Tuesday, September 29, 2015

MENTORS are hard to find, but John MacCready is a great one

In my many discussions with winemakers as I prepared material for my soon-to-be-published book on Wineries of the Sierra Foothills, the name John MacCready kept coming up.  John not only spent hours with me at the onset of my research in 2007, but he has been a mentor to many wineries here in the foothills.

John, who holds a PhD in electrical engineering, started “fooling around” with homemade wine while in graduate school at the University of Missouri.  He continued home-winemaking while living and working for NCR in Ohio.  While on visits to his sister in Pleasant Valley, he took some wine seminars, and his passion for winemaking grew.  Soon he was looking at land parcels in El Dorado County.

In late 1972, he and Barbara packed their two little girls, their dog, and a 15 gallon drum of fermenting wine in their Chevy and drove from Dayton, OH, to Placerville CA.  John found a job teaching in Sacramento and in his free time he worked hard with Barbara to establish the vineyard.  By 1974, they’d planted their first vines – cabernet sauvignon – on its own roots, pioneering the rebirth of mountain viticulture in the Sierra Nevada Foothills.

In 1977, Sierra Vista had its first crush, using grapes purchased from nearby vineyards.  The winery produced 1200 cases of wine in that first vintage. Production is now 5000 cases, and most are estate-grown Rhone wines.

Wines offered include Sauvignon Blanc/Fume Blanc (vinified Loire style with no oak influence), Chardonnay, Roussanne, Viognier, Syrah, Grenache, Grenache Rose, “Lynelle” – a Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre blend with a touch of Cinsault, Merlot, Mourvedre, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Viognier Doux – a dessert wine.  A newly introduced “Tiger Lily” label honors the Tiger Lily Winery which was opened in 1850 and lasted until Prohibition days, located on Sierra Vista’s land.
Sierra Vista Winery
4560 Cabernet Way
Placerville, CA 95667
    530-622-7221 or 800-946-3916

(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 ... www.wineriesofthesierrafoothills.com)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Hand-holding the Grapes at Shake Ridge Vineyard, Amador County

It’s a family endeavor at Shake Ridge Vineyards in Amador County.  When we visited, we met a slew of family members who come to help with all the tasks, and so it was nice to hear from Susan Kraemer, sister of Ann Kraemer, that the Butte Fire left them relatively unscathed.

“We feel so fortunate here at Shake Ridge. Our hearts go out to all those who've lost their homes and businesses.” Susan wrote. “The winds were in our favor and the vineyard was in no danger from the fire itself. However we were inundated with smoke and many of the winemakers to whom we supply grapes were anxious to have us bring in their grapes as soon as possible.”

The grapes from Shake Ridge are well taken care of. Each vine on the 46 acres of grapes she nurtures gets “visited by hand” at least 12 times during the year—from pruning until it’s time to pick.  “You can’t get bored in this business,” is the way Ann Kraemer explains the appeal of her role as the vineyard manager and public face of the family-owned Yorba Wines.

Just a bit about the history of this remarkable vineyard.  Ann Kraemer spent 20 years scouring wine-growing regions for the right spot, finally, in 2001, settling on 220 acres off Shake Ridge Road, about five miles up the hill from the town of Sutter Creek. Mulling over why it took such a long time, she lists her challenging search criteria: “It had to be a place I wanted to live in, where I could grow good grapes, and—the big caveat--something I could afford.”

Without neighbors to provide helpful tips on growing conditions, Ann carefully assessed each of the myriad microclimates herself before making “educated guesses” about how and what to plant. The varietals she wanted to keep cool went in on north and eastern slopes; others that can handle heat, like Mourvèdre, were planted in the warmer blocks facing west and south. After a year of soil preparation, terracing, and the installation of irrigation systems, the vineyards were planted in the spring of 2003. First harvest occurred in 2005.

These well-tended vineyards provide many tons of fruit to prestigious winemakers.  Yorba wines are made from Shake Ridge grapes too, and today 2000 cases are produced.

Yorba Wines Tasting Room
51 Hanford Street, Sutter Creek CA 95685
     209 267 8190

(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 ... www.wineriesofthesierrafoothills.com)

Monday, September 21, 2015

Italian Varietal Dolcetto returns to Montoliva, Nevada County of Sierra Foothills

Mark Henry is exuberant about his Dolcetto and looks forward to adding it to the 2015 vintage of Montoliva Wines. Located in Chicago Park, Nevada County, Mark started with 1.5 acres in 2000 with an esate vineyard dedicated to the varieties that would allow him to produce “Tuscan-Inspired Quality Wines”-- Sangiovese, Aglianico and Moscato.

Mark has been a champion of growing Italian varietals in this part of the Sierra Foothills. He was one of the first to plant two important varietals here: the much-lauded clones of Sangiovese that were introduced to the USA by Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo in 2001, and Aglianico, an important grape from southern Italy. These were wise choices, as Chicago Park is at 2200 feet elevation on the western slope of the Sierra Foothills, with warm summers, cool evenings and soils of decomposed granite. This is a perfect home for these Italian varieties.

Now, with the Dolcetto in his hands, he will be making a wine he’s not offered for more than 5 years. As you can see, he’s very happy about that!

Mark Henry and his Dolcetto !


The grapes come from the Musso Family Vineyard in Georgetown (located in the northeastern part of El Dorado County, Sierra Foothills).

Mark says, “This is probably the most celebrated Dolcetto vineyard in California. Ken Musso, who owns Due Vigne Winery, doesn't generally sell his Dolcetto but agreed to sell me a ton this year. The Dolcetto from this vineyard always comes out the vineyard looking kind of raggety, and always makes a wine that is stellar in its depth.

“Of all the grapes I work with, and all the wine I make, this is the one that scares me the most. The best I can do is not screw it up. (Oh, please God, don't let me screw this up!).”

I’m sure Mark will do a fine job with this wine, as he does with all his wines.

Montoliva Vineyard & Winery
15629 Mt Olive Road
Chicago Park, CA
     Tel 540 346 6577    www.MontOliva.com
     Tasting room open Saturdays and Sundays, noon- 5.   This is a winery that’s grown from a true garagiste winery to 1500 cases of 11 wines using primarily Italian varietals, since its inception in

(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 ... www.wineriesofthesierrafoothills.com)

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Calaveras Winery Survived Butte Fire with a Little Help from its Friends: Story of Bodega del Sur

Evelyn and Victor Reyes-Umana have been worried to the core about their winery in Mountain Ranch, Calaveras County. That area was truly under siege from the fire, and road blocks meant they could not get through. But that Foothills spirit came into play and it looks like they did pull through.

"We have nothing but the utmost gratitude for Calfire and all of the firefighters and law enforcement from around California who are up here pulling crazy long 24 hour shifts to fight the Butte fire. They have seriously done some amazing work over the past week," they said in a Facebook post

(Facebook was one of the most important ways that wineries in the path of the fire communicated the latest news with family, friends, and fans.)

That's not a shadow behind that crispy-looking tree;
that's charred earth.

Hmmm, let's think about this for a minute.
You've picked and crushed your grapes.  They
are in the tanks in the winery.  The electric goes out...
'way out!
One success story is the way CalFire fought the fire at the winery. Victor writes: "I am relieved to see that they managed to save several buildings that were threatened by brush fires just tens of feet away!  There is a lot of damage in the area, but we are very grateful for the amazing work they have done, and for allowing us to still stay in business!"

CalFire saved the winery!

"We also want to thank Nanette Tanner of Tanner vineyards and the Tanner family for letting us use a generator ... We needed electricity so badly at the Bodega del Sur Winery in order to keep our winemaking going."

     "Thanks, from the Reyes-Umana Family"

And now, the good better best news!   Bodega del Sur sends this photo and this note:  “Murphys is back in business. It is a truly beautiful day in the foothills. After surviving the fire scare, people are happy to get back to normality. Please come and see us. And yes, it is totally safe. No smoke in the air.”

Bodega del Sur Tasting Room
457 South Algiers Street
Murphys, CA 
   tel:  209 728 9030

(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 ... www.wineriesofthesierrafoothills.com)

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Picnic at Sierra Foothills Wineries, with History!

Eldorado County winery, Boeger, in Placerville, encourages picnics during the beautiful September weather in the foothills right now...

This wonderful building was Boeger's first tasting room, opened in 1974, in the historic building that was the family home and winery of the Fossati-Lombardo homesteaders -- built from stones when they cleared the vineyards in the 1860's.  Get close and you'll see the Federal stamp on the door that served as the license to produce sacramental church wine during Prohbition.  Greg and Sue Boeger purchased the vineyard and winery in 1972. OF COURSE today's tasting room is big, wonderful, air-conditioned and welcoming.  Do pack that picnic and go!

Many Sierra Foothills wineries have beautiful picnic areas.

 (You can read more about Boeger 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 ... www.wineriesofthesierrafoothills.com)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Spirits in the Foothills- Winemakers Figure out Work-arounds with Butte Fire Conditions

Joe Gates, winemaker-owner at Catano Winery, San Andreas, Calaveras County, had to figure out how to carry on.  The Butte Fire changed his plans, but the winery is his livelihood.  Here is his story:

"Wine making dilemma. The port style wines that Catano Winery makes require grape spirits for fortification. The fire started before I could pick up the spirits from Amador Distillery in Jackson. Grapes are ripe, we planned the picking for Saturday, fire starts, no one can come in to pick. I started picking alone, leaving the grapes on truck.

Fire passes within a half mile, heads away down a steep canyon quiets down for the night, I crush. Next day, temperature and wind pickup. By midafternoon fire wakes up and now is headed back to my canyon. Calfire had told me earlier that our ridge top vineyard was the last real fire stop before the fire would threaten San Andreas.

The Calfire dozer operators scouted out our ridge top and noted that they couldn't contain the fire here as it is too steep to cut a trail to the bottom. They had already stuck a D8 dozer on the ridge across from us. My winery operation was a minor significance at this time. Then came the DC 10's, three of them. After painting a few ridges red, a mile away, the fire was halted for the evening. It would pop up the next afternoon, but wander away from us.

So now, I need that grape spirit on hand to stop a fermentation at the right time. I was still in a no return situation, if I left. I was sure, it would be trouble if I tried to sneak it though the woods on a cattle road and got caught with highly flammable spirits.

So I waited another day, then when down the road to talk to CHP blocking the main road, enquiring on if I could return after leaving. Yes I could, just show ID. and he would still be on duty when I returned. After some small talk to make sure he would remember me on the return, away I went for spirits. I had not been off our ridge in 5 days. The return was easy, I was waved in.

We are over 2/3 done on the picking. Beside having the fire, 2015 could be a great port style wine year for us. The grapevines are now 25 years old. 3/4 of the vineyard has been dry farmed the last 6 years. Production is about 1/2 ton per acre, just like in Portugal. I have learned thru many mistakes over the years. 2015 could be a year for a great vintage style port for us. Only time will tell."

Thanks, Joe, for sharing!  Ya gotta do what ya gotta do...
I enjoyed reading about your port/dessert wines, and I'm sure 2015 will be a great year for you!
     ~Barbara Keck, author
       Wineries of the Sierra Foothills

You can learn more about Catano and their wines at www.catanowinery.com

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Butte Fire Update: Calaveras Wine Community Takes Action to Help

Winemakers and Vineyard Managers are not used to sitting on their hands while Rome – or their properties – burn.  Even when not directly touched by the flames, they are touched by the tragedies around them.  Some are starting to take action.  Some are still stunned.  But that Foothills spirit will re-emerge!

From Jeff Stai - A CALL TO ACTION!
Twisted Oaks
Vallecito, Calaveras County

Let's Make the Butte Walk the Plank! Let’s help our county get back on her feet!

Jeff wants you to know about this fundraising event:

At Alchemy restaurant in downtown Murphy’s, tonight's (Tuesday, September 15) featured Wine Maker is Jeff’s Twisted Oak Winery.

SPECIAL TONIGHT: Every Twisted Oak bottle of featured wine sold will turn into a donation of  $20 to a local relief charity to help those affected by the Butte Fires. In addition to $20 you spend on wine, Alchemy will add an additional $10, making it a $30 donation per bottle you buy to a Butte Fire Relief Organization.

Randy Nathan
Chiarella Wines
Altaville, Calaveras County
“Chiarella Wines survived the fire. We are three miles north of Angels Camp.  We did evacuate on Friday night to the Caddy Shack at Green Horn Creek. Came back Saturday to find the ranch and vineyards where fine.   Thank God.”
Randy reports that they closed their tasting room on Main Street in Murphys all last weekend.   He sent along this photo, which he took last Friday when the thick smoke had lifted a bit...

From Kevin Locke, Owner, Locke Vineyards
Mountain Ranch and Murphys, Calaveras County

We reported yesterday that Locke Vineyards lost its Mountain Ranch Vineyard which is 5 acres of Zinfandel grapes.   The Calaveras wine community is deeply saddened by this, and we hope not many growers and wineries were affected.

 We will keep you posted.   SIGN UP to get email alerts to new blogposts… the form is on the upper right of the blog.   WE WILL NEVER SHARE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS !

Monday, September 14, 2015

Butte Fire- Wine Community News

Here is the latest

From Kevin Locke, Owner
Locke Vineyards
Mountain Ranch and Murphys, Calaveras County

Unfortunately Locke Vineyards lost its Mountain Ranch Vineyard which is 5 acres of Zinfandel grapes.  We lost this year’s crop plus damage to vines, drip irrigation, fencing.  Only time will tell how many of the vines will survive.  Our main vineyard in Murphys with our barn event center and tasting room downtown are all fine, We will be open this weekend and part of our proceeds will go to help families that lost their homes.  Our neighbor adjacent to our Mountain Ranch Vineyard lost their house.  Thank you for your concern and helping spread the sad news.   Hopefully you can encourage people to come support the community by visiting and aiding in any way that they can.

Randy Nathan writes:
I am on the front lines of the fire on Frigo City Road.  The Wilsonville vineyards are gone. Flicker Oaks,  Calaveras Creek winery and Star Canyon vineyards were not affected;  Chatom is safe. .I don't know about many other ones.

From Evelyn Reyes-Umana
Bodega Del Sur
Vineyard:  Mountain Ranch
Tasting Room:  Murphys

This photo with all the signposts is the road to Mountain Ranch in Calaveras County.  We were told by a volunteer fireman who lives nearby that our winery survived, but there is no way to know until we get there.  Hopefully we will do that later this week.

From Diane Gray
Renner Winery
We have been equally frustrated by the lack of a centralized credible information source. We had just finished harvesting so we are happy that our staff and friends won't have to work outside in that suffocating smoke. We are terribly sorry about the horrible losses suffered by our friends in Mountain Ranch.
      We hope that Murphys will return to the bustling wine loving community as soon as the smoke clears.

From Joe Gates
Catano Winery
San Andreas

Currently I can’t come back if I leave. So spent some time making more clearance around house with a dozer. The winery is under the house. Made up some sprinklers for building roof. Picking some touriga national grapes but leaving them on the truck. The tempranillo needs to be pressed, but when picking I have great view and can see Calfire on the hills. When they start working again,I can figure out which way they think the fire will come back toward us
     The fire is moving very fast!

From Ghee Sanchez- Hagedorn
Villa Vallecito Vineyards Inc.
Here on the peninsula overlooking Lake Melones where our winery & vineyard reside are fine. We had completed our last pick the day the fire started. With the exception of ash & very smoky skies, we have been spared. Our Tasting room in Murphys did not open Fri.-Sun. If all goes well with the brave firefighting efforts we hope to re- open on Fri. Our regular days of operation are Fri.-Sun. 

From Jean-Jacques
Domaine Becquet Winery
Murphys, Calaveras County

Murphys was quite sad this week-end. We were open like a few other wineries.
But many were closed. And very few visitors were in town. We can understand why. 
We all intend to resume business as soon as possible this week, except if some of us
had problems with fire.

From Jeff Stai
Twisted Oaks
Vallecito, Calaveras County

 On Friday we in Murphys were put on an advisory evacuation, we are still technically on advisory but they made great progress yesterday. The only traffic restrictions are the local roads that go into areas that were evacuated. The main highways and roads are open to normal traffic.
Many Murphys businesses - stores and restaurants - are staying open and are eager to have visitors, and have locals who might just want a break.
      Twisted Oak Winery is open at both of our locations - the winery in Vallecito between Murphys and Angels Camp on Highway 4 at Red Hill Road, and in Murphys on 363 Main Street - from 11:30 to 5:30.
       Until the Butte Fire is contained (or the end of September), wine tasting at both tasting rooms is complimentary. Please do come and visit, share your stories, and enjoy our community.

From Larry Aderman
Frogs Tooth Winery

As you know our winery is quite removed from Murphys...as we are located in Copperopolis.  We closed our Murphys TR on Friday and have not reopened as of this writing.
     Yesterday morning we received grapes from Cornish Vineyards located in Murphys.  The picking crew would not pick because of the density of the smoke, so these folks called friends to help.
     Last night we picked the last of the fruit from our vineyard. The Grenache was wonderful looking.  Now to processing.
     The fire is within 3 miles or less of our home...although there now is a substantial fire line that it has to cross along with highway 4.
     Murphys has been a ghost town with lots of fire equipment and personnel.  Waiting for this morning's briefing.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Calaveras and Amador - Butte Fire Impacts on Wineries, Vineyards, Tasting Rooms etc

Today I had a long talk with a winery owner from Calaveras who bemoaned the fact that there does not seem to be any central source for information on what's happened to vineyards, wineries and tasting rooms in Amador and Calaveras counties.
    I'm happy to consolidate as much information as folks will send me, and keep an ongoing update as long as it is helpful.

Send your news to    barbarakeck.winenewswriter  (at)   gmail.com

You can send photos too.

What We've Seen So Far...

My photographer Johan and I were finishing up work at Sierra Vista Winery in Placerville on Thursday around noon when we saw the pyrocumulus cloud forming rapidly in the direction of Jackson.   It is not the kind of photo we ever expected to take whilst creating this book on Wineries of The Sierra Foothills (publication date December 2015), and we were horrified at the implications of this rapidly-developing fire.   In six weeks of criss-crossing 8 Foothills counties, we developed a genuine affection for the winemakers, winery owners, and workers we met.   We were so sad to see this tragedy occur.

Our hearts go out to all who were affected, and our prayers are coming your way too.

We know that the Foothills wine folks will do what they can to help out their fellow wineries. That's the beauty of the Foothills spirit!