Winters? Where’s That?

By Madeline Miller

If you believe the Sacramento Bee, the world should take notice of wineries in California outside the Napa Valley. The number of wineries in the lesser-known areas of “Winters in Yolo County, Dixon in Solano County and Isleton in the Delta” is growing. To help educate us, the Bee gives a mini-tour of the newest wineries in these seemingly random California locations.

The first stop on the tour is Berryessa Gap Vineyards in Winters. The winery was founded in 2002 by three friends, one of whom is a wine historian. The beginnings of the winery can be found in the Yolo Hills Viticultural Society, which was “a Winters nursery specializing in wine-grape rootstock they sold largely to growers in Napa and Sonoma counties.” From there, a farming operation took over, then a commercial vineyard, and finally, the winery. The draw to Winters was “the area’s climate and soil, especially up slopes off the valley floor, would be fitting for several strains of fruit.” They have planted petite sirah, zinfandel, malbec, syrah and tempranillo. What will set them apart from all the others? They think it will be their revival of the field blend, “the largely abandoned practice of intermingling several grape varieties in one plot, which then are harvested and fermented together.” That, and they will utilize the controversial screwcap bottle enclosures.

For the next stop on the tour, we move Southeast to the city of Isleton and California Cellars. The vintner spent 13 years as an elementary school teacher, but now grows 82 acres of vines that include both chardonnay and merlot. California Cellars is run by two sets of brothers who started the project in 1989. While most of their grapes go to make other wines, “they have started to release wines with the colorful, surfer-inspired label of California Cellars.” They hope the surfer theme will help them establish a brand name outside of California. Why surfers? Because they like beach vacations, of course. They chose Isleton for the price, the existence of all the necessary land entitlements, and the quick 30-minute commute from their homes. They also find that the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta location “offers a benevolent combination of rich soils, warm days and cool nights.’

And last, but not least, we reach Purple Pearl Vineyards on the outskirts of Dixon, California. The current owner bought the property when it had 32 acres of vines, “a fully equipped winery and 6,000 gallons of wine in tanks.” Like many people who chase the idealistic dream of running a winery, they quickly learned that it creates a tremendous strain on their finances: “The little cushion that we had at the start was gone in the first six months,” Horton says. “We didn’t have any idea of the costs going in — chemicals, fertilizers, bottles, all that stuff.” The winery’s name comes from a trip to Tahiti and, as part of a unique marketing scheme, “[f]or an additional $2, the couple will tape a pendant pearl to gift bottles of their wines.” The winery is devoted mostly to merlot, but also has chardonnay, valdigui and syrah. They hope to offer “Napa-flavored wines,” without the Napa price tag.

Winters, Dixon, and Isleton don’t have the restaurants, lodging, or, quite frankly, the scenery of the Napa Valley, but they certainly have some wineries that are worth a try.

[Image from California Cellars]

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