06 September, 2016

Winetasting in California's Clarksburg AVA - #ifbc16

Phil (L) & Dave Ogilvie 4th gen Clarskburg Farmer/Vintners
The Clarksburg AVA or American Viticultural area is tucked into three counties (Sacramento, Solano and Yolo) near California's capital, Sacramento.  It quite literally nestles into the freeway system as a heart is surrounded by veins and arteries.  Well, that's the view you see on a map, however in person the AVA is the heart of the Delta region.  Hidden off those bustling highways,  is a bucolic countryside where delta breezes tame the valley heat and grapes have become a major crop in the clay and loam based soils.  Delicious Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay wines are made here.  Other kinds of grapes are cultivated by the 17 producers located in Clarskburg, however, you may find wonderful examples  of Clarksburg grapes used by  winemakers in other regions, like Napa.  Excellent quality and great value drive experimentation.  The AVA has one large producer, Bogle .  However there are sixteen other producers in the AVA doing interesting things and best of all creating delicious wines

During my excursion at the International Food Blogger's Conference held earlier this summer in Sacramento, I was lucky enough to be part of a wine safari to Clarksburg that opened my mind to this great region right under my nose.  I actually had visited once before, but it happened nearly by accident on a girl's trip to Reno.  One intrepid friend insisted we exit off 80 to look for wine.  As implausible as it seemed to dart off the highway, we did find some fun wine and a great lunch.  This time, I passed through the town of Freeport in a coach full of fellow bloggers, which was led by Dave Ogilvie of Wilson Vineyards .  Along with his brother Phil, these brothers lead their family business and are part of the area's history.

Wilson Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay
Dave told us most of the fertile land in Clarksburg had been reclaimed from sloughs as part of the Arkansas Act of 1850, when Dutch engineers came in to create levees, then sold tracts of arable land.  The twins are the fourth generation of a farming family that started with onions, a crop whose first harvest paid for the land.  In the late '60's, the Ogilvie family started growing grapes.  Taking advantage of the cool air generated from the Sacramento river as it wends its way to the San Francisco bay,  the climate is able to produce delicious wine grapes.

We tried the Wilson Vineyards  wines in a lovely special events facility famous for its parties and weddings.  A rustic space set in leafy riverside garden, it was a fun place to try the wines. I particularly enjoyed the Wilson Vineyards, 2014 Chardonnay ($14.99) This unoaked Chardonnay. has an almost creamy texture; Phil uses a  batonage technique to clean up the  wine , making it crisp and fresh, at the same time as it holds a lovely body.  The pale lemon color lets you know it's unoaked.  It had nice balance and a long vinous finish.  This wine is made at the Old Sugar Mill, which hosts the Clarksburg Wine Company's custom crush facility as well as the location of 11 tasting rooms and was our excursion's next stop.

Clarksburg Wine Company's Custom Crush
A custom crush is a place that offers winemakers a shared space and allows winemakers to get up and running quickly and make use of the specialized equipment needed to make wine without having to invest in it all on their own.  The Old Sugar Mill is a historic brick building that has found a new career after being decommissioned from producing sugar.  The structure now houses not only the custom crush facility, but also twelve great tasting rooms.  Much as I love touring wine regions, I also appreciate a place where you can get a great survey of different producers.  This is an easy day trip from the Bay Area and I can't recommend it highly enough.  Your hardest act will be finding a designated driver. Or a better suggestion is to factor in sobering up time and bring a picnic
Delta produce at catered lunch

Clarksburg Wine Company's  custom crush follows the Lodi Rules protocol.  Since lots of people and fruit come through, they are meticulous about cleaning and maintaining to avoid contamination and its spoilage issues.  This facility balances overhead costs for small producers.

Things get busy at the custom crush about two weeks or so after harvest.  Then, the loads of grapes start to come in.  It usually starts with Chardonnay for sparkling wines. Then come the Rieslings and Chenin Blancs, and finishes with the reds in order of phenolic ripeness.  The delivery vehicles range in size proportionate to the size of the producers, so you see all kinds of trucks from giant tankers to a single Ford F150.  The dedicated workers at the custom crush make sure they defy Murphy and his law and maintain the equipment carefully.

Visit to see and taste for yourself.  The Old Sugar Mill is only  fifteen minutes from Downtown Sacramento and opens from 11 am to 5 pm all week.  It's a dog friendly place with a picnic space available.  Hosting 11 wineries, The  Old Sugar Mill is also a wine mall where novice wine tasters will feel confident and experienced wineaux can try new things.  Here are some of my favorites:

Three Wine Company
Headed up by a familiar name: Matt Cline (we love his Mourvedre!), this label celebrates the serendipity of the number three in Matt's life.  His serendipity of threes includes a 3rd winery,  3 daughters and 3 grape blends.I tried a red blend called Established 1885 Red Blend, Three Wine Company ($38)  This blend of 31.6% Carignane, 28,5% Zinfandel, 23.8% Mataro (the Italian name for Mourvedre )  9.8% Petite Sirah and 2.9% Black Malvosie combine to produce a lovely wine with deep red fruit, undercurrents of forest and herb and a solid feel.  120 year old vines in the Spinelli Vineyard grow fruit described as "ethereal" which are combined in this luscious wine

Elevation 10 at The Old Sugar Mill, Clarksburg 
Elevation Ten
is named for Clarksburg's position above sea level, which is ten feet.  Led  by winemaker Marco Capelli,  here three families strive to make wines they love in a place they love. They buy fruit and vinify at the custom crush.  I tried the Elevation 2014 Reserve Chardonnay ($34) and found it delicious. 14 months on the lees in 49% new french oak makes the most of this natural yeast whole cluster wine.  It had nice acidity as well as savory and citrus notes.

Due Vigne
Haunting cherry luscious DueVigne Barbera, 2014, El Dorado County ($? Wine Club Member Only) was a dark yummy wine with mouth watering acidity that made me glad I had some meat and tomatoes to pair with it.  The Barbera grapes are grown in nearby El Dorado county in a vineyard named La Colima, which means "high hill" in Spanish.   In fact, the vineyard is so steep. if you let the clutch out on a tractor it would fly down,  They use a Barbera clone from Asti Italy, which delivers warm, old world-ish aromas and luscious red fruit flavors.  "Wines sing when you have total control over the fruit", I was told.  I also tried their Nebbiolo at the IFBC event the next day and made a very satisfying pair with a classic Jimboy's taco.  These wines love food almost as much as I do.  Started by a retired firefighter whose family has strong ties to San Francisco, these are delish wines worth seeking out.

Clarksburg Wine Company Cab Franc
Clarksburg Wine Company
Clarksburg Wine Company claims to have America's favorite Chenin Blanc.  I had sourced several bottles in anticipation of my visit.  Lucky me as I got hold of the sold out Chenin-Viognier blend and can vouch for the tastiness of their Chenins.  At lunch, I got to try the Clarksburg Wine Company 2013 Cabernet Franc, Clarksburg ($29).  Redolent with dark fruit aromas, and a touch molasses set off by a hint of salinity in the flavors, I enjoyed this wine and its lovely tannic structure.  Vinous led fruity notes in finish with touch of vanilla celebrated a Bordeaux influenced style of California winemaking. My favorite part was the hint of jalapeño. Their 2013 Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg ($18) was great with cheese, since the flavor is so fruity I thought there might be that touch of residual sugar, which contrasts so nicely with cheese.

Muddy Boot Wines

Muddy Boot
The name Muddy Boot Wines connects their brand to farming, which they believe is the  key to quality wine.  The three principals, twins Phil and Dave Ogilvie along with lifelong friend, Tom Merwin , all returned to their Clarksburg farm roots to continue farming tradition through wine.  They capture the deliciousness of the area.
Photo Credit David Ogilvie, Facebook
The Muddy Boot Red Blend  uses a blend of 45% Syrah, 35% Petite Sirah, 11% Merlot, 5% Cab Sauv and 4% Cab Franc to blend a red wine that is fruit forward, but not sweet or stewed. It has a touch of baking spice in the aroma and juicy red fruit in flavor and more spice on finish.  The 2013 Muddy Boot Red Blend, Clarksburg/Lake County California never loses its vinous character though fruit led.  The only note I have for their Chenin Blanc is "yummy".

Follow their exploits on Facebook at Muddy Boot for great pictures like the sunset above and a glimpse into farming life

Many thanks to all the wineries that hosted me at this wonderful event as a part of the International Food Blogger Conference.  I can't wait to return to Clarksburg!

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