What's great in wine, beer, fine dining,
places to stay, & places to visit
in California State

Saturday, 10 November 2012 16:55

Beer Gold Country

Nevada County

Nevada City

Cooper's Ale Works


Jernigan's Tap House


Matteo's Public


Mine Shaft, The


New Moon Cafe


Ol’ Republic Brewery



Placer County



Auburn Alehouse


BJ's Restaurant and Brewery


Club Car, The


Power Club Restaurant & Brewery



El Dorado County



Jack Russell Brewing Companywww.jackrussellbrewing.com



Brick Oven Pub


Gold Hill Brewery


Hangtown Brewery


Independent, The


Placerville Brewing Company


Powell's Steamer Co.


Wine Smith, The




Pub at Fairplay, The



El Dorado Hills

36 Handles





Tuolumne County

City of Sonora

The Standard Pour


Thursday, 14 June 2012 20:57

Going Wine Tasting without Swallowing

by Dan Clarke


Judging wines beats breaking rocks on a chain gang. Or so I would imagine. But it is work and, done right, it requires a fair degree of concentration.

Friday night I was poolside at the home of friends in Sacramento. Somewhere between the grilled lamb appetizers and the filet mignon we were comparing John's Cabernet Sauvignon with a red wine blend. The topic of what each of us had planned for the weekend came up. The following morning I'd be driving up to Plymouth, I said. There I'd be joining 25 or 30 others in judging wines for the Amador County Fair, an activity I'd been doing one Saturday in June for most of the last 20 years or so. Annette congratulated me on my good fortune, saying “It must be lots of fun drinking wine up there with your friends.” I thought a clarification might be in order. “No. What we are doing right now is drinking wine with friends. This is fun and relaxing,” I said. “What we'll be doing tomorrow is sipping wines and judging wines for a competition.” Yes, it will be tasting wines, but it's not quite the same “going wine tasting” of most folks experience.

Amador Glasses Rose SMALLOur first flight is waiting.The Judging

Entering the Horticulture Building at the Amador County Fairgrounds, I recognize many who'll be judging today. It's good to see “Pooch” Pucilowksi, chief judge for the California State Fair Wine Competition. Mike Dunne, who served many years as food and wine editor for the Sacramento Bee and now blogs in his semi-retirement, says hello. Mike's wife Martha, a possessor of a very good palate, is also going to judge. Ted Rieger of Vineyard and Winery magazine has come up for the event. Gerald Cresci, a Lodi grapegrower is here, as is Maynard Johnston, a pediatrician and former home winemaker.

Dick and Jenny Minnis have been in charge of this competition for the last several years and they do a good job. Just before we move to our tasting tables, Dick convenes the judges and explains what is expected of us today. His meeting is brief and is a little like a home plate umpire going over the ground rules with both managers before a baseball game.

Most of the other panels are comprised of five judges, but On Panel G there are just three of us. On my right I recognized Roger Stockton. He and his wife Colleen live in Carson City, Nevada and have written about wine for years. The man on my left is Todd Hafner. We've not met before, though he did judge last year. A geologist by profession, Todd, is also a home winemaker and it's soon apparent that he is very knowledgeable.

Our Role

The Boys of Panel G speculate on what their role will be this morning. We know that the competition organizers would like to see plenty of medals, preferably gold ones. And there's no doubt that the wineries would like to be rewarded. Medals are important. Gold medals and scores in the 90s guarantee sales and we judges would like to see all the entrants prosper. On the other hand, scoring too generously can reward inferior wines and provide no impetus for their makers to do better. Also, if the word gets out that everybody's wine is deemed wonderful the competition will lose credibility. We decide to just “call 'em as we see 'em.”

Any wine made from grapes grown in the 26th Agricultural District—basically the Sierra Foothills—is eligible to enter this competition, regardless of where the winery itself is located.

There are 38 classes of wine to be judged today for the 2012 contest. These categories are loosely organized by predominant grape variety, but there are other definitions, too. Like “Dessert Wines” and various definitions of “Rose”. Zinfandel is a variety made by most of the wineries and it is presented in two separate categories; wines under 14.5% alcohol and those over 14.5%.

Each panel will be given several of the categories to judge. There's no way one group would have time to evaluate all of the wines that have entered. Our assignment today is to judge two white Zinfandel wines, three definitions of rosé, and groups of Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Amador Judges SMALLReflection follows a bit of concentration.Nine glasses are placed in front of each judge. Volunteers pour numbered samples, filling each glass about one-quarter full. Typically, lighter wines are tasted prior to heavier ones and drier wines before sweeter. In judging these wines, we check their appearance and color. We swirl and sniff. We take sips and slosh them around in our mouths. And then we spit that wine into cups which ultimately are poured into larger buckets on the floor next to our stations. It's not an elegant process.

We are provided scoring sheets which suggest “the Davis 20 point system.” For some years, this has been a baseline for evaluating wines. Number values are assigned to a variety of aspects of the analysis. Appearance gets two points (or less), for instance, as does color. Astringency also is worth (up to) two points and so is acidity. Larger values are possible for other observations such as aroma/bouquet (4 points) and overall quality (3 points). As usual, I begin by dutifully playing this numbers game. Soon I abandon it, in favor of my own system in which I just put plus and minus signs in some of these categories. I believe that judging wine is more art than science—and that it is more accurate for this approach.

Judges in Sync

We begin with Class 35--the White Zins--and get off to a nice start when all three of us rate the first wine tasted worthy of a gold medal. When there is unanimity such as this, the award is known as a “Double Gold.” The other wine was not as good, but worthy of a silver medal. Since our “Double Gold” (a 2011 Sierra Foothill Appellation from the Calaveras County winery Milliaire) was one of only two wines in the category, it also is defined as “Best in Class.”

We push on to Class 36 (Rose Table Wines), Class 37 (Varietal Rose) and Class 38 (Varietal Rose Blends). We find another Double Gold in the Varietal Rose class, which turns out to be the Bray Vineyards Barbera Rosato from the Shenandoah Valley of Amador County.

Twenty-three Petite Sirah entries in Class 21 follow, which we address in three flights of eight, eight and seven. My score sheet shows we awarded no medals to six of these, silvers and bronzes to all of the rest but one. We're unanimous that one wine deserves a gold, hence it becomes another Double Gold and the Best of this Class. A day later when the results are posted we realize that, once again, Bray Vineyards has produced an outstanding wine, their 2008 Shenandoah Valley Petite Sirah.

A Disappointing Category

We break for lunch, then return to deal with our final task, the judging of 13 Cabernet Sauvignon entries.

“What standards do we apply for each category?” was a question I asked my panelmates before we began. In California it is possible to grow almost any variety of winegrape in almost every part of the state. However, that doesn't mean that it will come to its fullest expression in every location. Take Pinot Noir, for instance. In 27 years of writing about wine I remember only one Pinot Noir from anywhere in the Foothills that I thought was any good (made by Umbert Urch from El Dorado grapes, as I recall). Maybe there are--or will be--other good ones out there. I hope so and will continue to look for them. But so what if Gold Country doesn't do as well with this variety as Burgundy, the Willamette Valley or the Santa Lucia Highlands? These otherwise worthy regions grow little, if any, Zinfandel or Barbera, and the Sierra Foothills produces some of the best in these varieties.

Amador Red Wine Glasses SMALLFortunately, we didn't use the best linen.While many wineries in the area grow Cabernet Sauvignon, the variety is not one the region hangs its hat on. We decide to eschew a patronizing, softer analysis for Gold Country Cabs and look for medal winners by applying overall California standards.

We are generally disappointed with the 13 entries in this category can't award a gold medal. Four of the submissions get no medal at all. Seven qualify for a bronze and two merit silver. We choose one of the silvers as the Best of this Class. It turns out to be a 2009 J. Foster Mitchell Shenandoah Valley Reserve.

And the Winners

Our panel's work having concluded, our gold medal choices will be tasted again with those from all the other panels.

A day later when the judges receive the official results, I am mildly surprised to find that the final panel has chosen the Helwig Vineyards & Winery's 2011 Rose of Shenandoah, as Best Rose. We had given it a Gold medal, but weren't unanimous, as in the case of our Double Gold choice.

Ultimately, the Vino Noceto 2009 Sangiovese Misto was named Best Amador Italian, Best Red Wine and Grand Award Winner (Best of Show). The winery produces a Sangiovese “Normale” at $18, but the “Misto” is their attempt to follow Chianti tradition. It's comprised of 87% Sangiovese, 3% Canaiolo, and a total of 10% of the two white grapes, Malvasia and Trebbiano. The wine retails for $28 and is produced in very limited quantities.

The Best White Wine was Amador Foothill Winery's 2011 Sauvignon Blanc. Best Amador Rhone was awarded to the 2011 Roussane of Sobon Wine Company and Best Desert Wine was the 2009 Black Muscat from Shenandoah Vineyards.


Visitors to the Gold Country can find links to the websites of all the wineries, as well as links to many lodging and dining options at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

Frog Jumping Champ SMALL photo courtesy of Calaveras CountyFrog Jumping Champ.    photo courtesy of Calaveras County

It's difficult anymore to find a corner of Earth where we are separated from our electronic devices. Even at  30,000 feet, two little syllables - Wi-Fi - keeps travelers plugged in. But California's Gold Country, the state's northeast/central region connected by meandering Highway 49, offers some steller spots where visitors can disconnect from technology for a digital detox.

Whether unplugging is a choice or a geographic happenstance, California's Gold Country offers everyone the chance to unplug and recharge. Here are twelve places to drop the call:

Rock Climb and Hike, Amador County: Remember what it feels like to be alive by hanging from a cliff by your knuckles 1,000 feet above a pristine mountain lake. http://www.touramador.com.

Cave and Mine Adventures, Calaveras County: Change your perspective zip lining over forests or crawling into the depths of the Earth, 165 feet into Moaning Cavern and through amphitheater-like rooms covered in stalactites. Sometimes visitors can hear the cavern actually moaning. Thankfully there is no cell reception. http://www.caveandmineadventures.com/

Kennedy Meadows Resort and Pack Station, Tuolumne County: Spend days reading books with real pages, petting horses in the stables, trout fishing in the Stanislaus River, or dancing to old country music from the Saloon's juke box—who needs iTunes? For Teddy Roosevelt-like adventure, see Southern Yosemite National Park on horseback. http://www.kennedymeadows.com/

Susan's Place Restaurant, Sutter Creek (Amador County): Nosh on artisanal cheeseboards and homegrown mustards while sipping local wines on a brick patio enjoying the trellised landscape. The sign on the door, "please turn your cell phones off", sets the mood. http://www.susansplace.com/index.htm

Cascade down rivers, El Dorado County: Nobody can effectively shoot the rapids while texting. http://www.visit-eldorado.com/river-rafting.php

Concerts in Ironstone Vineyard, Murphys (Amador County): This year choose a concert by Reba McIntire, John Fogherty, Tony Bennett, Jeff Foxworthy and others while wining and dining at the vineyard. Even if your ring tone is "I left my heart..." it is taboo to leave your phone on. http://www.ironstonevineyards.com

In the footsteps of Ansel Adams, Yosemite National Park: This half-day photography class allows photographers to capture the same images Ansel Adams made famous through his classic black and white images. (OK, there may be a digital device involved.) Step back in time with an overnight stay in the historic Wawona Hotel, a mid-19th century wooden lodge in Yosemite National Park. http://www.yosemitepark.com

Take a soak at Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort, Highway 140/Midpines: Buy a day pass for access to a 10-person stainless steel hot tub, cold-rain shower, cedar hot-rock sauna and a seven-jet show in the Health Spa. www.yosemitebug.com

American River Bike Trail, Folsom (to Sacramento): City cyclists will enjoy a break from competing with autos on the longest continuous paved cycling path in the United States. With 32 miles of trails, there are plenty of options for riders of all levels. http://www.visitfolsom.com/cycling/

Christmas Tree Vineyard Lodge, Forest Hill (El Dorado County): Escape the news at this rustic six-room bed and breakfast abode because rooms are TV, radio and telephone-free. http://www.christmastreevineyardlodge.com

Off Road, Placer County:See this beautiful area on ATV's and motorcycles down mountain trails and through parks. www.visitplacer.com/northern-california-off-road.aspx

Jumping Frog Jubilee, Calaveras County:Immortalized by Mark Twain, this annual event in May attracts young and old, individuals and teams (and their bug-eyed competitors) for the Jumping Frog Jubilee at the Calaveras County Fair.  Visitors aren't off the grid here but might have their hands full. http://www.frogtown.org

The northeast/central California region known as the Gold Country, where gold was discovered in 1849, is an area made up of 12 counties and dozens of historic towns dotting Highway 49. It has been named one of the top ten U.S. travel destinations to see in 2012 by Lonely Planet. For more information call toll free (U.S.) 800-225-3764 or 916-985-2698, or visit www.calgold.org.


(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)


Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of lodging and dining options in Gold Country can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.


The northeast/central California region known as the Gold Country, an area made up of 12 counties and dozens of historic towns dotting Highway 49 has been named one of the top ten U.S. travel destinations to see in 2012 by Lonely Planet.

Sutter Creek Main StreetSutter Creek has old west flavor.

Known for their annual travel list for international destinations and their compilation of U.S. picks for the last two years, Lonely Planet's U.S. travel editors carved out a list of what's new, interesting, and in some cases likely to be overlooked by travelers. The full list is on www.lonelyplanet.com, the company's web site with more than 10 million unique visitors monthly.

The Gold Country, ranked number six is listed as a closer, less expensive and less crowded option than Lake Tahoe and Yosemite from San Francisco. With Sacramento as its anchor, the area stretches from north of Lake Tahoe to south of Yosemite National Park's border towns. The editors' description of "towns oozing with century-old ambience strung out like throw-back pearls along Highway 49" reveals Lonely Planet's authentic editorial approach. The list points to the artsy towns as good overnight choices and mentions the growing wine region as a contender to Napa and Sonoma.

Historically known for the infamous cry of "Eureka!" and the 1949 California Gold Rush, the Gold Country region offers an abundant collection of outdoor adventures; hiking and biking, gemstone mining, exploring caverns, steam trains, historic sites, endurance competitions and triathlons, frog jumping and street fairs, and of course, panning for gold, although the quest has shifted from gold mining sifting pans to swirling golden wine a glass. The Gold Country region is home to more than 175 wineries, many with visitor center tasting rooms and the chance to walk the vineyard with the winemaker.

Lodging choices range from hostelries on Main Streets and country cottages and inns to luxury hotels in Sacramento, the state capital. Maps, directions, activities and accommodations information is at www.calgold.org.


(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)


Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of Gold Country lodging and dining options can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.


Sunday, 29 April 2012 12:43

Panning for Gold?

Historically known for the 1848 cry of "Eureka!" at John Sutter's American River Mill and the resultant gold rush of the following year, California's Gold Country is possibly the most authentic early California experience for  visitors.

Once beautiful but sleepy, it's now beautiful and sophisticated but has retained the historic charm of smallrafting hot shot imaging action SMALLRafting provides thrills. Photo by Hot Shot Imaging towns, friendly outfitters and hospitable innkeepers and vintners. California's Gold Country delivers an historic, yet polished, travel experience for visitors to San Francisco or Sacramento who want to move away from metropolitan areas and do some exploring.

First time visitors to the Gold Country are delighted to discover that a great deal of the gold rush heritage has been preserved, from resort mining towns to historic hotels and 19th century saloons. There are many places to pan for gold (and keep the nuggets, if you're very successful!), but so much more to see and do in the Gold Country to stretch a visit into an memorable experience.


Here are a score of options available to you in Gold Country:


Ride a steam train and a stagecoach


Take in a fishing expedition with experienced guides


Go rock climbing, from easy boulders to Yosemite National Park


Ride horseback into wilderness for overnight camping


Learn to snowboard on easy slopes


Taste wine from the barrel with the winemaker


Go kayaking and whitewater rafting


Hike with your dog in this dog-friendliest region of California


Walk among Giant Sequoias, the Earth's largest living things


Pet an Alpaca and visit a Cashmere goat farm


Tour a sake plant or take a self-guided barn and farm tour


Sleep in a cabin with no television, Wi-Fi, telephone or cell reception, or stay in historic inns with all the amenities


Hear your favorite artist in a vineyard concert


Imagine the riverboat life aboard a slow-churning paddleboat


Go spelunking or zip-lining


Harvest apples and visit a daylily farm with 1,000 varieties


Get the Folsom Prison blues, temporarily, with a tour


Learn how to mine gemstones


Discover farm-to-fork dining places


Golf, hike, spa and shop


The northeast/central California region known as the Gold Country attracted thousands of prospectors in 1849 and led to statehood for California soon after. It is an area made up of 12 counties and dozens of historic towns dotting Highway 49. Gold Country has been named one of the top ten U.S. travel destinations to see in 2012 by Lonely Planet. For more information call toll free (U.S.) 800-225-3764 or 916-985-2698, or visit www.calgold.org.


(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)


Editor's note: Links to the websites of wineries in Gold Country, as well as links to hundreds of lodging and dining options, can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.


Friday, 20 April 2012 13:21

Grapegrowers Honor Kautz Family

by Dan Clarke


Only one award was made to the Grower of the Year, but several people received it.John and Gail Kautz SMALL Admire pix of salmonJohn and Gail show visitor a picture of trophy salmon from a recent vacation.

In January the California Association of Winegrape Growers, otherwise known as CAWG, initiated this award for an individual, family or company representing “an outstanding example of excellence in viticulture and management, and is recognized by others for innovation and leadership within the industry.” The John Kautz Family of Lodi were the collective honorees.

John and Gail Kautz are Chairman and Vice-Chairman of Kautz Family Vineyards. All four of their children are active in the family business. Son Stephen is President of Ironstone Vineyards. His brother, Kurt, holds the title of Chief Financial Officer of John Kautz Farms. Jack, another brother, works in property management for the company. The boys' sister, Joan Kautz, is Vice President for International Operations of Kautz Family Vineyards. Theirs is a family of substantial achievement, but one that fits the “down to earth” expression--their titles seem more for defining roles than for impressing people.

John Kautz moved to Lodi in 1941 when his parents purchased a 38-acre farm out of bankruptcy for $13,000. “It was all run down,” John recalled when interviewed in the spring of 2012. “We built a milk barn and started selling.” Leadership traits showed early. Like most farm kids, John was closely involved with his family's work. There were chores, but he found time to serve as president of the Future Farmers chapter at Lodi High School. He was also active in scouting and before he graduated in 1948, he had attained the rank of Eagle Scout. “After leaving school I went right into California Young Farmers and eventually became their president in 1956,” John said. In 1952 John's father had died, leaving him the responsibility of taking over the original farm and an additional 40-acres the family had acquired.

Gail Kramer grew up in Oakland, but her family owned cattle land in Calaveras County. She became an elementary school teacher after graduating from Stockton's College of Pacific (now University of the Pacific). Gail and John married in 1958. While rearing four children she was involved in Parents Club and 4-H and later took ever more active roles in civic and political life.

The pair kept their focus on farming. Gail mentioned in passing that other young couples they knew enjoyed taking short trips to San Francisco or maybe Carmel. She and John didn't—unless it was related to business. “We were having fun, though,” she explained. “As we got involved in more organizations, we did a lot, traveled a lot.” Time on the road in the early days may not have taken John to resort areas, but the savvy businessman realized that buying equipment in Lodi and in nearby Rio Vista was expensive. When large farming operations in the southern San Joaquin Valley made new purchases that meant their old equipment could be had at bargain prices when John visited Bakersfield.

Their hard work and increasing civic involvement didn't escape notice. In 1965 John was named National Outstanding Young Farmer by the United States Junior Chamber (the Jaycees), an award of which he is very proud. Four years later he was named Top Farm Manager U.S.A. by the Ford Foundation. As success--and recognition of that success--grew, so did John and Gail. “We started taking a trip to another part of the world every year or two,” John said. “And we traveled with other couples from other parts of the country. (We were) opening up our vision to the world and to agriculture in the world.”

Having had success farming tomatoes, peppers, beans and other row crops, Kautz Farms expanded into wine grapes in 1968. John's leadership was soon evidenced in that world, too, as he wrote the first check to start the California Association of Winegrape Growers in 1974.

Eldest son Stephen Kautz, now President of Ironstone Vineyards, explained that Steve Millier, the winemaker for Stevenot Winery in the 1980s, had been purchasing grapes from the family and suggested they make a small quantity of wine carrying the John Kautz Farms label. The family agreed as there was the possibility of some future sales to Japan. Opportunity loomed.

Steve Kautz had purchased his grandfather's herd of cattle in 1976 while he was still in high school. He attended Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo as an Animal Science major and had thoughts of becoming a veterinarian. Returning home from school, he heard his Dad announce, “You're going to run the bell pepper operation.” Though he had no real farming experience, Steve acquiesced and must have done an acceptable job of managing some 2500-acres of row crops he had been assigned. Soon the decision was made to build a winery on the ranch at Murphys in Calaveras County. As Steve tells the story, his father said to him, “You've gone to college and you've learned to cook and you can speak a little. You're the president of the new winery. Congratulations!”

“About the only thing I knew about wine at the time was Eye of the Swan (a blush wine made by Sebastiani),” Steve commented. Nevertheless, Ironstone has prospered. Apparently, as with row crop farming, lack of prior expertise isn't necessarily a barrier to developing a winery.Ironstone with flowers SMALL ecct0914wineries01A flowery approach to Ironstone.

Ironstone is much more than a winery, though. It's a major tourist attraction. There's a commercial kitchen, a deli and facilities for banquets and weddings. A resident chef gives demonstrations and cooking lessons. Visitors might enjoy an indoor concert featuring a restored theater pipe organ from the 1920's or a summer concert set outdoors amidst the 14.5 acres of landscaped gardens. Since 1982 Steve Kautz has lived in the little town of Murphys, where the winery and its surrounding Calaveras County vineyards are situated, and he remembers when it was different. He acknowledged that his winery is rather spectacular and that he's in the entertainment business, as well as the wine business. “But the Kautz Family are truly growers,” he reminded a reporter. “Everything else is just an extension of that. We started as grape growers and I absolutely love growing grapes.”

But which grapes to grow can be an issue. In 25 years Steve has seen trends come and go. “We're constantly changing and evolving,” he observed. “It (used to be) Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, then Merlot. Then it was Pinot, Pinot, Pinot. Then Shiraz. Now Cab and Chard are kings again.” He feels his winery president side helps the part of him that is a grower in that he's out in the market place and may be sensitive to what wine drinkers could want in the future. Five years ago he planted Muscat Canelli. Skeptics said, “What're you going to plant next—Barbera? Carignane?” Steve reflected briefly before responding, “Well, yes . . . maybe.”

steve bigbrown SMALLO.K. Which wine to pair with the big brown?The ardent outdoorsman has an unusual approach to wine education and the promotion of his brand. He disdains what he calls the mystique of his industry, preferring “no walls, no barriers when talking about how a grape gets into a bottle of wine.” Sometimes visitors to Ironstone are seated out in the vineyard for tastings. Stephen has even poured his wines on river trips for white water rafters “I like to take 'em out of their environment and put 'em in mine,” he said.

Though brother Kurt Kautz has a degree in Agricultural Economics from UC Davis and carries the title of Chief Financial Officer, he seems to prefer talking about farming than discussing number crunching. Years ago he grew quite a variety of specialty crops for the family produce business. Currently, though, he's busy overseeing about 5500 acres of winegrapes, most of which are planted around Lodi and in southeastern Sacramento County. In addition, he manages the Bear Creek Winery, which receives grapes for family winemaking efforts and for the custom crush market. Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot make up about 75% of the 20 varieties grown. Ironstone produces both regular and reserve bottlings of Cabernet Franc and they may be California's largest single grower of that variety. Kurt supervises 30 to 40 employees year-round, though the total approaches 100 on a seasonal basis. “We have a 60-day window to harvest and (just) 50 harvest days,” he said. “You could not do it all with people, so we machine harvest.”

The quality of grapes in Lodi and the wines made from them have improved markedly, according to Kurt. “The wineries in Lodi are putting out some fantastic wines,” he said in assessing the current situation. “And I know some guys (growers) with small yields who're getting fantastic prices.” Both the grapegrowing and winemaking businesses are changing. “Other countries are competition—they have cheap labor and they're all increasing their quality,” he said. “But the key is getting your yield per acre up and being able to control your quality when you do that.”

Though she had studied Agricultural Business with a focus on international policy at Cal Poly, Joan Kautz stepped into heady responsibility with the family's winery. “My particular role now is international marketing and distribution, a job I began right out of college.” Was that a difficult situation for a young woman? Perhaps so, but she seemed unfazed by the challenge she accepted 19 years ago, saying her mother and father helped. “They've always been particularly supportive . . . and a lot of the people I was to deal with already knew my parents. Also, I had people like Dennis Collins and Jeff Techel as mentors. You can always sit and listen and learn.”

Sales of Kautz Family Vineyards brands had grown to 500,000 cases per year, but lately that has been pared back by about a third. Canada and Denmark are their most significant export markets at the moment, but emphasis changes and evolves over time. The United Kingdom was once a strong market, for instance, but supporting distribution in larger stores became more trouble than it was worth. “We pulled back from (big chain) markets to concentrate on independents and the wholesale trade,” Joan explained. “Now longevity and profitability are more important. Ironstone is the priority brand and (we're) building on our reserve wines.” She's excited about an Ironstone Reserve old vine Zinfandel, dubbed “Centennial,” which will be released this year. Fruit source for this 2009 vintage is the Rous Vineyard in Lodi, which was planted in 1909.

Marketing wine has taken Joan Kautz to some exciting and sophisticated parts of the world, including an eight-month stint in Paris. Though she's still in charge of international marketing, she's happily living back home in Lodi these days where she and her husband are bringing up their two daughters.

She wants to help the business continue to grow and “to develop even stronger brands and brand image—to show the world our dedication and what we have to offer,” she declared. Buyers may have a limited understanding and perhaps a perception that Napa and Sonoma are the only growing regions in the state. “It's a continual battle,” she observed. “(There is) a challenge to get attention and respect from people. We need to show that California is very broad and that there are other areas out there.”John Kautz at desk Lodi office SMALL"It's been a good run." --John Kautz

Asked how farming had changed in the last 60 years or so, John Kautz responded, “Where we used to be a California industry, it's now global. If you're going to be a major producer of any commodity you just about have to be in all segments of it because you have to understand the industry in all parts. And now it's harder. We used to program our game plan with just California in mind. We always had cycles, but now you have to take in the world.”

Mechanization has led to more efficient operations, which certainly is a positive, he believes. The increased presence of government is another matter, however. “The laws and regulations that we have to cope with are just beyond belief,” he said. “Some of it is good. Some is necessary, but the majority is just overkill.” When the subject of efforts by special interest groups that make life harder for a farmer came up, Gail charitably characterized supporters of such causes as having “gotten too far away from their agricultural roots.”

Asked what advice on leadership he could offer to the generation just beginning their careers, John Kautz said “There is leadership both within your industry and leadership within your political arena.” Those likely to help the farming industry are “people who want to get out of their own background and want to learn and develop,” he said. “Awards and recognition will lead to more opportunities. Every industry is looking for young people to come to their boards. They look for a busy person. A major factor is whether you're able to communicate, to work with people and be likeable.”

John and Gail may have earned the right to a full retirement, but that's not in their nature. At a Friday afternoon interview, Gail confirmed that she's still active in several projects, one of which is steering the Ironstone Concours d'Elegance held at the winery each September, an event which supports agricultural youth education. John said he started that day, as usual, with an hour in the pool and spa at home. Later he was visiting a nursery. He showed a visitor flats of orchid plants that he was going to take to Murphys the next morning for the weekend tasting room visitors.

“The kids handle the day-to-day,” he said. “We're still busy, but now we get to do the fun stuff. Our whole focus from day one has been to have the family involved. That's the reward—seeing it continue to grow,” John said. “It's been a good run.”


Editor's note: Links to the websites of Gold Country wineries, as well as lodging and dining options, are found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

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