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Sunday, 02 August 2015 00:08

Serrano Concours Set for October

Classics at Serrano Concours Picmonkey

TASTE News Service August 2, 2015 - Niello Concours at Serrano will celebrate its 12th anniversary on October 4, 2015. The setting will be Serrano Country Club in El Dorado Hills, just east of Sacramento. Featured will be Cadillac automobiles and a salute to 60 years of Ferrari in America.

Deemed last year’s Best of Show was a 1952 Bentley Mark VI convertible entered by Leon Garoyan of Davis, California. Among the other presentations were the Honorary Judges Award, which went to Raymond Lacy III of Arcata for his 1957 Triumph TR 3. The Tour Award was taken by Lynn Kissel of Cameron Park who drove his 1933 Pierce Arrow. Scott Schneider’s 1959 Porsche 356 D Convertible received the nod as the Richard Niello Sr. Outstanding Porsche. Meguiar’s Best Finish Award went to the 1960 Chrysler 300 F entered by Frank Messina. The Most Elegant Motor Car accolade went to the 1938 Mercedes 540K Special Roadster of Roger Orton of Sacramento. Another Mercedes, a 1957 300 SL roadster entered by Ted Voight of Pebble Beach was the SCCA 2014 High Point Championship winner. More information about the 2015 edition of this event can be found at http://www.nielloconcoursatserrano.com.

Editor’s Note: If you’ll be visiting the Sacramento or Sierra Foothills area for this event, check out the listings in Taste California Travel’s Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to Wineries and Craft Beer producers in the area.

CA State Fair rosette

By Dan Clarke

Sacramento, California June 18, 2015 - Today the California State Fair announced winners of its 2015 Commercial Wine judging. Wines selected as Best of Show in both red and white categories were made from varieties native to Spain and relatively obscure in this country. Moreover, the grapes were grown and vinified in regions obviously capable of producing great wine, though perhaps not well-known by the average consumer.

Picked as Best of Show Red was the 2012 Tempranillo from El Dorado County’s Lewis Grace (Grace Patriot) winery. Honors for Best of Show White went to the 2014 Albarino entry from Oak Farms Vineyards in the Lodi appellation.

While many “Cult Cabernets” are now priced way over $100 a bottle, 72 of the best wine judges in California chose a wine retailing at $30 as 2015’s best red wine. Though top quality Chardonnay, California’s most popular and most prestigious white wine, can approach—and even exceed—$50, those same judges declared that the $19 Oak Farms Vineyards Albarino is the best white wine of 2015.

This year's wine competition consisted of 2,881 wine entries received from 743 participating winery brands. Seventy-two judges on 18 panels awarded 57 Double Golds and 254 Golds, and the top winners showed the diversity of California wine, coming from around the state and from wineries of every size.

“California's 78,000 farms and ranches produce roughly half of all the fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the United States; and our grape industry accounts for 90 percent of all wine consumed in America. As one of the oldest professional wine competitions in the nation, we are extremely pleased that for the second year in a row the State Fair has seen increased participation in our prestigious wine competition,” said Rick Pickering, CEO of the California State Fair. “With more than 2,800 wine entries from 700 plus wineries, the State Fair continues to be an enormous showcase of the Best of California."

The first State Fair Wine Competition was held in 1855. The competition is the oldest and one of the most prestigious wine events in the country. Top wines, including Best of Region and Best of California winners, will be featured at the State Fair in Sacramento ain the Save Mart Supermarkets Wine Garden for visitors to enjoy July 10-26.

Comprehensive information on all the winners of this year’s California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition is available here.

Editor’s Note: If you’re planning to visit the wine country of El Dorado County or of the Lodi appellation, first check out Taste California Travel’s Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of all the Wineries, as well as links to the websites of hundreds of nearby Lodging and Dining options.

Kids pan for gold at Columbia State Park PicmonkeyKids pan for gold at Columbia State Park. Photo by Rich E. Mann

TASTE News Service June 8, 2015 - Winners of the 10Best Readers' Choice Awards for Best Kid-Friendly Destinations are in. Nominees in the contest, sponsored by USA Today and 10Best.com, were chosen by a panel of experts and voted on by the public. Yosemite National Park secured the No. 10 spot, the only national park on the list. Other picks were the theme park homes of Anaheim (No. 4), Orlando (No.6) and San Diego (No.7). Niagara Falls, New York took the No. 1 spot.

Yosemite National Park's gateway communities, such as Yosemite Gold Country are also kid-friendly. Miles of mountain bike trails, swimming and fishing spots appeal to kids, as well as the kid in everyone. Historic gold rush era towns like Jamestown and hands-on parks like 1897 Railtown, with real steam locomotive train rides, and Columbia Historic State Park and its stage coach rides encourage real hands-on experiences. The Sonora Fire Department Museum and Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum are also options that are likely to hold children’s interest.   In 1848 gold was discovered along the American River at Coloma. Later that same year gold was also found in Tuolumne County and soon all of this Sierra Foothill region was the scene of the gold rush of 1849. A favorite activity, even in these modern times, is to try your luck at panning. Three gold panning locations and mines keeps history alive in the area; Hidden Treasure Gold Mine Tours & Matelot Gulch Mine Supply Store in Columbia, Gold Prospecting Adventures in Jamestown, and 49er Mining Supplies in Columbia.

YARTS, the public transportation system for Yosemite National Park is also kid-friendly, offering free rides for children under 12 who are traveling with their parents.

About Yosemite Gold Country/Tuolumne County:

Tuolumne (rhymes with “follow me”) County, located 133 miles east of San Francisco, is a pristine, scenic expanse reaching into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The main highways leading to the picturesque drive from the San Francisco and East Bay Area are Highways 108 and 120 from the west and Highway 49 from the north. The State Highway 120 entrance to Yosemite National Park is considered the “front door” of the park for the San Francisco Greater Bay Area. The Stanislaus National Forest, Yosemite National Park, and other surrounding areas provide natural vistas and settings for hiking, water skiing, horseback riding, rafting, camping, snowmobiling, boating, snow skiing, fishing and other outdoor activities. Seven restored historic hotels, four golf courses, numerous and varied dining establishments, historic saloons, five wineries and hard cider distillery, train rides, casino, seven museums, two state historic parks, five live theaters and many bed-and-breakfast inns are among the many other attributes that make the county a year-round vacation destination. More info can be had at www.YosemiteGoldCountry.com.

Editor’s note: Links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options in and around Yosemite Park can be found in Taste California Travel’s Resource Directory.

Amador Four Fires 2015 picture Picmonkey

TASTE News Service May 9, 2015 – Amador Four Fires, a new concept wine and food event launched its inaugural festival on Saturday, May 2 at the Amador County Fairgrounds in Plymouth. Nearly 2,200 wine and food enthusiasts came to sip and savor at a unique festival designed to showcase Amador’s finest products and to benefit the Amador Fair Foundation.  

The exceptional attendance at a first-time event surprised even its co-producer Deidre Mueller who said “We were hoping to get some local and regional interest, but the attendance was far beyond anything I could have hoped for.”

The event offered a wealth of sensory activities. Over forty wineries poured 140 wines from the four wine regions that inspire Amador winemakers and growers: Southern France, Italy, the Iberian Peninsula and one dubbed “Heritage California.” Cuisine traditional to these regions was prepared on site over open-flames. Attendees could enjoy food and wine seminars, cooking demonstrations including all-day Cowboy Chuck Wagon cooking and tastings of olive oil, honeys, candies, cider and beer from local purveyors, while hearing music by two favorite local groups.

Buoyed by the success of its first Four Fires event, organizers have already announced May 7, 2016 as the second annual gathering. More information can be had at amadorfourfires.com.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015 17:47

Italian Passion, California Sunshine

Vino Noceto Tasting Menu PicmonkeyTasting menu pairs foods with Sangiovese and other varietals

by Dan Clarke

Sangiovese has disappointed many California growers and vintners. Once hoped to be the next viticultural success in a state that can grow most anything, this variety hasn't reached the broad success here that it has enjoyed in Tuscany. Were there more growers devoted to the cause like Jim Gullett, the story might be different.

San Francisco Bay Area natives Jim and Suzy Gullett purchased 21 acres in the Shenandoah Valley of California's Amador Country in the fall of 1984. Zinfandel and Barbera had long history in Amador County and some newcomers were planting the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that were so successful in Napa and Sonoma. Why choose Sangiovese? “We wanted to do something other than Zinfandel,” Gullett explained. “Barbera? Yeah, we could have done that,” he reflects, but that prospect obviously didn't excite him. “We wanted to do something different and we thought that it (Sangiovese) could work here. I'm a bit of a contrarian and sometimes look for things to do differently.”

The computer scientist who was turning farmer chose to go to Sangiovese's historical source. “I believe that wine is first made in the vineyard,” Jim explains. In the fall of the year after they purchased their property, Jim, Suzy and their two and five-year-old boys traveled to Tuscany “to make sure that we wanted to do this.” They made the acquaintance of men prominent in the world of Sangiovese—people like Paolo di Marchi of Isola e Olena and Alceo di Napoli of Castello dei Rampolla. On returning to California, further investigation followed and the Gulletts observed the progress people like Bob Pepi and Dick Peterson were having with the variety. “Things we saw in Italy, we could see in this winery Caporone in Paso Robles,” Jim recalls. When they acquired their Shenandoah Road property about half its acreage was fallow, but was likely a grain field at one time according to Gullett. The other half of the property was planted to walnuts. Noceto is Italian for walnut and Jim's wife, Suzy, grew up in Walnut Creek, California. So was born Vino Noceto, the wine estate said by several experts to be home to California's best Sangiovese.

Vino Noceto Tasting Bar Jim G PicmonkeyJim Gullett, a self-described contrarian

In the spring of 1987 the couple acquired an additional 18-1/2 acres adjacent to their original parcel and began planting grapes the following year. Of their twenty-four planted vineyard acres in Amador County, about 23 are devoted to five selections of Sangiovese. “There's a bit of Canaiolo Nero, Trebbiano and Malvasia, too, and two rows of Aglianico, one row of Petite Sirah, one row of Alicante Bouschet and one row of Syrah,” Gullett says. He likens these additional varieties to seasonings in the kitchen. “With Sangiovese a very little bit added will change the wine,” he explains. Vino Noceto has several bottlings of Sangiovese, one of these labeled “Misto” contains 87% Sangiovese, 3% Canaiolo Nero, 4% Malvasia and 6% Trebbiano. In all, Vino Noceto produces 4-5,000 cases of Sangiovese annually and 400-500 cases each of Pinot Grigio, Zinfandel and Barbera.

Though Jim Gullett is intimately involved in all aspects of the Vino Noceto vineyards and winery, he has help. Dave Brown is responsible for most of the orchard and vineyard work on the property. He's a fourth or fifth-generation resident of Amador's Shenandoah Valley and his family farms a nearby vineyard. Rusty Folena, who also has deep roots in this area, handles the day-to-day aspects of the winemaking.

Jim and Suzy Gullett have three adult children; Randy is 33 and works as a project manager for a Silicon Valley computer company. Bobby is a couple of years younger and is taking a sabbatical after several years working for the winery. Daughter Lindy, 27, is finishing her Ph.D. in psychology at NYU.

Prominent as Vino Noceto is among American Sangiovese fans, it's still a small, family-run operation. About 80% of its sales are direct-to-consumer. These come from their tasting room and a 1700-member wine club. Though the vast majority of the remaining 20% goes to wholesale markets within California, Vino Noceto wines can also be found in about 10 other states.

A sign in the tasting room at Vino Noceto reads, “Italian Passion, California Sunshine.” Speaking of his commitment to Sangiovese, Jim Gullet explains, “This is a long-term procedure. If you don't have focus, fortitude and finances to go for five, six or even 10 years, it's irrelevant. It takes that long.” Vino Noceto has been “a 25-year project to get us to a certain point,” he says. After a moment, he adds that the 25-year mark was 2009. One could conclude that at Vino Noceto Sangiovese has benefited from a good deal of California passion, too.

Editor's note: If you're planning a visit to this colorful wine-growing region east of Sacramento, you may want to check out the Gold Country listings in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of Sierra Foothill Wineries, as well as the sites of Lodging and Dining options and even nearby craft Beer purveyors.

Mark Twain Greenhorn Creek-2 PicmonkeySamuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain

TASTE News Service January 6, 2015 – Samuel Langhorne Clemens is returning to Northern California’s Gold Country. The acclaimed American author and humorist, best known by his pen name Mark Twain, who spent nearly three months in this historic Gold Country town during the winter of 1864-1865, will reappear via the world film premiere of 88 Days in the Motherlode: Mark Twain Finds His Voice.

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Sam Clemens’ visit to Angels Camp, This ‘n That Films, in partnership with Greenhorn Creek Resort and CAMPS Restaurant, will present their new documentary on Saturday, February 21, 2015, at Bret Harte Theatre in Angels Camp.

“Most of us know that this is where he heard the story about the frog,” says John C. Brown, director of the film, and a Tuolumne County resident. “But there is more to his adventure here than just that one story. We’re looking forward to sharing with the world what really happened with Clemens during those 88 days and how they had a profound influence on Mark Twain’s career as a writer and lecturer.”

Through professional actor Tom Maguire, from Sonora, CA, as the voice of Mark Twain, the film explores in unprecedented detail how Clemens spent his time in the gold mining town during these 88 days hiding from critics, debt collectors, the law, and propelling himself from the depths of depression to reinvigorating a career that led to international stardom.

“With the Grupe Family’s (owner of Greenhorn Creek Resort) history in the Motherlode dating back to the mid-1800’s, when John Grupe operated a freight line, we are excited to partner with a film about an American icon who left such an indelible mark on Angels Camp,” says, Mike Kristoff, General Manager of Greenhorn Creek Resort.

More information about the premiere may be found at www.greenhorncreek.com.

Editor's note: If you're planning to visit the colorful and historic part of California, we suggest you check out Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. In the Gold Country section you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining opportunities, as well as links to the sites or nearby Wineries and Craft Beer purveyors.

Friday, 28 November 2014 19:15

A Legacy of Mandarins in Penryn

Mandarins in chute at packing shed PicmonkeyJust-picked Mandarins come down the chute for sorting

by Dan Clarke

At Mandarin Hill Orchards Tom Aguilar can show visitors trees planted by Welsh settlers in the 1880s. Main street in the little town of Penryn, which is about half a mile away, is English Colony Road. Just a few miles south are the communities of Orangevale and Citrus Heights. These days both are suburbs of Sacramento, but their identities harken to the era when they, too, were all about farming. Citrus orchards were prominent on both sides of the Placer-Sacramento County line and though it may seem incongruous, British settlers were a big part of that.

Tom's ancestors came from Malaga in Spain's Andalusia, which would seem a more likely heritage for farming this sort of crop. His father, Frank Aguilar, purchased 50-acres on Penryn's Rippey Road in 1943 from a Welsh couple who had opted to retire. There was some citrus on the property, including Mandarins and navel oranges, but also pears, plums and peaches. When blight decimated the pear industry in the area in the 1950's, Tom's parents began replacing the pears and stone fruit with Mandarin trees and after several years Frank and Bernice had 20-acres of their own recently-planted Mandarins. “The first few years they gave them away,” Tom Aguilar recalls. “Nobody knew what Mandarins were.” Happily for the Aguilars and other Placer County growers, the public eventually did learn about these little orange fruits and developed quite a taste for them.

Other citrus fruits are also grown at Mandarin Hill. These include navel and Valencia oranges, Marsh grapefruit, an heirloom variety, Meyer lemons and Eureka lemons. However, the ranch is named Mandarin Hill, not miscellaneous-citrus fruit-hill. The Mandarins include Owari Satsumas and Algerian Clementines.

On the day Taste California Travel visited Mandarin Hill, Tom's father, now in his 90's, was working in the packing area, as were his brother-in-law and his son-in-law. It's definitely a family business. With less than half the property's 50 acres dedicated to citrus trees, Tom's daughter and son-in-law, Jacque and Rick Kennedy, have begun planting wine grapes. At the moment they have a couple of acres of Malbec and Nebbiolo in the ground. They're proceeding on a pay-as-you-go basis, adding another acre each year. The slopping hills on this 600-foot elevation site in the Sierra Foothills are likely to produce good quality fruit.

Tom Aguilar with old Mandarin tree PicmonkeyTom Aguilar points out a tree from the 19th Century. It's still producing though the fruit is getting smaller.

Mandarin Hill produce is distributed through grocery stores in the Sacramento area and also in markets from Reno, Nevada, south to Patterson, California. As wholesale buyers and the public in general gravitate toward products sourced nearby, Tom says he no longer identifies his fruit just as Satsumas, but refers to them as local Satsumas. He makes a good case for the superiority of the mountain-grown fruit, saying that he and other small growers in Placer County don't pick green and can wait until fruit is ripe before harvesting. Also, Mandarins grown above the floor of California's Central Valley, experience colder nights, which Tom believes “Makes the fruit a little sweeter, as it shuts the tree down for a while, allowing it to produce more sugar.” Their Mandarins are also believed to have health benefits in relieving colds and allergies. A brochure produced by area growers cites a study by the USDA, which reported, “Owari Satsuma Mandarins grown in Placer County have synephrine concentrations up to six times higher than values previously determined for orange juices.”

In addition to shipping their produce, the Aguilar family welcomes the public to Mandarin Hill Orchards. It's good business, but they really enjoy the visitors and it seems to satisfy them on a deeper level. “You can get a job anywhere,” Tom says, “but the people who come in here—99% of them are in a good mood. If you can give them a little education about farming and their kids are having fun . . . they'll come back. “

Wednesday, 26 November 2014 12:34

El Dorado Boasts Exceptional Harvest

Sierra Vista Vnyd at dusk PicmonkeySun sets over Sierra Vista Cabernet vineyard 

TASTE News Service – November 26, 2014 – Wineries and grape growers in the El Dorado wine region have wrapped up another successful harvest. Though the 2014 yields appear lower than the last three years, the recent harvest resulted in extremely high-quality grapes. Significant spring rains followed by consistent, slightly above average temperatures during the growing season marked one of the earliest harvests on record.

“The quality of this year was outstanding,” said Josh Bendick of Holly’s Hill Vineyards. “2014 was the shortest harvest we have ever had. Although we’ve started picking earlier in previous years, we were done earlier this year.“

Nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe, the El Dorado appellation is home to more than 70 wineries and nearly 2,000 vineyard acres perched at some of the highest elevations across California.

The ongoing statewide drought did cause expected concern across the region, but local growers acted proactively—with fantastic results. Well-timed spring rains, coupled with careful irrigation and discerning pruning practices, contributed to the harvest’s success.CedarVille Vnyd Susan Marks and Johathan Lachs PicmonkeySusan Marks and Johathan Lachs entertain visitors at their CedarVille Vineyard

Jonathan Lachs, co-owner and winemaker of Cedarville Vineyard explained, “With the prior two years of drought, plus the lack of rain in the beginning of the current year, we had insufficient water in our soil profile and feared we would need to irrigate much earlier than usual.” Forward thinking growers saw this coming and pruned aggressively, lowering bud counts in expectation of lower yields. Lachs continued, “Fortunately, March and April rains replenished the soil moisture, and enabled us to not have to tap into our water reserves. This enabled us to push out irrigating until July—and in some blocks, we did not need to irrigate at all.”

Regional fires during the harvest months also presented a challenge, though luckily, they were on the far edges of the AVA and winds pushed them away from vineyards and area wineries. “Thanks to the hard work and resolve of our local and regional firefighters, the El Dorado wineries were able to avoid extensive damage and allowed to do what they do best: make outstanding wine,” said Terrie Prod’hon, co-owner of Mount Aukum Winery.

Narrow Gate Frank Hildebrand PicmonkeyFrank Hildebrand Dryer weather, consistent above-average temperatures, without any extreme heat spikes and lower crop load overall led to a more compressed growing season. “This was our earliest harvest in the 43 years we've been growing grapes—at least a week earlier than any prior harvest,” said Greg Boeger, founder of Boeger Winery. “It’s a little too early to determine the long-term characteristics of this vintage, but color, flavor, and intensity in the reds seem excellent at this initial stage.”

Winemaker Richard Stading, owner of Auriga Wine Cellars, concurred, “We are seeing very intense grapes, smaller clusters, lower tonnage, and very high quality.”

Adding additional excitement to this year’s harvest, the early maturation and even ripening led to many grape varieties reaching optimal ripening simultaneously, creating a condensed timeframe to bring in grapes. “Our harvest was the earliest and most compact to date,” said Christine Rorden of Cantiga Wineworks.

Winemakers spoke of challenges and noteworthy qualities of the 2014 harvest, but most were content to be done early and excited to see what the vintage will bring. “It is a bit too early for me to make a declaration of how the vintage will develop except to say that all the stars are aligned for an outstanding opportunity to make truly excellent wines,” said Frank Hildebrand, co-owner of Narrow Gate Vineyards.


About El Dorado Wines

With over 150 years of history steeped in gold and agriculture, the El Dorado region is poised for its newfound resurgence in viticulture. Unique vineyard soils and a high elevation create a superior environment for a vast array of varietals. The region is gaining recognition for its ability to grow quality grapes that exhibit a sense of place. For more information about El Dorado, visit www.eldoradowines.org.

Editor's Note: If you're thinking of a visit to El Dorado County, first check out the Gold Country listings in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of all the wineries, as well as links to many Lodging and Dining options.

Friday, 14 November 2014 19:33

November 14, 2014 Wine Pick of the Week

Bumgarner Cab S bottle shot Picmonkey

2011 Cabernet Sauvignon


Bumgarner Winery

El Dorado County

Alcohol: 13.5%

Suggested Retail: $35


“Sourced from two El Dorado County Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards at 3000-foot elevation. Blend includes 3% Merlot. Traditional Cabernet attributes evoking cassis, dark cherries and some cedar, with a bit of black olive in the background.

“Accepted wisdom is that mountain-grown grapes yield flavors of greater intensity, which would seem to be evidenced here. But what's even more appealing about this small-production wine (396 cases), is its sophistication and elegance. Winemaker Brian Bumgarner has crafted an extraordinary wine at a bargain price. His 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon would fare well if competing against Napa Cabs at double the cost.”

Food Affinity: “Pick a red meat to be accompanied by garlic mashed potatoes. Venison would be great, as would the richness of slowly-cooked osso buco. Hanger steak is another option.”

Sunday, 09 November 2014 10:17

November 7, 2014 Wine Pick of the Week

Nello Olivo Sagrantino Picmonkey

2011 Sagrantino


Nello Olivo

El Dorado County

Alcohol: 13.5%

Suggested Retail: $100


“To our knowledge, Rancho Olivo Vineyards in El Dorado County is one of (at most) a handlful of California growers of the Sagarantino grape variety, which is native to the north of Italy. Nello Olivo of the eponymously-named winery traces his ancestral roots to Montefalco in Umbria and believes that the Sagrantino grape will do as well in El Dorado County as it does there.

“The 2011 Nello Olivo Sagrantino is deep, dark and full of intensity, though such qualities do not come from its alcoholic content, which the label defines as just 13.5%. We find black plum, blackberry fruit and lots of tannin in this wine. There's also some earthiness in the background—maybe a little like the famed 'Rutherford Dust,' though less obvious. Taste California Travel has limited experience with this variety, but Nello Olivo's 2011 Sagrantino tastes like it will still be maturing a couple of decades from now. The wine is almost absurdly expensive—even by Italian, as well as Californian, standards—and consumers can find plenty of concentration and power in wines priced way less, but Nello has near exclusivity with his California-grown edition of this variety and scarcity often determines price.”

Food Affinity: “Needs strongly flavored dishes. High quality cured meats. Dishes incorporating black truffles. T-bones or shoulder lamb chops grilled over grapevine prunings or mesquite.”

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