Thursday, May 26, 2016

Primitivo of Joy from Eastern Madera County's Westbrook Wine Farm

"Not a wine for those who practice flavor avoidance," notes Ray Krause in his latest note to me. Frankly, I love his notes as they are always so informative.
Primitivo vineyard
At Westbrook Wine Farm in Madera County just on the doorstep of Yosemite, Ray raises the flag for winemaking and wine growing in this part of the Sierra Foothills.
This note about his Primitivo is worth a read:

"Introducing Primitivo di gioia 2012 by Westbrook Wine Farm....
The ancient Primitivo grape is Italy’s genetic twin to our California red Zinfandel which both originated over 2000 years ago in Croatia before the Roman Empire.
Unsupported legend has it that Primitivo may have been the red wine served at the Last Supper. Its deep red color with twinkling ruby highlights prepares the fortunate taster for layers of juicy, full flavored blackberry, anise and wood spice without a trace of bitterness. Di gioia simply means “of joy”, so please enjoy!
I think it was around the late 1960s when a new wave of California winemakers, eager to set themselves apart, began producing red Zinfandels to mimic Cabernet Sauvignon.  The low acid, tannic, late harvest, alcohol laden, fruit forward style all but obliterated the true characteristics if the grape with excesses.
We were still in the midst of the “white/cold wine boom” and “white Zin” was yet to be marketed. Before DNA analysis, Zinfandel was known as California’s own grape because it was not known to other parts of the globe by that name. We had heard about Primitivo di Gioia from Italy but did not make any organoleptic or physiological connection.
We now know that Zinfandel and Primitivo are genetic twins. It was the most widely planted red grape in California at that time. Cabernet Sauvignon, however, was (and still is) red king of California.
While big banks and insurance companies hurried to plant more Cabernet vineyards, Zinfandel would become the temporary surrogate as consumers swayed back into increased red wine consumption. However stylistically well crafted, it never tasted like a red Bordeaux. In our opinion, produced properly it probably has more in common with a rich Burgundy or southern Rhone.

Primitivo at Westbrook Wine Farm….we offer you the past in its authentic form.In this, our first crafting of an old school style California Primitivo at Westbrook Wine Farm, we offer you the past in its authentic form."

Westbrook Wine Farm
49610 House Ranch Road
O'Neals, California 93645

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

More Than 50 Years of History in Every Glass of Barbera from California

Barbera fans have an important opportunity on June 11 to congregate and enjoy many tastes of this classic food-friendly wine. At the Barbera Festival, held at Terra d'Oro/Montevina Vineyard in Plymouth, Amador County, more than 70 wineries will pour glass after glass of a wine that boasts a compelling story in the history of California wines.

Darrell Corti
“The story begins at Montevina in 1974,” states Darrell Corti of Corti Brothers, a Sacramento-based wine merchant. Mr. Corti is internationally known as a wine and food expert. “Both in 1943 and 1960, viticulturists from U.C. Davis had recommended Barbera as a compatible grape for California. In the Sierra Foothills, Cary Gott, owner of Montevina in Amador County, planted Barbera in 1972.”

In 1976, Italian oenologist Giacomo Tachis came to California from Tuscany, Italy, for the first time. Over dinner at a restaurant in Sonoma, Corti served him the 1974 Montevina Barbera, which had been bottled in Spring 1976. Tachis was astounded at the high quality of the Montevina Barbera. The rest is history. Barbera from Amador and other Sierra Foothill counties continues to please wine drinkers.

There are more producers of Barbera in the Sierra Foothills than anywhere outside of Italy, but the 70-plus wineries pouring at the Barbera Festival include wines from other California regions and some wines imported from Italy too.  

The Barbera Festival takes place from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.Sat., June 11, 2016. Tickets $50 ($40 for designated drivers). Tickets include admittance, wine tasting, live music and a commemorative wine glass. Food, provided by top restaurants and caterers, is sold separately, and parking is free. All proceeds go to support the Amador Community Foundation, supporting local nonprofits and community-enhancing endeavors. For more information, go to

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Loving Barbera, from Italy to Amador County and Beyond

Barbera Festival, now in its sixth year, is a testament to the love of barbera wine. With roots in Italy, barbera is a wine grape now grown by at least 100 producers in Calif. The Barbera Festival, June 11, is a chance for more than 80 Calif. wineries and a few Italian importers to share their love for this variety. 

Photo caption:  “The Barbera Festival’s Italian-American poster guy, Pete, makes room on his motorcycle to take a few bottles of Barbera to dinner with his friends.  You might spot him at The Barbera Festival, June 11 in Amador County.”

Amore for Barbera, from the Piedmont region of Italy to the hundred producers in California’s Sierra Foothills, epitomizes the love affair that wine drinkers have for this zesty, mouth-filling, low-tannin, flavorful and food-friendly red wine.

However you parse it, the affection for Barbera will be much in evidence at the Barbera Festival June 11 in Amador County. Originating as it did 800 years ago in the clay loam and lime-rich soil of Piedmont in the mountainous region of northwest Italy, the California Barbera phenomenon started in the 1970s with cuttings from the Terra d’Oro/Monteviña vineyard near Plymouth, Amador County. Terra d’Oro/Monteviña is hosting the 2016 Barbera Festival.

Barbera is grown in many California locations, and wine lovers can taste Barbera from over 80 different wineries at the Barbera Festival, including 35 Amador County wineries, 15 El Dorado County wineries, five Calaveras County wineries, and five Sonoma County wineries. Italian importers of Barbera will also be pouring tastes at the Festival.

About the Barbera Festival:
 The Barbera Festival was founded in 2011 to celebrate the barbera variety. The event quickly garnered attention throughout the West and in 2015 moved to the beautiful grounds of Terra d’Oro Winery/Montevina Vineyards, the original home of barbera in Amador County. The festival, which also helped launch the immensely successful Amador Four Fires festival, features more than 80 wineries from across California, fine local cuisine, live music and regional artists. Terra d’Oro Winery/Montevina Vineyards is located at 20680 Shenandoah School Road in Plymouth. All proceeds benefit the non-profit Amador Community Foundation. For more information, or to purchase tickets, go to

Monday, May 9, 2016

From Highbrow to Down-Home, Amador Barbera Pairs Perfectly with a Variety of Cuisine

In anticipation of Barbera Festival, June 11, three participating wineries share their favorite Barbera-friendly recipes – a wine known as a food wine and for its versatility with a variety of cuisine. 

Gourmands, backyard barbecue masters, and spur of the moment hosts are already fans of barbera’s versatility as a “food” wine. Blessed with a generous acid structure and smooth tannins, Barbera is unique in its ability to pair with a wide variety of cooking styles, from pizza to haute cuisine.

Taking up the challenge of Barbera versatility, three wineries participating in the sixth annual Barbera Festival chose a favorite Barbera-paired recipe to share. Each dish represents one of three dining experiences: formal, last-minute gathering, and the backyard gathering.

These wineries, among the 80 from all over California that will gather June 11 to pour their interpretation of this Italian varietal, appreciate Barbera’s signature characteristics: a dark pigment with lots of berry flavor that can range from bright with tart cherry, raspberry and spice flavors to riper, deeper wines with black cherry, blueberry, blackberry and vanilla flavors. It is exactly these traits that make it such a food-loving wine.

Terra d’Oro Barbera Portabella Burgers
Terra d’Oro winemaker Chris Leamy prefers the laidback style of Amador, opting for casual backyard dining. His recipe is reminiscent of Memorial Day or Fourth of July gatherings:

4 large portabella mushrooms, stems removed
½ cup Italian dressing
¼ cup Terra d’Oro Barbera
½ cup roasted garlic
1 cup crumbled bleu cheese
4 onion or ciabatta rolls
8 leaves of romaine or bibb lettuce
4 3-inch wide strips of roasted red peppers
Thinly sliced lightly grilled red onion
2 tablespoons of homemade pesto
Mayonnaise, if desired

Place mushrooms stem side up on a baking sheet and drizzle with dressing, wine and roasted garlic. Let stand for 45 minutes to marinate. Turn to coat both sides with dressing, then broil mushrooms five minutes on each side, or place on a hot grill and cook five minutes on each side. Turn stem side up and top with cheese. Grill for an additional 3 to 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir together mayonnaise and pesto in a small bowl. Spread a heaping tablespoon on the bottom half of each roll. Top each with a cooked mushroom. Add lettuce, roasted peppers, onion slices and cover with top half of roll. Serves four.

Rubino Estates Winery Italian Meatball Sliders with Barberanara Sauce
Rubino Estates appreciates impromptu gatherings where friends come together at a moment’s notice to share conversation, delicious food and a wonderful glass of Barbera:

¼ cup panko breadcrumbs
1 ½ tablespoons minced fresh basil
¼ teaspoon salt
1 garlic, minced
1 large egg
1 teaspoon onion powder
25 ounces ground beef and/or pork/lamb

2 jars of marinara sauce
1 large chopped sweet onion (1 ½ cups)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
8 ounces of coffee (prepared)
½ bottle of Rubino Estates barbera

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Open two bottles of Barbera and allow to breathe.
Place all ingredients for the sauce in a large pot and bring to boil. Simmer for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the sauce is cooking, gently combine meatball ingredients in a large bowl being careful not to over mix. Divide meat mixture into 12 equal portions. Arrange in a glass baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes.
Pour Barberanara sauce over meatballs and continue baking until hot and gray in center, about 25 minutes more.
(An instant-read thermometer inserted in the center should read 160 degrees F.)
Top with shredded mozzarella and broil for two minutes or until melted. 
Place each meatball in a bun, top with Barberanara sauce and basil leaf.

Enjoy with the remaining 1½ bottles of Barbera.

Fiddletown Cellars Blackberry Lamb Chops Sweet Tart
Joe Shebl, Fiddletown Cellar’s winemaker, laughs when he puts “Fiddletown” and “upscale” in the same sentence, but this small hamlet in the Sierra Foothills has serious wine connoisseurs taking notice. And the food? Being married to a professionally-trained chef tends to lead to dinners verging on divine. Planning a special meal? Pull up a chair…and open up a bottle or two of Barbera!

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
¼ cup sliced green onions, white and green parts
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup fresh or thawed frozen blackberries
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon blackberry liqueur, such as Chambord
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
4 (4-to5-ounce) lamb rib chops, cut 1 inch thick, or 8 (3-ounce) lamb loin chops, cut 1 inch thick

Heat the broiler with a broiler pan in it.

In a large skillet set over medium-low heat, heat the oil. Add the green onions, syrup, and cloves. Add ½ cup of blackberries. Cook for about 4 minutes or until the berries have disintegrated and the sauce is just slightly thickened. Stir in the vinegar, liqueur, and the remaining ½ cup berries. Remove from the heat.

In a small bowl, stir together the allspice, salt and pepper and sprinkle evenly over the chops. Broil chops in the heated pan, turning once halfway through the cooking, for 12 minutes or until barely pink in the center.

Transfer the lamb to the skillet with the sauce and spoon some of the sauce over the lamb. Let the lamb rest in the sauce for 10 minutes before serving.

To sample Barbera, there’s no better opportunity than attending the Barbera Festival, which takes place from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. on Sat., June 11, 2016. Tickets cost $50 ($40 for designated drivers). Tickets include admittance, wine tasting—Barbera poured by over 80 wineries from all over California, live music from bluegrass band Carolyn Sills Combo, and a commemorative wine glass. Food, provided by top restaurants and caterers, is sold separately, and parking is free. For more information, go to

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Cooking with Barbera - What could be more Wonderful?

We appreciate a man who can cook, and when it is iconic winemaker Scott Harvey, you know that he'll be doing that well.

Scott recently whipped up a batch of Mushroom and Barbera Rissoto on a TV show.  Jana Harvey (who has her own winery as well) sent along the recipe:

Wild mushrooms and barbera risotto
Serves 6

5 1/2  C chicken Stock
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
Salt & ground pepper
1 1/2C Arborio rice
½ C Barbera
2T unsalted butter
1# mixed wild mushrooms
Salt & fresh-ground black pepper
1 shallot, minced
½ C freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 T chopped fresh parsley

1. In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a simmer.

2. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil.  Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring for 1 minute.  Add the barbera and cook, stirring until the wine is absorbed.  Add 1 C of the warm stock and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until nearly absorbed.  Continue adding the stock ½ C at a time, stirring constantly, until nearly absorbed.  Continue adding the stock ½ C at a time, stirring, until it is nearly absorbed between additions.  The risotto is done when the rice is al dente and a thick creamy sauce.  (About 20 minutes)  Season with salt and pepper.

3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt the butter.  Add the mushrooms and shallot, season with S&P and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and browned, about 10 minutes.  Scrape the mushrooms into the risotto and stir in the cheese and parsley.

Scott Harvey Wines will be pouring at two upcoming festivals:  Amador FourFires on Saturday May 7, and the Barbera Festival on Saturday June 11

Scott Harvey Wines is located at 10861 Shenandoah Road, Plymouth CA 95669
Call 209 245-3670 for hours
Or visit the website

Monday, May 2, 2016

Road Warrior for Lava Cap - Kevin Jones, third generation, wears many hats

I spoke to Kevin when he was pouring at the Lava Cap station during Zinfest.  He's on the road for the winery a fair amount, as Lava Cap does many outside events.  But this is one busy guy, and I thought I'd let him talk for himself:

"Well, my position is mostly here at the winery. I complete a lot of the marketing projects, from day-to-day scheduling of events and wine club events to schlepping tables and chairs for weekend groups.

Really what it comes down to, though, I think for many family farm businesses and wineries is the need to be a swiss army knife. Some days I'm sitting at a computer and another day I may be operating a spray rig in the vineyard. I think interacting with the wine consumers at events such as ZAP, however, is extremely important.

Wine is one of the few products where you drink a story. Everyone has a story, but without experiencing the story from someone writing it, it is just another story, or just another winery in this instance.

We are very proud of our farm and our product, so we are excited to participate in events; generally we do 30-40 outside events a year. We have several employees that have great enthusiasm for our story that help out with these events, but if the cards line up right and the family tries to stay involved in these offsite events as much as possible.

We actually have quite a lot of new exciting things at Lava Cap. Starting August 2013, we hired a new wine maker, Joe Norman whose past experiences include Heitz Cellars. The level of quality and consistency of his wine making should be a stepping stone for a future of amazing wines.

 Lastly, and something I think is very exciting for me, is our bird is coming back to the Lava Cap label and we are introducing that label this summer and fall.  I'm happy to share the story of our new endeavors!"

Lava Cap is located at 2221 Fruitridge Road, Placerville CA 95667
Call them for tasting room hours at 530-621-0175
or visit their website: 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Where the Vines Meet the Pines: May 14 begins Wine Trail Adventures with Sierra Vintners

“No crowds.  No pretense.  Simply Amazing Wines!”

That’s the introduction to the message on the website for Sierra Vintners, a group of wineries that includes those in and near the Gold Rush towns of Auburn, Grass Valley, Nevada City, and Marysville.

Teena Wilkins at the door of
Vina Castellano's tasting room
On May 14, the Sierra Vintners inaugurates its 2016 wine trail program.  I’ll be at the tasting room of Viña Castellano in Auburn to greet visitors and sign books, but visitors to this first wine trail will want to check the offerings at the other wineries featured that day.  You can get tickets at the association website:  click here 

The Sierra Vintners has one of the best descriptions of the foothills wine adventure of any I’ve seen.  So I am quoting the website below.

“Experience wine country the way it was meant to be – along country roads through foothill towns where you can still feel the Old West.  Continue into the rolling hills and vineyards, where friendly vintners welcome you to the classic California wine tasting experience.

“The Sierra Vintners wine region is relaxed and rich in history, nestled within the beauty of the mountains.  Drive past ranches to hillside vineyards – or walk from tasting room to tasting room within a few downtown blocks.  All roads lead you to award-winning wines and an eclectic mix of winemakers who talk about wine without the “wine speak.”  There’s no pretense here, just smiles, hospitality and loads of enthusiasm for their vineyards and their wines.  And they love sharing it all with their new friends.”

Here are the wineries featured on the May 14th wine trail:

Amour Privé, 9630 Miracle Dr., Auburn CA 95602

Bear River Winery, 2751 Combie Rd., Meadow Vista CA 95722

Bonitata Boutique Wine, 291 Auburn-Folsom Rd., Auburn CA  95603

Fawnridge Winery, 5560 Fawnridge Rd., Auburn CA  95602

Lone Buffalo Vineyards, 7505 Wise Rd., Auburn CA  95603

Mt. Vernon Winery, 10850 Mt Vernon Rd., Auburn  CA 95603

Naggiar Vineyards, 18125 Rosemary Lane, Grass Valley CA 95949

Sierra Knolls Vineyard & Winery, 19635 Kingwood Ct., Grass Valley CA 95949

Viña Castellano, 4590 Bell Rd., Auburn CA 95603

Sierra Vintners region map

Three of these wineries (Lone Buffalo, Mt. Vernon, Viña Castellano) have chapters about their origin, history and risks they took to be in the wine business in my book, Wineries of The Sierra Foothills.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

North Sierra Wine Trail features Artisan Producers in annual event April 23-24

"Our area was one of thebusiest regions during the California gold rush, and then long forgotten as gold mining regulation changed.  It was considered The Lost Sierra ... but is now open for rediscovery as the new gold standard in agritourism."  With that preface, the North Sierra Wine Trail ticket brochure welcomes exploration of this wonderful area.

This event features 12 wineries.  Tickets to taste at any and all wineries during the event (April 23-24) are $20 and can be purchased in advance at the Association's website (click here) or at any participating winery.

Recently, this blog featured an upcoming event in Butte County on April 30, and now wine adventurers have the opportunity to explore even further afield.

The book, Wineries of the Sierra Foothills, includes a chapter on Clos Saron winery in Oregon House.  That winery is open for visitors on April 23, the Saturday of the Wine Trail Weekend.  Other area wineries are open for both days.  Here's the map, so do explore!

1.  Purple Line Uban Winery, 760 Safford St., Oroville, CA 95965.  530-534-1785

2.  Long Creek Winery, 323 Ward Blvd, Oroville, CA  95966   530-589-3415

3.  Quilici Winery, 72 Quail Hill Place, Oroville, CA 95966    530-589-5088

4.  Grey Fox Vineyard, 90 Grey Fox Lane, Oroville, CA 95966   530-589-3920

5. Cobble Ridge Distillery, 555 Avacado Drive, Gangor, CA 95914   530-679-0679

6.  Hickman Family Vineyards, 77 Orange Ave, Bangor, CA 95914  530-679-0679

7.  Bangor Ranch Vineyard & Winery, 5768 La Porte Rd., Bangor, CA  95914   510-658-2056

8.  Spencer Shirey Wines, 6857 La Porte Road, Bangor, CA 95914   530-205-3579

9.  Clos Saron, 9269 Collins House Drive, Oregon House, CA 95962  530-692-1080

10.  Grant-Marie Winery, is located in Oregon House, but their wines are being poured at Yuba Harvest, located  13919 Lake Francis Rd., Dobbins, CA 95935   530-692-1084 is the phone to the winery, 530-418-8240 is the phone to Yuba Harvest store.

11.  Lucero Vineyards, 10654 Texas Hill Road, Dobbins, CA 95935    530-692-9214

12.  Renaissance Vineyard,12585 Rices Crossing Road, Oregon House, CA  95962  530-692-9510

You can read more about this wine region at the webiste of the North Sierra Foothills Vintners Association,   or call them at 530-6790679

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

BUTTE COUNTY rolls out the welcome for wine lovers April 30

The Splendor-in-the-Glass is one of many festivals that wineries in Butte County are creating to let people know about the up-and-coming-wine industry there.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Nevada Vines & Wines announces Home Winemaking Competition

I've followed the progress of the wine industry in Northern Nevada for a while now.  Its mentor has been Grant Cramer, Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at University of Nevada - Reno.  Cramer and a few outgoing and ambitious students started holding weekly tastings in a drafty quonset hut on campus, to begin with, several years ago.  Now the advocacy has taken off from there in the form of a great and lively organization: Nevada Vines and Wines.

Now a robust organization with the clout to lead lobbying efforts to change the restrictive laws for wineries in Washoe County (where Reno is located),  there are lots of great things going on.

Monthly club meetings are held on the third Thursday of the month at the Garden Shop Nursery on Mayberry DRive.  Those meetings include a wine tasting and talk, start at 5:30 and end when the Nevada wine advocates get tired of swapping stories and tips.   There are other events too -- winery tours (most recently Churchill Vineyards in Fallon, NV) , judging events, and a yearly Backyard Vineyard Tour.

Although not strictly a Sierra Foothills wine scene, the wineries here are affected by the weather patterns and terroir from the Carson Range.  Near Fallon, the terroir is similar to eastern Washington State, and experts from there were instrumental in helping Churchill Vineyards get going.

Nevada Vines and Wines is a volunteer non-profit organization.  Its mission is to promote the wine industry in the State of Nevada.  The vision of the organization includes educating and promoting the enjoyment of fine wine through educational and social meetings, and the occasional competition.

All it takes to qualify as a member is to be passionate about wine and winemaking.  Some members make wine, but the majority do not.  They are there to increase their wine knowledge and maybe, just maybe, learn enough about wine making to try it at home.   That's why the compeition that's coming up is so exciting.

I strongly suggest you get on their newsletter list, which you can do at the website:

Questions?  Email the organization at  uncorkingnevada (at)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Some insights on the book, and the author of WINERIES OF THE SIERRA FOOTHILLS

Antoinette May, mentor of many authors and a founder of the Gold Rush Writers yearly conference, wrote about many authors who are local, or writing about local topics.  The full article is here   This tidbit falls near the end of the article in the Sierra Lodestar, a publication of the Calaveras Enterprise...

"Lest you think that all the writing around here is fiction, there’s more. “Wineries of the Sierra Foothills” is a guidebook, both elegant and extensive. (Expect a lot more than sherry!)  Author Barbara Keck’s provocative subtitle is, “Risk-Takers and Rule-Breakers.”
“My academic background includes an MBA from Harvard Business School,” Keck said. “I look at the business world through the lens of risk and reward. There’s a joke in the wine industry: ‘How do you make a small fortune in the wine business?’ The answer is, ‘You start with a large fortune.’”
Each of Keck’s 21 informative and engrossing chapters looks at a different aspect of risk, be it financial, agricultural, product-oriented or marketing-related and all of them includes a signature recipe.
“But,” she said, “it wasn’t until I went to the Gold Rush Writers Conference last year that I got off my duff and made a lifelong dream come true – writing and publishing a book.”Keck has been a wine columnist for the past eight years. She said she loves wine, but she also loves good stories.
So does she have a favorite wine?
Smiling, she demurs, “That would have to be the wine that combines experience with a winery, admiration for a winemaker and something that is really yummy without killing my pocketbook. That’s what I encourage a wine drinker to look for. There are plenty of great wines in the Sierra foothills. And, in my estimation, wine drinkers should look no further.”

For more information on the book, go to the website:    There is also an online store there from which you can purchase the book  ($19.95) and a preview of many pages from the book

Sunday, March 20, 2016

ART & WINE: Lexi Boeger Creates in Many Media, on display at Boeger Winery in Placerville EL DORADO COUNTY

The sake cups created by Lexi Boeger are an extension of her creative ventures; available at the Boeger winery tasting room, priced $8-40.  

Lexi is an artist and writer with a wide range of interests, currently pursuing many “mediums, materials, modes and adventures,” she says, “going where there is energy and excitement.” 

Lexi built a world-wide reputation as a fiber artist, hand spinning yarns and incorporating other textiles into her works.  Rumor has it that some of these creations will be on display in her studio on the Boeger winery property during the upcoming El Dorado Passport Weekends.  

Reach her via the contact button on her blog: 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

WINE ROAD-WARRIOR: Jess Havill of Bella Grace Vineyards AMADOR COUNTY

WINE ROAD-WARRIOR:  Jess Havill is Director of Sales for Bella Grace Vineyards, which has a vineyard and wine cave in Plymouth, and also a tasting room in Sutter Creek, both located in AMADOR COUNTY.  

Jess makes “a couple dozen” road trips a year, generally on the road twice a month.  

The winery produces about 7500 cases, and counts Old Vine Zinfandel and Barbera among its Landmark wines.  

For more information on Bella Grace, go to

Monday, March 14, 2016


This “Day of the Dead” image, an 11x14 giclée print entitled "Dama De Rojo, is a limited edition print priced at $175 by artist/illustrator Saul Serna. 

Saul’s work for Bodega Del Sur Winery (Murphys, CALAVERAS COUNTY) is aligned with the Latin themed tasting room and currently focusses on skeletons per the “Dia De Los Muertos” holiday. 

Despite a demanding career in the tech industry, he has been creating art for many years. An inspiring trip to Mexico City in 2006 unlocked his creativity after seeing murals by famous political Mexican muralists, David Alfaro Siqueros, Jorge Gonzalez Camarena, and José Clemente Orozco at the “Castillo De Chapultepec” and “Bellas Artes”. 

A variety of limited edition prints by Saul are available at the tasting roon, This print shown became the prototype for a Bodega Del Sur label for their Merlot.  

“When I visit Evelyn in the Bodega del Sur tasting room, I like to sip her Cabernet Sauvignon,”  Saul notes. He is also a Wine Club member at the winery.  

Saturday, March 12, 2016

WINE ROAD-WARRIOR: Chris Leamy, Terra d'Oro/Montevina, AMADOR COUNTY

WINE ROAD-WARRIOR Chris Leamy, winemaker at Terra d'Oro, Plymouth, AMADOR COUNTY, poured their 2014 Deaver Vineyard Zinfandel at the ZAP tasting in San Francisco on January 27. 

To promote their Sierra Foothills wines, Chris makes six trips a year, usually lasting a full week each, once a month from January through June. 

Chris has been in the wine business for over 19 years, first at Sebastiani, and now for the last 16 years at Terra d'Oro. He's helped the winery achieve nationwide distribution.

Friday, March 11, 2016

STARFIELD VINEYARDS: Action Photo of the Week


Pruning has been going on in the Sierra Foothills for a while, how much and where is very dependent on the locale. 

At Starfield Vineyards near Jacquier Road in Placerville, EL DORADO COUNTY, tempranillo vines received the loving touch recently.

Starfield -- well, we are starting to hear about it a bit now -- but the plans for a mass of rhodendendrons and daffodils, a Lake Pavillion and and event area, a new winery -- are afoot. It will be another year until Grand Opening, but we will keep you abreast of developments.

For more information, go to

Thursday, March 10, 2016


"California, Where Wonders Never Cease", an 11”x11” collage, is now on display and for sale in the tasting room at Andis Wines, 11000 Shenandoah Road, Plymouth, AMADOR COUNTY.  

This piece  which sells for $175, was created by Anje Olmstead, Fine Artist. 

Anje’s favorite Andis wine is the Sparkling Wine, a delicious, Champagne-style wine made from Chardonnay with a touch of fruit.  

Anje has been an exhibiting artist for 35 years. Her mediums have ranged from watercolor Pointillism, tapestry art to mosaic collage. Anje's early work can be found in the "Encyclopedia of Living Artists in America."  Many of her works are on display at the Sutter Creek Gallery.

For more information and to view other examples of her work, go to

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

WINE ROAD WARRIOR: Jane O'Riordan, Terre Rouge-Easton Wines

In honor of International Women's Day, I'm giving a shout-out to this WINE ROAD-WARRIOR. And I'm hoping to see more women in the wine business (in the interest of inclusivity, men welcome too...)

JANE O'RIORDAN, co-owner of Terre Rouge/Easton Wines: AMADOR COUNTY, has road-warrior duties particularly in Southern CA and Colorado. Although the winery has a full time national sales manager, Jane steps in and lends a hand when winemaker and co-owner Bill Easton is busy making wine. Jane is also a talented chef and her travels often provide new inspiration for the special foods served at winery events.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Sierra Foothills Wineries and ZINFEST; Barbera Festival Queues up Next!

Zinfandel was the star at ZAP's Zinfest Grand Tasting in San Francisco on Feb 27, but a clear subtext was the presence of so many Sierra Foothills wineries. Twelve (12) Sierra Foothills wineries constituted 10 percent of the Zin producers... and Cork Dork Radio's host was happy to hear about the burgeoning wine scene in the Sierra Foothills.

Barbara Keck, author, rounded up a group of Sierra Foothills winemakers present there at Zinfest to talk about both Zinfandel and the upcoming Barbera Festival too. 

The Cork Dork Radio show airs on March 9 and you'll see a link to it next week. 

Left to right: Chris Leamy (Terra d'Oro/Montevina), Joe Shebl (Renwood Winery), Barbara Keck ("Wineries of the Sierra Foothills" book), Adam Montiel (Cork Dork Radio co-host), Jana Harvey (Scott Harvey Wines), Jeremy West (Cork Dork Radio co-host) and Kevin Riley of Proulx Wine of Paso Robles.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Amador Wine Festival May 7 Celebrates Four Distinct Wine Areas in Amador County

SAVE THE DATE: May 7 at the Amador County Fairgrounds in Plymouth CA. Four distinctive Amador wine areas present their WINES, paired with open-fire cuisine.  

This 2nd annual Amador Four Fires festival is a unique festival offering attendees an opportunity to immerse themselves in the region’s food, wine, and viticulture. 

Divided into regions representing countries of origin, the South of France (Rhône), Italy, Iberia (Spain and Portugal), and “Heritage California,” festival goers can taste more than 200 wines from 37 Amador wineries.  

The FOOD sounds spectacular too -- open-flame cuisine prepared by award-winning chefs designed to complement that region’s varietals.

In between tastes and bites, peruse local artisan crafts and purveyors of fine culinary treats. Attend demonstrations, seminars and hands-on activities throughout the day; cooking demonstrations by top chefs, food pairing, tips from professional sommeliers, meet the winemakers, learn the latest about organic viticulture, and much more.

All proceeds go to the Amador County Fair Foundation and its Farm to Future Initiative. 

TICKETS (VIP, All Access, and Designated Driver) at

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