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Placer County offers plenty of wine options

By: Paul Apfel Inside Lincoln Correspondent
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When conversation turns to California wines and wine country, Placer County is usually not one of the first regions that comes to mind. But that may be changing as Placer County growers and winemakers are now gaining statewide recognition for the quality of their wines. And a group of growers, organized as the Placer County Wine & Grape Association, have become more active in promoting their vineyards with a slick four-fold brochure and sponsorship of wine and food events. Fall is the traditional autumn harvest when the now-ripened fruit is cut from the carefully nurtured vines and brought to the wineries. This is where the vinification - that’s winemaker speak for wine-making - process begins. In the Lincoln-Loomis-Newcastle area, five wineries have specific production and distribution sites, although a total of 18 wineries call Placer County home. Local wineries include Lincoln’s Wise Villa Winery and Rancho Roble Vineyard and Winery, Pescatore and Dona dal Cielo Vineyard in Newcastle, and Secret Ravine Vineyards & Winery in Loomis. The harvest and production this year has been fast and furious, owing to a rather cool summer, followed by several hot days in late August and early September. And harvest numbers were down for a few wineries, with one reporting harvest figures that are down 60 to 70 percent of normal. Culprits include the April frost, late spring rains, some hail and a summer that was cool for much of the season. Other wineries with slightly different mini-climates are reporting average or slightly above-average harvest numbers. Growers advise that although the Lincoln-Loomis-lower Newcastle area that houses the five vineyards is relatively compact in terms of square miles covered, several micro-climates at different elevations can be identified. Despite some estimates in early August that suggested the grape harvest and crush would be late this year, the late season heat blast changed those expectations as the pace of grape ripening increased. The harvest is now in full swing and many acres have been picked. Although growers may disagree on the primacy of one factor over the other, most would agree that grapes generally grow well in Placer County’s warm, dry summers and mild-to-cool wet winters and that the rich decomposed granite soil adds to the terrior. That’s a term borrowed from the French to denote the special characteristics that geography, geology and climate impart to a region and its wine varieties. Wines produced by local wineries include both reds and whites. The reds include Barbera, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional. Whites include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris. The Placer County Wine & Grape Association, a nonprofit organized to provide educational programs, increase public awareness and promote Placer County wine production; was established in 2001. Members include wineries, commercial companies and individuals with an interest in wine. A total of 18 wineries in 12 sites participate in the group’s activities, which include production and distribution of the regional wineries four-fold brochure and map and participation in regional wine and food events. The wine group is sponsoring one such wine event on Oct. 22, entitled “Discover the Taste of Placer County.” Most of the wineries will participate, according to the wine association. The celebration takes place at the Rock Hill Winery, 2970 Del Mar Avenue in Loomis and runs from 4 to 8 p.m. Tickets are $45 and will cover wine tasting from the Placer County wineries and gourmet appetizers from local restaurants, featuring local grown food. Go online to pcwga.org/WineFestival.html for information on the festival and how you can join the wine group. You can also find Placer County wineries at other area wine and food events. The Auburn Wine and Food Festival this coming weekend, Saturday, Oct. 8 is one such example. Featuring wine, food, gifts and arts in downtown and Old Town, this event promises to be reminiscent of typical Autumn European village festivals. Check out the website at auburnwineandfood.com for more details. Although filmmakers have long given us a romantic picture of the grape pressing with traditional barefoot stomping with ubiquitous and lively music in the background, the reality is that it is hard work and barefoot stomping is a distant memory. Most pressing involves machinery. Pundits have long asserted that if you want to make a small fortune in the wine industry, start with a large fortune. Growers are unanimous in agreeing with these sentiments. Equipment is expensive and the work is hard. “Wine making is a way of life,” according to Placer County Wine & Grape Association President Renae Messamore. “You have to be willing to get up Saturday morning to harvest,” said Messamore, who still holds down an engineering job with a local manufacturer. Yet, despite the hard work and expense, growers seem universally happy and content. Messamore’s nephew, Chris Wall, graduated from Yorba Linda High School in 2008 and moved to Loomis for a brief visit with his grandparents Vicki and Ron Morris, Secret Ravine Winery owners. He hasn’t left yet, having become enamored with the grape grower’s life. “Why wouldn’t you want to do this?” Wall exclaimed. He will soon enroll in University of California at Davis’ oenology and viticulture program. Growers and enthusiasts willingly go into the vineyard to nurture their vines, enlist friends and family to assist in the harvest, and eagerly participate in regional events to promote and celebrate their wines. And occasionally, they sponsor their own events. In future columns, we anticipate keeping our readers abreast of wine news and happenings in our region. Placer County and the Lincoln-Loomis-Newcastle are growing areas. And we’re proud of it!