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:  

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,   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


     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,   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,   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,   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:  )

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

Friday, November 27, 2015

Avanguardia Wines of Nevada County CA - Winemaker Rob Chrisman Moves Beyond Traditional Winemaking

Rob Chrisman  of Avanguardia Wines
The winding road to Avanguardia – Bitney Springs Road, bridge over Deer Creek, Newtown Road, Jones Bar, look for the sign – takes you to an in-winery tasting room that is charmingly set in the midst of cases of wine, bottling machines and winemaking equipment.   The sign that finally points in the direction of the purpose-built winery could say “varietal-free zone ahead” and that would tip you off that you are in for an other-worldly wine tasting experience.

Rob Chrisman is dedicated to making wines in his ultra-boutique winery that provide a maximum sensory pleasure to the wine drinker.  He refers to his style of winemaking as “hedonic blending”.  It doesn’t take long before you realize that he has a healthy disregard for the traditional California approach to winemaking, and is carving out a brave new world with his wines.

“I believed that Sierra Foothill wines could be as good as those from any area, and we planted vines in 2000 and 2001 on 3.5 acres here.”  Now, Avanguardia Wines produces proprietary blends using over twenty Italian, Georgian, Russian and French varietals and University of California-created crosses that he grows in his estate vineyards.  “Many of the grape varieties have been imported by the University especially for us and are available nowhere else, outside of Europe.”  To his own estate-grown grapes, he adds other Sierra Foothills fruit:  for example, Rob found an Eldorado vineyard that had excellent Dolcetto grapes. He started to produce cutting-edge blends, and they’ve found a loyal following.

“I call my winery a varietal-free zone because we don’t produce traditional chardonnay, zinfandel and so on.  Although several of my wines could be considered varietals because they sometimes contain enough of one varietal to be termed that, instead we chose to give them fanciful names,” he said.

Rob sincerely believes that blending is the way to go to get the best quality, tastiest wines.  Sometimes he uses as many as 6 different grapes in a blend.  “I do non-traditional blending, what I call “hedonic blending”, because I am looking for the maximum sensory pleasure out of the wine.  I want to produce wines that are extremely food friendly.”  His wines are not high alcohol, nor are they fruit-bombs.  Subtle oak and good acidity are key.   He produces 1000 cases of wine each year, and 90% of the grapes in those wines come from his estate vineyards in Nevada County.

Rob and Marilyn Chrisman
enjoy dinner with their Tri-T wine
 Avanguardia hopes to introduce many wine drinkers to these unique blends, and just in case you don’t feel like a twist-and-turn road-rally type adventure (that’s a  pity, since you’ll miss some astoundingly beautiful countryside, but I understand…), they’ve opened a tasting room in Grass Valley.

Avanguardia Winery                          
13028 Jones Bar Road                       
Nevada City, CA 95959                      

The winery makes 800-1000 cases of wine;  eight wines are currently offered and are proprietary blends of Teroldego, Tempranillo, Tannat, Peverella, Tocai Friulano, Forastera, Pinot Grigio, Semillon, Chenin Blanc, Orange Muscat, Flora (a UC-patented variety), Dolcetto, Sangiovese, Refosco, Barbera, Brunello, and the patented UC Davis hybrid “Carmine”.

     You can read more about this winery and enjoy a recipe that pairs well with Avanguardia's Tri-T blend of Tannat, Tempranillo and Toroldego 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,   There will be loads of ongoing features on Sierra Foothills wineries, and notification of book-signing events near you.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Setting High Standards for Sangiovese in California--and CHIANTI: Vino Noceto, Amador County

 When Jim and Suzy Gullett bought 21 acres in of land 1984 in Shenandoah Valley near Plymouth in Amador County to establish their Vino Noceto vineyard, they were not certain what their specialities might be.  Today the winery is known as a stellar producer of Sangiovese, and their traditional Chianti wines are gaining the attention of wine-drinkers too.

During a trip to Italy in 1985 with their two sons, then aged 2 and 4, the Gullett’s experienced food and wine that makes family meals in Italy so meaningful.  In particular they became interested in Chianti.  A trip to Tuscany in 1986 brought them in contact with the well-established Chianti and Brunello producers there.  It was a short hop from that experience to obtaining cuttings of Italian varietals to plant on their land.  By 1999, 21 acres were under their cultivation in the Shenandoah Valley.
Jim and Suzy Gullett

“Our goal has always been to make distinctive and varietally-accurate wine,” said Jim Gullett.  “We don’t want to blend to the point that our wines taste like something from Napa.  Our goal is to have our wine taste like a Sangiovese that you’d enjoy on a hillside in Italy.”   Today, the much-awarded Noceto Sangiovese is the standard against which all other US Sangiovese wines should be compared, say many wine critics.

Vino Noceto is also involved in an ongoing “experiment” to make a traditional Chianti wine.  Winemaker Rusty Folena is intrigued by this too. A Chianti-style wine as produced by Vino Noceto will undergo fermentation primarily in stainless steel, and some fermentation in large format barrels.  It will have the fruit characteristics preserved, and be able to be sold at a moderate price. 
Rusty Folena, Winemaker

“Historically, Chianti wines from the mid-19th century through most of the 20th century included at least 70% Sangiovese plus Canaiolo Nero and the white grapes Malvasia and Trebbiano,” explained winemaker Rusty Folena.  “Since 2000, Vino Noceto has experimented with varying percentages, finally settling on a field blend of about 10% white grapes (Malvasia and Trebbiano) and 90% red grapes (Sangiovese plus a little Canaiolo Nero).”

The first vintage of Vino Noceto wines in 1990, 110 cases, was made with the assistance of a consulting winemaker and neighboring wineries.  In 1999 the Gullets built their own winery and from that, 10,000 cases yearly are produced, and most of the fruit for those wines comes from their own vineyards.  They produce about 6,000 cases of seven different Sangiovese wines, and a fizzy Muscato, some Pinot Grigio, Barbera, Zinfandel and a few red blends make up the rest of production.

Of course you’ll want to stop in and see Doggie D ... but that’s another story!

Vino Noceto Winery
11011 Shenandoah Road
Plymouth, CA 95669

(You can read more about this winery and see Barbara and friends enjoying a recipe that pairs well with Vino Noceto's Sangiovese at a Lake Tahoe dinner party that photographer Johan Martin photographed for my forthcoming book...sign up to get updates/alert on publication date ...

Thursday, October 29, 2015

History and Wine Served up Together at Sobon Wines, Amador County

At Sobon Wines,  you can take in a bit of history and at the same time taste good wines -- it is a double-win!  The Shenandoah Valley Museum located on the site of the old D’Agostini winery is fascinating.  You’ll learn about early agriculture and life in Amador County and early winemaking too.  There are tanks in the museum that over the years have contained hundreds of thousands of gallons of Zinfandel wine.  Many families from the area donated artifacts from their homesteads to the museum, which is dedicated to the homemakers, farmers, coopers, winemakers, and other craftsmen who migrated to California’s Shenandoah Valley in the 19th century.
Door to the historic winery at Sobon

In 1989 when they purchased the historic D’Agostini Winery, Leon and Shirley Sobon knew it was one of the oldest in the state of California.  The winery, founded in 1856, was designated as California State Historic Landmark #762.  The vineyards contained old vine Zinfandel and a lot of potential.  This was the acquisition that launched the Sobon Estate label, featuring the very best wines from their own grapes:  Rhone varietals, vineyard designated Zinfandels, and dessert wines you can only buy in the tasting room.

Sobon Estates is known as a premier Zinfandel producer in the area, and their fruit-forward, low-tannin wines are made with Sobon’s own sustainably grown grapes.  Their single vineyard Zins use some fruit from vineyards 70 and 100 years old and feature an earthy, peppery, spicy quality that is reminiscent of Old World wines.

Sobon Estate
14430 Shenandoah Road
Plymouth, CA 95669

Shenandoah Vineyards
12300 Steiner Road
Plymouth, CA 95669

The winery makes 55,000 cases of wine and on average produces 13 wines under the Sobon Estate label, 3 under the Vicious Zin label, and 12 Shenandoah Vineyards wines annually, using the following varietals:  Zinfandel, Roussanne, Cabernet Sauvignon, Barbera, Tempranillo, Tannat, Primitivo, Petite Sirah, Sangiovese, Viognier

(You can read more about this winery and meet the family at a special meal that photographer Johan Martin photographed for my forthcoming book...sign up to get updates/alert on publication date ...

Monday, October 26, 2015

Teena Wilkins keeps Spanish Traditions in Vina Castellano - Placer County

When the Abuelita blend of Spanish varietals from Viña Castellano was awarded a Best of California designation in the 2014 California State Fair, Teena Wilkins got emotional.  “All these years of hard work, family investment and involvement, risk taking and course corrections – all that was finally recognized and it felt so good.”

Teena is the co-owner of Viña Castellano Estate Vineyards and Winery in Auburn, which started in 1999 when she and her late father Gabe Mendez put in Tempranillo and Syrah.  The vineyard, now 10 acres, sits on land owned for 40 years by Teena’s forebears, the Mendez family.  From the beginning, it was a family venture.  When you visit today, you’re likely to see Mendez family siblings, grandchildren and friends all contributing to the work of the winery in some way.

Teena (Augustina) at entrance to the wine cave

Shared cultural traditions are what led Teena into this enterprise.  “I grew up with my grandmother Mercedes Maria-Mendez living next door;  she made 200 gallons of wine every year from the time she was a young girl until she was a very old woman,”  Teena recalls.  “Wine was part of our food life, and from a young age 
Sunday dinners introduced us to the taste of wine with food.”

By 2003, the vineyard yielded enough fruit for a first crush, which took place at a facility in Cloverdale near Auburn.  Work was underway to excavate a cave on their own property.  The construction of the cave, including lining it with large granite stones that had been removed when the vineyard was planted, took some years.  But by 2005, Viña Castellano began winemaking there.

Today the cave provides Teena and her winery consultant Derek Irwin with plenty of room to produce 2000 cases of estate wine.  There are now 10 planted acres, and another 15 plantable acres will be coming on stream in the future. Barrels take up a goodly portion of room in the cave; the old-world winemaking style for which Viña Castellano is known means that many of their wines are aged in the barrel for three or more years. This wine cave has a cozy European feel and space is shared with a charming tasting room.

The wine tasting experience in Viña Castellano’s cave is one that’s very convivial.  “You don’t have to be a connoisseur to enjoy our wines,” notes Teena.  “Our wines are approachable, fresh, yet complex.” 

Viña Castellano
4590 Bell Road
Auburn, CA 95602

The winery makes 1600-1800 cases yearly of estate wines from their 10 acres of vineyards, focusing on the varietals of Tempranillo, Syrah, Granacha, Monastrell, Cabernet Franc, and Verdejo.  Other Spanish varietals will be offered over time too! 

(You can read more about this winery and meet the family at a special meal that photographer Johan Martin photographed for my forthcoming book...sign up to get updates/alert on publication date ...