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Category Archives: Sierra Foothills

El Dorado Passport Weekend 2018

Off again on another exciting wine tasting weekend! This time we were headed to El Dorado County, for the El Dorado Passport Weekend. El Dorado County is right in our back yard, just about an hour from home. As guests of the El Dorado Winery Association, who provided us with complimentary VIP passes to the event, we were looking forward to a deeper exploration of the region. While we’ve lived nearby for many years, quite honestly, our ventures to the land of gold discovery had been few.

 

El Dorado Winery Association represents nearly 50 wineries. About half were participating in the annual Passport Weekend. With so many wineries to choose from, we had to map out our strategy. Compounding the mathematical quandary was the fact that we had only Saturday to attend. We had other commitments on Sunday! Clearly, we needed a plan.

El Dorado County is located east of Sacramento, and runs from the valley floor all the way to the peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains. In fact, the town of South Lake Tahoe is in El Dorado County. The highway that one travels from Sacramento to South Lake Tahoe is U.S. Highway 50, part of the historic Lincoln Highway. As it happens, Highway 50 bisects El Dorado wine country, with the Apple Hill area wineries on the north side, and Pleasant Valley, Mount Aukum, and Fair Play regions to the south. Of these regions, Fair Play is perhaps the most well-known, at least in the area, and is the part of El Dorado County we’ve explored the most. With that realization, our plan was established. We would delve into the Apple Hill area, on the north side of Highway 50, and visit wineries that were completely new to us! Well, mostly, as you will read.

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Image Credit: El Dorado Winery Association

The El Dorado Passport Weekend actually spans two weekends. We attended the second. The first weekend was met with sunshine and unseasonably warm temperatures. The second weekend was, well, more seasonable. It was overcast and chilly, with an often biting wind at outdoor venues. Nevertheless, even cold weather would not prevent us from enjoying the day and sampling some fantastic El Dorado County wines.

High elevation wines are what sets El Dorado Wine Country apart from other California regions. The growing region varies from 1,200 to more than 3,500 feet above sea level! That’s some serious altitude! Some 50 grape varieties thrive here, from Gewürztraminer to Cabernet Sauvignon, to Barbera, to Chardonnay, to Zinfandel, and many others. Rhône and Bordeaux varietals do especially well here. There are many soil types, including volcanic rock, decomposed granite, and fine shale, each providing its own influence to the terroir.

El Dorado Grape Varieties

Image Credit: El Dorado Winery Association

From here, please enjoy the photo montage along with brief descriptions of each winery we visited. We quickly learned that El Dorado Winery Association knows how to host a party, as each winery had food pairings for almost all of their wines. We did not go hungry!

Our first stop was Fenton Herriot Vineyards. Perched atop a hillside with spectacular views, Fenton Herriot is located just outside Placerville, a quaint Gold Rush era town. The wines were as amazing as the views, and we enjoyed the catered food pairings as well. As part of the VIP experience we were invited to a three-vintage vertical tasting of their Sangiovese.

 

 

Next was Lava Cap Winery. This is the one I intimated above; we’ve been familiar with Lava Cap for years, because their production is such that they can be found in Sacramento area restaurants and even grocery stores. Don’t let this dissuade you, however, their wines are first-class! As part of our VIP experience, we tasted a flight of library wines, including a 12 year old, oak aged Viognier. Yes, you read that right – a 12 year old Viognier! It was spectacular!

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Moving on, we stopped at Madroña. Established in 1973, Madroña is one of the oldest El Dorado County wineries. I even remember them being there when I visited Apple Hill as a child! Here was tasted a flight of Cabernet Sauvignon including a 1985. That’s the year my daughter was born! The wine has aged and mellowed as much as my daughter has. Amazing! They also have a red blend, El Tinto, composed of 25 different grape varieties. Delicious!

 

 

Next we stopped at Via Romano Vineyards. Via Romano specializes in Italian varietals, and they do them exceptionally well. Check out the Pinot Grigio paired with mango, peach, and apple bruschetta! Simply ethereal!

From there, we stopped at Bumgarner Winery. Any San Francisco Giants fans in the audience? Owner Brian Bumgarner did some genealogical research, and found at least a distant relation to starting pitcher and future Hall of Famer, Madison Bumgarner. Even if baseball is not your thing, stop on by their rustic tasting room for some rich, full-bodied red wines.

At the recommendation of one of the staff at Bumgarner, we next ventured just south of Highway 50 to Chateau Davell. There we were reunited with owner and winemaker, Eric Hayes, who we had met at the Wine Bloggers Conference a few months earlier. Eric is a skilled winemaker, and also an accomplished painter. Each label is adorned with a portrait of a family member, lovingly painted by Eric himself.

As you can imagine if you’re keeping score, by now we were getting palate fatigued. Nevertheless, we had some time to kill before we would be meeting friends in Placerville. So we forged on to one last winery, Sierra Vista Vineyards and Winery. Another early pioneer in El Dorado Wine Country, established in 1979, Sierra Vista was also on the forefront of the Rhône movement in the area. Their dedication to the craft is evident in each sip.

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With a renewed fascination and enthusiasm for our backyard wine region, we are determined to return soon and continue our adventure of discovery. If you are planning a trip to Northern California, perhaps to the more famous wine regions like Napa, Sonoma, or Lodi, you owe it to yourself to plan a little detour to the east, and come discover the fantastic wines of El Dorado County.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Unless otherwise credited, all photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
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Farm-to-Fork Legends of Wine

Among other things, Sacramento, California is known as America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital. Each year, the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau hosts several Farm-to-Fork events, celebrating the region’s agricultural heritage and commitment to farm-fresh, local dining. This includes not only food, but wine as well. This past Thursday, we were fortunate to attend the annual Farm-to-Fork Legends of Wine event.

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Held on the front steps of the California State Capitol building, the Legends of Wine event features wine tastings of several local wineries from the region. Attendees had the opportunity to sample the some of the best wines produced in the Lodi, Sierra Foothills, and surrounding areas, and enjoy small bites like lamb sliders, gourmet cheeses, fresh-baked bread, and gelato. Many winery owners and winemakers were on hand to pour and answer questions about their wines.

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Darrell Corti, left, and David Berkley, right. Dude taking a picture, in background.

Sacramento’s wine legends Darrell Corti and David Berkley help to prepare the event by selecting the best wines and wineries. One of Mr. Corti’s claims to fame is the long-running Corti Brothers market. Originally opened in downtown Sacramento in 1947, and relocated to its current East Sacramento location in 1970, the store features an authentic Italian deli and one of the best independent wine shops in the region. So beloved is Mr. Corti and the Corti Brothers store that, in 2008 when on the verge of losing the lease, Sacramento’s top celebrity chefs turned out in support and helped keep the market open.

David Berkley started his journey in wine as a part-time wine merchant at Corti Brothers. He went on to open his own wine and specialty-foods store in Sacramento, which sadly closed after 25 years in business. Yet, his story doesn’t end there. Mr. Berkley has served as a wine consultant for the White House, serving President Reagan, both Presidents Bush, and President Clinton.

After several weeks of scorching heat, the weather cooperated and graced us with a perfect, late summer evening. Clear skies, and temperatures in the low-80’s at the start of the event, created a delightful atmosphere for tasting, noshing, and mingling. I lost count, but there were well over two-dozen wineries present. We tasted several old favorites from wineries we know, and found a number of new favorites. Our weekends will be full over the next few months, visiting all the new wineries and winemaker friends we met at the event.

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Unintended cool photo effects when the flash accidentally went off.

If you happen to be in the Sacramento area in a future September, check out the Legends of Wine event. Perhaps we’ll see you there!

Cheers!

PaZa Estate Winery – A Hidden Gem

Always on the prowl for hidden gems in the wine world, a few days ago we headed out to explore our own backyard on the nearby Placer County Wine Trail. Located east of Sacramento, along the Interstate 80 corridor on the way to Lake Tahoe, the Placer County Wine Trail features 19 wineries, and counting.

Placer County is part of the larger Sierra Foothills AVA. Wine grapes were first planted in here in 1848. If that year seems familiar, it could be because it is the same year gold was discovered in nearby Coloma, sparking the historic California Gold Rush. The miners who traveled to seek their fortunes also came with a mighty thirst. Enterprising European immigrants recognized that planting vineyards and making wine could be a lucrative way to quench the miners’ thirst. In the 1860’s, there were more vineyards and wineries in Placer County than in Napa and Sonoma counties combined! With warm days and cool nights, many Mediterranean varietals thrive in this area.

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With limited time available that day, we were only able to visit a couple of wineries. Consulting the Wine Trail map in the pamphlet we picked up, we set our coordinates for PaZa Estate Winery. Winding our way through the hilly, two-lane roads between Lincoln and Auburn, California, we were glad to have GPS on our phones! Over hill and dale, we carefully made our way. As instructed by Siri, we made a hard right in the middle of a 90-degree left turn, and continued on a paved, single lane road. The pavement soon gave way to gravel, and we started to think that Siri had gotten us lost. Cresting a hill, we saw the sign informing us we were approaching our destination. Rounding another curve, a paved parking lot welcomed us next to a residential home. Walking a short distance from the parking lot on a wide gravel path, we soon entered the shaded tasting…shed. Yes, you read that right…PaZa Estate Winery has an open-concept tasting shed, rather than a room. And for good reason! Why would they want to obscure the amazing vineyard and valley views with walls?

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Our host that day was Operations Manager, Cindy. She gave us some of the history of the PaZa story. The name, PaZa, is an amalgamation of the first letters of the owners’ names: Pamela and Zane Dobson. Sharing a love for wines, and having enjoyed fulfilling careers and hobbies, they decided to embark on a winemaking journey. They bought the property where the winery is now located in 2005. The first vines were planted in 2007. In 2009, they produced their first vintage, using grapes sourced from other vineyards. Finally, in 2011, the first vintage of estate wines was produced. Estate varietals include Barbera, Primitivo, Petite Sirah, Albariño, and Zinfandel. No fining materials are used, making PaZa wines suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

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The day of our visit was warm, but in the shade of the shed and with a cooling breeze through the trees and vines, we enjoyed our tastings of one white and three reds. The 2016 Chardarino, a blend of 60% Albariño and 40% Chardonnay, we delightfully refreshing, with a full mouthfeel and crisp tropical and citrus flavors. The reds included a 2102 Primitivo, a 2013 Barbera, and their LTD – Living the Dream red blend.  Aged three years in French oak, the Primitivo burst with dark berry and cherry flavors, and plenty of vanilla and spice. The Barbera was also aged in French oak for three years, and was soft and smooth, with dark cherry and blackberry flavors. The LTD – Living the Dream is a 50/50 blend of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, and was rich and delicious with ripe blackberry, cherry, and black pepper notes. Big and bold, with firm tannins, the LTD would make an excellent wine to pair with a steak or any other grilled meats.

img_0028img_0027If you are in the area, and would like to experience some true hidden gems while taking in some breathtaking views from the tasting shed, come visit PaZa Estate Winery. Set your GPS to 3357 Ayers Holmes Rd., Auburn, CA 95602, and enjoy the ride.

 

Review: Jarvis Tomei California Mother Lode Rhone Red Blend 2015

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a wine review. In my zeal to share creative insights and tales of my wine travels, combined with life circumstances and busyness at work, I momentarily lost sight of one of the reasons I started this blog, and my tagline: “Reviews, musings, ponderings, and thoughts about wine.”

When I post reviews, I like to include a little about the winemakers. I find I enjoy a given wine more when I know some of the stories and passions of the people behind the label. Often I rely on information available on the Internet, but as a member of NakedWines.com, I have the opportunity to meet and interact with the winemakers directly.

Jeff Jarvis and Jessica Tomei are a husband and wife winemaking team based in Northern California. Although I have not had opportunity to meet them in person, I feel like I know them through our communication on the NakedWines.com social media platform. Theirs is a compelling, moving story. Jeff and Jessica have an impressive wine-making background, having worked at wineries in Italy and Chile before settling in Northern California. In addition to making wine for NakedWines.com members (known as Angels), Jessica stays busy as the director of international winemaking at Cupcake Vineyards.

Jeff and Jessica source most of their fruit from El Dorado County, in the Sierra Foothills. coloma-mother-lode-red-blendTheir primary NakedWines.com label, Coloma, is a nod to this origin. The small foothills town of Coloma, in El Dorado County, is the location of Sutter’s Mill, where gold was discovered in 1848. If you’ve read much of my blog, you know I have a special passion for Sierra Foothills wine, partly because I live less than 45 minutes the main winemaking regions there, and just 5 minutes from the El Dorado County line! Jeff and Jessica’s Coloma wines are rich and intense, with soft tannins, and a fruity, spicy finish.

Yet, as good as their wines are, the best part of buying them is knowing that I am supporting this young family through their trials and tribulations. You see, in 2012, their then-two year old daughter Sofia became ill with a mystery ailment. After months of medical visits and extensive tests, doctors were unable to diagnose the illness. Their story was carried by both local and national news outlets. Cue NakedWines.com and the army of Naked Angels to the rescue! Through the support of this wine-loving extended family, Jeff and Jessica produced and sold a special Helping Hands Six-Pack of their wines for Angels. The money raised went directly to Jeff and Jessica to help defray medical expenses. So when I have an opportunity to purchase any of their wines, I know I am helping to support this family, and little Sofia.

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The Jarvis Tomei Family, Photo Credit: The Naked Way

Their latest Coloma label release is a spin on the classic Rhône GSM blend. The Mother Lode Red Blend is a GSZ – Grenache, Syrah, Zinfandel blend. In speaking with other Sierra Foothills producers, I learned that the challenge with GSZ is taming the hot, high alcohol content of the “Z” – Zinfandel. Leave it to Jeff and Jessica to master this by blending just 10% Zinfandel with 55% Syrah and 35% Grenache. The wine carries the California designation, because the fruit is sourced from both the Sierra Foothills and Paso Robles.

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In the glass, a medium ruby color. Pre-aeration (patience is overrated) there are aromas of blackberry bramble, vanilla, and blueberry. Run thru a Vinturi (or decanted 30-60 minutes if you have patience) brings forth aromas and flavors of ripe blackberry, blueberry, black cherries, and soft oak. Is this really a 2015? It’s amazingly soft and smooth, with light acidity and medium to full body. The finish is medium long, with dark berry, plum, and a touch of spice and mineral. This is an easy drinking wine; great for sipping or with food. I’m glad I bought more than one!

4.0 out of 5 Stars (88 – 91 points)

MSRP: $19.99, Angel price: $11.99

This wine is still available, exclusively from NakedWines.com. If you’d like to try it, and aren’t yet a Naked Angel, follow this link for a voucher worth $100 off your first purchase of $160 or more. You’ll be happy you did!

Cheers!

Lesser Known AVAs: Shenandoah Valley

My how time flies! It’s been almost a year since my first post on the Sierra Foothills AVA. When I wrote that piece, I had the grand idea of showcasing each of the five sub-appellations that comprise the Sierra Foothills: North Yuba, El Dorado, Shenandoah Valley, Fiddletown, and Fair Play. Alas, such is the life of a hobbyist blogger. Work, family, and life in general get busy, and grand ideas get set aside. It has taken some time, but I was finally able to make it to Amador County wine country recently to conduct some “scientific research” for this continuing series. It was arduous, but I’ll do whatever it takes for you, dear reader, to provide what I hope is interesting content.

As I lamented in my earlier post, the Sierra Foothills area is, in my opinion, an underrated and underappreciated wine region. Often flying under the radar of major wine publications, the wineries here are producing wines that rival bigger, better known producers and regions. Fortunately, the Sierra Foothills received some recent exposure when nearby Lodi hosted the 2016 Wine Blogger’s Conference. Although I was unable to attend, I’ve read some great posts from fellow bloggers on the field trips that were offered to the foothills. Several of the winemakers and owners I spoke with on my recent daytrip also commented on the visits, and appreciate the attention the conference gave to the region. Still, it is with some trepidation that I go on; for fear that too much exposure will spoil the tranquil, picturesque wine region located in my own back yard. Nevertheless, I wish nothing but success for these amazing wineries and wines, so I must shout my praises from the rooftops. Well, at least from my living room.

Amador County is home to two of the five Sierra Foothills sub-appellations; Shenandoah Valley and Fiddletown. These two neighbors adjoin one another, and while I did briefly venture into the Fiddletown AVA, my focus this day was the Shenandoah Valley.

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The Shenandoah Valley is perhaps the best known Sierra Foothills wine region. It is the most easily accessible, and perhaps not coincidentally, is home to some of the larger and better known Sierra Foothills wineries. Many producers in the Shenandoah Valley, like Renwood and Montevina, have grown large enough to distribute their wines nationally, and perhaps internationally. In fact, some time ago I opened a Costco-branded Kirkland Signature Amador Zinfandel, and was surprised to find the Renwood Winery logo on the cork. That’s a testament to success!

Just outside historic Plymouth, a gold-rush era town, Shenandoah Road intersects State Highway 49. A short drive up Shenandoah Road, and around a hilly curve, and you are greeted by lush vineyards and stunning views. The majority of the wineries in the Shenandoah Valley AVA are located along Shenandoah Road or Steiner Road, which loops off Shenandoah Road, meeting it again a little further up. There are some 31 wineries located in the Shenandoah Valley AVA. Most are small, family owned operations, and it is not uncommon for the winemaker to be the owner, or the owner’s son, daughter, or other relation.

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Since the early days of the California Gold Rush, this area has produced wine. Originally, vines were planted by enterprising emigrants to supply alcohol to the thirsty miners who came to strike it rich. Zinfandel vines were found to thrive here, so that became the dominant varietal. Today, some individual vines can be traced back more than 150 years to those pioneering days. Other varietals have since been added to the region; mostly Italian and Rhone grapes that thrive in the warm, dry climate. The west slopes of the Sierra Foothills afford abundant sunshine during growing season, and summertime temperatures that can hit the low 100’s help to create ripe, fruit-forward wines.

Like all of the Sierra Foothills wine regions, the Shenandoah Valley AVA’s natural beauty equals, or dare I say, even exceeds that of the more famous California regions. Certainly Shenandoah Valley lacks the crowds, traffic, and commercialization of those internationally recognized destinations. Many wineries still offer complimentary tastings. Those that do charge generally limit it to $5, and that is waived with the purchase of just one or two bottles. (Many Napa wineries are now up to $30 or more, and waiver requires signing up for the wine club, a commitment of several hundred dollars per year.) Even the bottle prices are much more affordable, typically less than $30 for spectacular, award-winning wines.

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Photo Credit: helwigwinery.com

Winemaking here waned as the Gold Rush petered out. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the potential for this region was noted, and commercial wineries established. Early wineries such as Deaver Vineyards and Sobon Estate are still going strong, and are joined by relative newcomers like Andis (est. 2010) and Helwig (est. 2011). The growing popularity of wine among the younger generation, and the trend away from exclusivity and pretentiousness in wine has driven the rise in popularity and demand.

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Deaver Vineyards

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Sobon Estate

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Helwig Winery

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Andis Winery

The atmosphere at the wineries in this area vary from traditional, down-to-earth, and intimate, to state-of-the-art, hip, trendy, and vibrant. Some offer tours, including a Farm-to-Glass Vineyard Tour at Vino Noceto. Click the link to read my post on my recent experience and learn more. To attract even more people to the area, including non-wine-drinkers, Helwig Winery built an amphitheater along with their winery. They host a summer concert series each year, attracting some big name performers and plenty of fans, who are introduced to the beauty, and deliciousness, of the area. No matter your preference, you are sure to be greeted warmly, and will taste some underappreciated, world-class wines.

If you are thinking of visiting, the closest airport is Sacramento (SMF). Check out the Amador Vintner’s Association website amadorvintnerlogofor trip planning help and tips. Come to the foothills, check out the wines and history, and enjoy the stunning scenery. You’ll be glad you did!

Farm-to-Glass at Vino Noceto

Many wineries have tours. Visitors get to see the crush pad, fermentation tanks, and barrel room on the way to the tasting room. I have been on several of these tours, and always enjoy them. There is something enlightening in learning more about the processes that go into making this wonderful, enjoyable beverage. Still, I’ve often felt there was something missing in these tours: the vineyard. What goes on out there? I long to walk the rows, taste the berries straight from the vines, and learn more about the agricultural part of the process. Wine is, after all, the end result of months of patient and backbreaking farming. Then I learned about the Farm-to-Glass Vineyard Tour at Vino Noceto. I signed up immediately.

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Vino Noceto is a family-owned winery in the Sierra Foothills. More specifically, they are in Amador County, in the Shenandoah Valley AVA, a sub-appellation of the Sierra Foothills AVA. Located in the rolling hills about an hour east of Sacramento, Vino Noceto is a fun, friendly, and inviting destination.

The Farm-to-Glass tour is often led by either the winemaker, Rusty Folena, or owner Jim Gullett. For my tour, a small group of just three of us, Jim was our guide, providing us with intimate details and insight into the history of the winery. It was fascinating to hear Jim relate his personal journey from just starting out; to the successful operation he leads today.

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Jim Gullett, owner and tour guide extraordinaire!

Jim and his wife Suzy purchased the land, formerly a walnut grove, in 1984. The name, Noceto, reflects a part of Suzy’s history. Suzy is from the city of Walnut Creek, in the east Bay Area of Northern California. Noceto is Italian for walnut grove. It is also the name of a town in Italy, located in the province of Parma. Noceto, Italy is the sister city of Walnut Creek, California.

In keeping with the Italian connection, Vino Noceto specializes in Sangiovese, the main grape used in Chianti. Vino Noceto is one of the leading producers of Sangiovese in California. This is quite a departure for a winery in a region known for Gold Rush-era Zinfandel vines, and the Rhone varietals many of their neighbors are producing. Still, Jim and Suzy had a passion, and they pursued it.

The tour began in the tasting room; just long enough to each receive a glass and a generous pour of Vino Noceto’s Clarksburg Pinot Grigio. Light, crisp, and delicious, this was a great way to start off! Jim grabbed his bottle caddy – more tastes awaited us along the way – and we headed off to the vineyard.

The next wine we tasted was the flagship Sangiovese Originale. We tasted the 2013, but the first release of this Chianti-style wine was in 1990. Light, ruby color in the glass with flavors of raspberry and cherry, and lively, balanced acidity. This wine is delightful on its own, and would pair exceptionally with a variety of foods. Jim said his vision was to create a “Chianti with California sunshine.” He didn’t want to simply imitate Chianti; he’s in California, and he wanted to allow the California influence to shine through. Mission accomplished, Jim!

Many of Vino Noceto’s Sangiovese vines can be traced back to nine original cuttings. These were obtained from a neighboring winery that had procured them some years earlier, but decided to go a different direction with their production. Other vines came from various other sources, all of which can be traced back to Italy. Some of these other cuttings had originally been brought to the U.S. from Chianti via (ahem) a briefcase import in the 1970’s. So the Vino Noceto vines have some pretty prestigious, if shadowy, heritage.

The original vineyard plot is called Dos Oakies, because of two large oak trees that stood watch over the vines. One of these sentinels fell in a storm a few years ago, but the other remains, providing shade and shelter for vineyard tourists and wildlife alike.

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Dos Oakies, minus one.

As we walked through the vineyard, Jim informed us that Vino Noceto is a Certified Sustainable vineyard. After harvest and crush, the grape pressings are returned to the earth to help fertilize for next year. They also reclaim the water used in production. In addition, their winery and tasting rooms run completely on solar power, and investment that has already paid for itself.

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Moscato Pressings back to the earth.

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Harvesting the California sunshine.

Harvest was already complete on the day of my tour, but some fruit lingered on the vines. This enabled us to sample some of the berries. We tasted Trebbiano and Malvasia, both white grapes, and Sangiovese, Canaiolo Nero, and Aglianico, the latter two used as a blending grapes in Italian wines. It was interesting to note the differences in flavor, texture, and tannin, right there among the vines that produced the fruit.

One the way to the winery building itself, we sampled two more wines; the Dos Oakies Sangiovese, a single vineyard bottling from that original vineyard block; and the Hillside Sangiovese. Both were stunning, and had the classic Chianti stylings, with that extra pop of California sunshine. The Hillside Sangiovese has just a hint more oakiness, giving it a fuller feel and flavor. Perhaps that is why it has won so many awards and high scores!

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Don’t forget the wine, Jim!

At the winery, the tour included a stop at the crush pad, where Jim explained the processes from harvest, to sorting and de-stemming, to crush. Then we moved into the fermentation room and barrel room. Jim detailed the processes, including such decisions as which yeast to use in fermentation, and the level of toast required for their barrels.

Though Sangiovese experts, Vino Noceto is a Sierra Foothills winery. Therefore, they also produce a Zinfandel. Using his wine thief, Jim got us a barrel taste of the 2016. It is already coming along nicely, and when released in a couple of years, will be a superb Zinfandel. As we left the winery, Jim poured us a taste from their current release, 2012 OGP Zinfandel, made with grapes from the Original Grandpère vineyard. Unlike many jammy, powerful Zins, this is a lighter, more restrained Zinfandel that really allows the fruit to show its stuff!

Normally when you hear “cult wine” you think of big, bold, in-your-face Cabernet from Napa. Would you believe: a cult white wine? Yes, Vino Noceto makes a Moscato blend called Frivolo. Slightly effervescent, and completely refreshing and delicious, Frivolo has a cult following, and its own wine club! That’s right, a club for a single wine. Members receive one shipment per year, in December – a case of the newly released vintage. While the 2014 is long sold out, the day of my tour the 2016 was undergoing cold stabilization. Naturally, as a good host, Jim got us a sample from the tank. Ice cold, but still delicious and flavorful!

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Cult White Wine!

The tour ended back in the tasting room, where Jim said his goodbyes and left us in the care of the friendly, helpful staff. There, we were offered more tastes of wines we didn’t try on the tour, plus opportunities to re-try those we had. Like so many Sierra Foothills wineries, tastings at Vino Noceto are complimentary.

If you are in the area, I highly recommend the Farm-to-Glass Vineyard tour. Tours are held daily at 11:00 a.m.; free for club members, $10 for everyone else. Money well spent! You can book online here, or call Vino Noceto at (209) 245-6556 x2.

Saluti!

Lesser Known AVAs: Sierra Foothills

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I know what you’re thinking: “I’ve heard of the Sierra Foothills AVA. I wouldn’t call it ‘lesser known.'” Yes, I know. Nevertheless, too often the big, East Coast wine and food magazines, websites, and blogs overlook this region when reviewing wines, making their “Top 100” lists, and generally writing about wine and wine country. Tourists often overlook the Sierra Foothills when planning Northern California wine country travel, favoring the more famous Napa and Sonoma regions, and recently, Lodi. *

The wineries of the Sierra Foothills AVA and it’s five sub-appellations produce some outstanding wines. Most of these are small, independent producers. As an under-recognized wine region, it is not as commercialized as Napa/Sonoma, and therefore is generally less expensive to visit. Many wineries still offer free tasting, and few charge more than $5, which is refunded with a wine purchase.

AVA County Map

From pastoral, rolling hills; to hilltop vistas; to lush, forested hideaways, the Sierra Foothills AVA spans eight counties and more than 2,600,000 acres. [1] With hot, dry summers, grapes of nearly all varieties thrive here, but for my palate, and in my humble opinion, Italian and Spanish varietals are the best. Albariño to Zinfandel, Sierra Foothills wineries produce exciting, delicious wines.

Rolling Hills  VCW_D_GC_T8_HelwigWinery_Flippen-1280x642Fitzpatrick View

Wine history somewhat parallels gold rush history here. In 1848, Gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill, in GoldPanning1889-locEl Dorado County, in the heart of what is now the Sierra Foothills AVA. This created the famed Gold Rush that brought prospectors westward in droves. In addition to the miners, many entrepreneurs came west, sensing the opportunity to prosper by selling supplies to the “forty-niners” (a reference to 1849, when the Gold Rush really got going.) Among these entrepreneurs were many European immigrants, who brought grape vines with them. [2] Zinfandel thrived in the region, and is still the largest planted varietal, [3] with many vines more than 100 years old. Modern day winemakers produce some stunning Zinfandel wines, ranging from dry and spicy, to big and jammy.

historic vineyard old vinesWhile the wines produced in the Sierra Foothills have Old World heritage, these are definitely New World wines. More fruit-driven and less acidic than their European ancestors, these wines are easily drinkable on their own, yet pair famously with food.

Stay tuned. Over the next weeks and months, I’ll be profiling each of the sub-appellations and other notable areas within the Sierra Foothills AVA. For a sample of what else is going on in the Sierra Foothills, check out my post “Destination: Calaveras Grape Stomp“.

* In the interest of full disclosure, I admit I am biased toward the Sierra Foothills AVA. I live 30-60 minutes from most of the wineries, and it was wines from this region that really got me started on my wine journey. Nevertheless, I really think the Sierra Foothills are underrated and oft overlooked by the big publishing houses, and therefore relatively unknown to many wine lovers. It is a wine region worthy of notice, and a visit if you’re out this way.

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[1] http://sierrafoothillswine.com/avas.html

[2] http://www.legendsofamerica.com/ca-napawineries.html

[3] http://www.everyvine.com/wine-regions/region/Sierra_Foothills/