Rush to a Crush
Off-the-Radar Regions Alive With Great Wine at Harvest Time
The wine blush becomes you. Yet everyone, it seems, is “crushing” on wine country this time of year. Luckily, there are plenty of off-the-radar regions where you can get away from the crowds during harvest. The lure, here, is wineries where you can talk tannins with vintners, taste for a nominal fee and — in some cases — even help crush the grapes by breaking their skins to prepare them for wine production.
Here are three emerging California destinations to explore:
Winters and the Capay Valley
She thinks my tractor’s sexy. There are plenty of farm implements in western Yolo County, where 99 percent of the land is agricultural and young people return to their roots to run family farms and make artisan products like wine, cheese and olive oil. Known since the 19th century for its apricots, the land is a romantic expanse of rolling hills and fertile valleys hugging the Vaca Mountains. Vineyards dot the landscape north of Interstate 80 and west of I-505, and the warm days and temperate nights seem tailor-made for Rhone varietals and Spanish Tempranillo. A regional favorite is Capay Valley Vineyards, along State Route 16 in Brooks, where winemaker Terri Strain has won numerous awards for her sparkling Viognier and other varietals.
The culinary hotspot of Western Yolo is Winters, a historic town of 7,000 that was recently featured on the Food Network show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. The flamboyant foodie, Guy Fieri, went gaga over Putah Creek Café and chef Fred Reyes’ savory cioppino and wood-fired pizzas — cooked in an oven on wheels outside the café. The town’s culinary draw includes the original Buckhorn Steakhouse (sister restaurant to Putah Creek Café) and the Turkovich Family Wines Tasting room, home to son Daniel’s artisan cheeses — made on site under the name Winters Cheese Co. Two other tasting rooms in town are RootStock and Berryessa Gap Vineyards. www.yolocvb.net
Not since the days of the gold rush has something so precious come out of the ground. Wine is the hot commodity in Calaveras County, where the pioneer spirit still prevails as farmers work together to promote this emerging wine region.
Take Murphys, a dusty two-horse town that looks more like the Wild West than a wine destination. The main street is an eclectic mix of small shops and some two-dozen tasting rooms where you can sip local wines without using a dime’s worth of gas. But a cruise along State Route 4 and its scenic arteries is well worth the drive, in part because that’s where the winemakers themselves may greet you and invite you to join them in the crush. There’s no snobbery here. From Twisted Oak Winery’s rubber chickens that mark the trail to the tasting room to Chatom Vineyards’ creative pairings with peanut butter cups — you can spend long, lazy hours chatting with Gold Country growers. And since this is also a big recreational region with skiing and boating and caving, plan on spending a night here as well. A favorite spot for golfers and wine lovers is Greenhorn Creek Resort, where you can rent an exquisitely appointed cottage for as little as $200 a night. www.calaveraswines.org
Just 45 minutes from Oakland is the Suisun Valley wine country, which looks more like the Ponderosa than the well-heeled wine regions of Napa and Sonoma. Head west off the freeway in Fairfield (instead of right toward the outlet malls), and the landscape eases into a rolling countryside dotted with fruit stands, nut farms and family-owned vineyards. Past the white wooden post marking the crossroads, a rusted-out tractor sits in the yard of a farm not far from the old stage stop, Mankas Corner. Along with a gift shop, deli and wine tasting, the owners of Vezér Family Vineyard, Frank and Liz Vezér, opened Mankas Tapas Bar and Steakhouse in late June. You could spend hours here, sipping local wines paired with cuisine from chef David Pajarillo (formerly Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco), but save time to visit the nine local wineries, cellars and vineyards with tasting rooms that make up the Suisun Valley Wine Trail.
“There are people in Solano County who don’t know we exist,” says the owner of King Andrews Vineyards, Roger King. He’s pouring a Winterhawk Pinot Noir with a sandalwood/cherry nose at the Suisun Valley Wine Cooperative and discussing fruit production with visitors across the bar. The Co-op is staffed by the vintners themselves, making for heady over-the-bar conversation. Just down the road are more tasting rooms, at Ledgewood Creek Winery & Vineyards, Tenbrink Vineyards, Blacksmith Cellars, King Andrews Vineyards, Mangels Vineyards, Sunset Cellars, Winterhawk Winery and Wooden Valley Winery. These wineries, coupled with fresh fruit and nut stands (Larry’s Produce is a popular option near Wooden Valley) ensure you’ll come home with not just wine but the appropriate pairings. www.suisunvalley.com
Get Your Crush On
Calaveras Grape Stomp
More than 100 teams of two compete in this 19th annual event on Saturday, Oct. 6, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Murphys Park in downtown Murphys.
Roots to Wine Passport Weekend
Ten participating wineries in Western Yolo County host vineyard tours, barrel tastings, new releases, live music and more on Saturday and Sunday,
Oct. 13–14, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Suisun Valley Harvest Celebration
Mark your calendar for Aug. 18, 2013, when local winemakers and growers will celebrate the newest Suisun Valley vintage. Attendees who travel the valley can talk to winery and produce stand proprietors and winemakers at this free event. Some wineries offer food-wine pairings, picnics, vineyard tours, barrel samples, grape tasting and occasionally grape stomping. Local farmers and artists get in on the act, too, with demonstrations, tastings and self-
picking specials. www.suisunvalley.com