Thursday, October 15, 2015

Solune’s Winemaker helps a Start-Up Winery in Grass Valley (Nevada County-Sierra Foothills)

Jacques Mercier is winemaker and co-owner of Solune WineGrowers in Grass Valley, Nevada County in the Sierra Foothills.  He is one of those who worked their way “back to the vineyard,” and he’s happy to share his knowledge with start-up wineries in Nevada County.

Currently he is mentoring Riki Pollock, a native Maori from New Zealand.  Riki has named his new Grass Valley winery Katoa Cellars. 

Riki Pollock, right, shares time in Solune's lab

Jacques’ love of wine began in his native Quebec. He built an impressive wine resume in a series of self-managed steps.  He’d been lured to a tasting seminar in Ontario, and became so curious about good wine that he took an intensive program to get his wine sommelier diploma.  He did a bit of consulting with restaurants, started home winemaking, and then moved to Texas with his day-job.  When he won the "Best-of-Show" award and a handful of gold and silver medals at the prestigious American Wine Society Annual Competition in 1995,  that was the turning point.  He started thinking about winemaking as a second career.  He continued to learn more about wine, and graduated from the 3-year wine judge program of the American Wine Society.  He was hooked, and over the years expanded his judging to include international venues.

In 2001, he and his partner Andrea Hamer purchased a property in Nevada County after explorations during ski trips to Tahoe.

 “We decided to name our winery Solune, which is a combination of the French words for sun (soleil) and moon (lune),” explained Jacques.   “We appreciate the growing advantage we have to produce premium grapes in this beautiful Northern California Sierra Foothills area, and in particular, we’ve sought to work with varieties that do well with the large temperature difference between our warm days and our cool nights.”

Initially, Jacque planted 24 varieties, creating what was essentially a big laboratory.  Now, after his first decade, he has 11 reliable varieties.  He uses double pruning, monitors water closely, and continues to pick the brains of other winemakers and grape growers.

At 1000 cases now, which is a self-imposed upward limit in order to keep quality high, Jacques is looking forward to a 50/50 ratio of juice from his own estate vineyards and grapes that he buys in from selected Foothill growers.   As he achieves that goal, the emphasis will continue to be on quality.

He is happy to share his experience with Katoa, and Katoa should have their own high quality wines available to taste soon.   At Katoa, Riki Pollock is making Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay wines in a system he calls “The Yin Yang Project.”   This is “an experimental approach to wine production that serves as a learning tool for Katoa visitors.  Katoa cellars is making at least two wines each year that will highlight the effect different techniques and approaches can have on wine production,” says Riki. 

Solune Winery
16303 Jewett Lane (Colfax Hwy)
Grass Valley, CA 95945

Katoa Cellars
14556 Powerline Road
Grass Valley, CA  95945

(You can read more about Solune WineGrowers and meet the winemaker  via photos by Johan Martin in my forthcoming book...sign up to get updates/alert on publication date ...

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