Sierra Foothill Wine Region- Hotbed of Wine Experimentation

Walking amongst the 14 El Dorado winery tasting stands in South Lake Tahoe, I hailed my friend and mentor, John MacCready of Sierra Vista Winery, Placerville. Under a canopy on Ski Run Way in the early September sun, he poured his fine wines, wife Barbara at his side. Yes, he admitted modestly, he had a role in encouraging this first-ever "Sample the Sierra" event. But of course, that is typical of John, who after all was one of the pioneers of winemaking in the Sierra foothills.

You can read about John on other of my blogposts, but he deserves accolades for another great vintage of fine wines. The 2010 Viognier has a medium straw color with lovely fragrances of honeysuckle, rose petals and citrus blossoms. Tastes of peaches and apricots are balanced with a rich texture and a bright level of acidity. 13.7 per cent alcohol, $18 the bottle.

The Sierra foothill wine region is a hotbed of wine experimentation. For example, Brian Bumgarner of Bumgarner Winery, Camino, poured wonderful Barbera sourced from Placerville’s Stone Vineyard from a tap in a wooden box. Normally I am an all-natural cork gal, but I was surprised at how fresh this wine tasted. Because of the packaging format, however, you can only taste the Barbera in his tasting room on his Silver Fork label and packaged in a refillable 750 ml wine bottle. “Bring your clean bottles back and get a credit on your next purchase. This is sustainable wine making in practice at your local winery! “ Brian noted. Brian poured other nice wines, and these you can buy by the bottle. The Bumgarner 2008 Pinot Noir has an aroma of strawberry and rose petal, s nose redolent of strawberry with subtle rose petal. You can also get a bit of smokiness from this wine; remember those forest fires that put some haze in the region in 2008? 14.1 per cent alcohol, $27 the bottle.

Always a pleasure to meet a female winemaker, and Debbie Knutzon of Synapse Wines, Placerville, is a molecular biologist by background. This accounts for the Synapse Wines logo: a junction of two nerve cells – a metaphor for family and friends coming together. Debbie learned winemaking by shadowing an experienced local winemaker, none other than John MacCready! She poured what she notes is their flagship wine, the 2006 Kspace Resonance Syrah, a deep rich syrah with mild blackberry and spice flavors. It’s won many Gold Medal awards! 14.5 per cent alcohol, $28 the bottle.

Lava Cap, Placerville, poured its 2007 Merlot Reserve, which recently won the Best of Class award in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. It’s a medium-tannin wine, with structured ripe cherry notes, green apple, chocolate, and a nice clean balance to it. 14.8 per cent alcohol, $20 the bottle.

Shadow Ranch Winery, Fair Play, poured its 2008 Zinfandel. With a deep ruby color, and aroma of raspberry and cherry, this wine has a medium-full body, a nice tangy acidity and good depth. The finish has a hint of spice and a nice tannic structure. 14.5 per cent alcohol, $20 the bottle.

Jodar Vineyards & Winery, Placerville, poured its 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. Aroma of black cherry and plum with toasty oak, vanilla and spice. Brown spice of clove, colarm, cedar on the finish. 13.7% alcohol, $22 the bottle.

Other El Dorado wineries pouring were Crystal Basin Cellars, Colibri Ridge Winery & Vineyard, Latcham Vineyards, Gold Hill Winery, DK Cellars, David Girard Vineyards, Madrona Vineyards, and Auriga Wine.

A great event, and I plan to go every year! Watch for it at or

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© 2011 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 appeared in my column "Wine Adventures" in September 2011.

Research in Process for Book on : "Mountain High Wine: The Sierra and Its Foothills".

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