Creek. We will be serving traditional Mexican fare including steak and chicken fajitas, rice, beans, chips and salsa. We will have music, piñatas and of course fantastic wine specials. Stop by and enjoy the festivities with us and plan on a great day here at the winery. RSVP by May 1st to events (at) or 530-620-5175.”

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Trying and Buying: SF Vintners Market performs for Sierra Foothill wines

“It’s the only event I will always pour at,” said Larry Aderman, owner and marketing director of Frog’s Tooth Vineyards, Calaveras County.

He’s talking about the San Francisco Vintners Market events held at the Fort Mason center in San Francisco. Billed as “a farmer’s market approach to wine shopping”, this is one of the rare events where consumers can both taste wines and buy them on the spot at tasting room prices, and without having to make the drive to the tasting room.
This was the 5th Vintners Market, and the crowds at the two day event (April 14-15) were testimony to its popularity. Started by Cornelius Geary and Jeffrey Playter, founders of Wine 2.0, in April 2010, these twice-yearly events offer a good opportunity to combine tasting and buying into one convenient trip.

“With market conditions enormously difficult for many smaller wineries, we realized the need for vintners to get even closer to their customers and offer their wines to larger auidiences than can be found in small tasting rooms in wine country”, the organizers said. “So the idea was born to bring the tasting room to San Francisco and help smaller brands find even more wine lovers in the city.”
General admission tickets are priced high enough to keep out the I-wanna-just-get-a-buzz-on crowd, and a surcharge on the ticket allows consumers to access a “reserve section” where wines priced at $50/bottle or higher are poured. Oh yes, you do get to keep the commemorative wine glass.

Most important, this format works for small wineries. I talked to, and tasted, at the tables of three Sierra Foothill wine enterprises: Clos Saron (Yuba County), Murphy Vineyards (sources grapes from Placer County), and Frog’s Tooth (Calaveras County).
Larry Aderman,
Frog's Tooth Winery
Larry Aderman of Frog’s Tooth was pouring his 2010 Torrontes, which won “Best in Class” at the California State Fair in 2011. Delicious, light, aromatic. “It’slow in alcohol and has aromas very characteristic of Viognier with subtle flavors of peach and apricot,” said Larry. “A great pairing with spicy foods. 11.5% alcohol, $16/bottle.
He also shared some of his 2009 Barbera Sierra Foothills. He only produced 230 cases of this yummy Barbera
, which is a nice ruby-red color, with flavors of berry. A very food-friendly wine and nice for upcoming BBQ events you might be thinking about for the summer. 15.3% alcohol, $24/bottle.

Frog’s Tooth winery will be pouring at the Barbera Festivalat Cooper’s Vineyards on June 9, by the way…. A festival NOT TO MISS!
VIP blogger "LusciousLushes"
tastes Gideon Bienstock's wines
Gideon Bienstock of Clos Saron is known for his innovative blends and his flavorful wines. He has a fervent group of followers who bring themselves to Yuba county for his events. He poured a 2011 Carte Blanche,which is comprised of 30% Albarino, 30% Verdelho, 30% Chardonnay and the remainder Petit Manseng. This is his first release of what is basically a new wine: Organically grown, sourced in Lodi and south of Marysville. Only 988 bottles bottled,unfined. It’s part of Gideon’s “Unique Cuvee” series, and website notes this wine to be: “Light, lively, and brightly aromatic, with a concoction of flowers and fruits. Dry & elegant, very food friendly. 12.5% Alc. Total amount of sulfur added: 10 mg/l. No inoculation, adjustments, or new oak.” $25/bottle.

Gideon also poured his “A Deeper Shade of Blue”, a blend of Cinsault, Syrah and Roussane. Not on his website yet, it has taste of pepper, black brambly fruits, and is a bit tannic. 75 cases produced. 12.8% alcohol, $32/bottle.

Peter Murphy,
Murphy Vineyard
A relative newcomer in the Sierra Foothill grape scene is Peter Murphy, whose basic business is vineyard management in Napa and the Sierra Foothill. He brought a 2005 Syrah Sierra Foothill to the Vintners Marketplace. These grapes were sourced from Placer County: “I’m very impressed with the quality of grapes in the Sierra Foothills, and so decided to produce some wines with them. My hunch was right – and I already have an award winner.” He made 400 cases of this Syrah, and won a Gold Medal in the 2008 Riverside International Wine Competition, and a silver at the 2007 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. 80% Syrah Sierra Foothills (Auburn’s Monarch Mine Vineyards), 18% Cabernet Franc Sierra Foothills(Loomis). Smokey aroma with clove and cherry notes, flavor of black cherry and allspice. Medium body, made in a light style. 14.4% alcohol, $16/bottle.

I also tasted Murphy Vineyard’s Sierra Red 2005. This is a 50/50 Syrah/Cabernet Franc blend. 300 cases made… and a great barbeque wine! 14% alcohol. $16/bottle.
Didn’t get to the Vintners Market? Try the winery websites and let your fingers do the walking until the next Vintners Marketplace.
p.s. Couldn't resist this photo opp from the Spirits tasting section...this guy is SERIOUS about staying close to his beverage of choice...