Pinot in the Pines: Truckee River Winery produces Award Winning Wines

Russ Jones, winemaker at the Truckee River Winery, has a thing for pinot noir. As a visitor to the winery’s tasting area, you’ll agree: it’s an appropriate obsession. His 2006 Pinot Noir recently won a Silver Medal in a very crowded field of fantastic wines judged at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

When you call the winery to make an appointment for a weekday tasting, the answer machine notes that Truckee River Winery is the highest and coldest winery in California. That’s geographically and climactically true, but Russ warms the place up with his love of producing fine wines.

Walk up the path on the right side of the winemaker’s house, and on the way to the winery/barn, you’ll see picnic tables and a patio designed to let wine lovers enjoy the breezes that whisper through the apple and aspen trees. Many visitors to the winery do their own version of a barrel-tasting by stepping outside the winery/barn with their glasses, as did these visitors from Connecticut.

You’ll also pass a small vineyard where Russ experiments with some grapevines, but he admits that very few can survive the Tahoe winters. He carefully sources his fruit to match his winemaking philosophy.

When you enter the winery, you know you are in the real thing: dozens of French and America oak barrels holding pinot noir, zinfandel, sauvignon blanc, and pinot gris. Total production is about 1000 cases of 750 ml bottles a year, and growing.

Russ earned his B.S. in Oenology from the famous winemaking program at University of California, Davis, in 1983. After a few years with famous producers of pinot noir in Oregon and Paso Robles, he returned home to Truckee and started the winery. “Truckee is home -- I grew up here, went to high school here, and I am big into skiing. I married a local girl, Joan, who is now my partner in the winery.”

Here’s what I found, and I know you’ll enjoy your own adventure at this winery.

Sauvignon Blanc, 2007, Lodi. TASTING NOTES: There is a nice citrusy aroma that carries through to the taste. Good acidity, a very nice food wine. 200-300 cases produced. 12.8% alcohol. $14 bottle.

Pinot Noir 2006, Garys’ Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands. GRAPE NOTES: Santa Lucia Highlands typically produces Pinot that shows upfront fruit, black cherry, blueberry, spice and earth notes. Garys’ is planted primarily to Pinot Noir, and specifically the Pisoni clone of Pinot. TASTING NOTES: Ripe plum and black cherry on the nose, LOTS of fruit on the palate, ample tannin, and a nice mouthfeel . A bit of smokiness. “This pinot noir is not too light,” Russ the winemaker noted. “This is a bigger pinot than many other pinots that are on the market.” 450 cases produced. Pair with lamb, pork tenderloin, salmon or halibut. 13.8 % alcohol, 2 years in French Oak. $ 45/bottle.

Zinfandel 2005, Gribaudo Vineyard-Lodi. TASTING NOTES: A lovely drinkable wine. Pairs well with practically anything: pasta, steak , chocolate after dinner. 250-300 cases produced. 14.3% alcohol, $25/bottle.

Best Man 2005 Reserve Pinot Noir, Garys’ Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highland SPECIAL NOTE: There’s not much of this left for sale. It has spent 3 years in French oak, and has all the characteristics of the other Pinot Noir from this winery, only more so. 13.75% alcohol, $55/bottle.

COMING ATTRACTION: 2008 Pinot Gris, Eldorado County. Russ gave us a tasting out of the fermentation tank. This will be bottled in June 2009. TASTING NOTE: Even now, the wine shows a little apple/pear on the aroma and palate. It will be a great summer wine, with its good acidity, good balance. Pair with salad, cheese, aged gouda, figs. “Personally, I would take a piece of good French bread, put on it a dried fig, drizzle it with basalmic vinegar, have a little cheese on the side,” says winemaker Russ. $14/bottle.

Of course you can buy them at the winery, which is located at 10061 S. River St. in Truckee, CA 96161. TASTING HOURS: Afternoons are the best time to catch Russ, after 2 p.m., and there are longer hours on weekends. To set an appointment call 530 587 4626. The winery accepts credit cards and cash.

You can also participate in the annual Truckee Wine Walk and Shop, to be held October 3, 2009, and amble to the winery then.

ZANO’s Restaurant in Truckee at 11401 Donner Pass Road. A little known fact is that Truckee River Winery private-labels their Zano’s Marzano Reserve red table wine. This is really a wonderful wine, only a few hundred cases are produced. A blend of merlot and zinfandel, it is really yummy.

Local restaurants that serve Truckee River Winery wines: Soule Domain (Kings Beach), Garwoods on the Lake (Carnelian Bay), Moody’s (Truckee), Baxters Bistro & Lounge in the Village at Northstar, Pacific Crest Grill, at Bar of Americas (Truckee), Dragonfly (Truckee), River Ranch (between Squaw Valley and Tahoe City), River Grill (Tahoe City)… to name a few.

Wine Stores that carry Truckee River Winery wines: Pour House, Bacchus & Venus, Florian’s (all Truckee), Time For Wine (Tahoe City).

© 2009 Barbara Keck

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article, written by me, appeared in my column "It's Grape" in April 2009.


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