Harvest time in the Sierra Foothills, time for visits! Suggestion: Solune WineGrowers in Grass Valley

“The reward for a daytrip to Sierra Foothill wineries is intense flavorful wines from passionate winemakers” ~ Barbara Keck

Andrea & Jacques Mercier
It’s Harvest Time in the Sierra Foothills, and if you’ve been following my Harvest Report blogs on the MountainHighWines blogpages, you know that the late spring and cool summer are manifesting in a later harvest than usual. It’s a good time right now to take a trip to some of those wineries you’ve been wanting to visit. Suggestion: Solune WineGrowers in Grass Valley (Nevada County).

Not every winemaker has the advantage of bringing the world’s “best practices” to his winemaking. Jacques Mercier of Solune Winegrowers has done that, thanks to an extensive background as a trained sommelier and an esteemed wine judge. From tasting and judging wines around the world – Spain, the Douro, Mendoza, Switzerland, France – he’s gathered wisdom from observation and from other wine judges who are winemakers. The result: award winning wines from his own vineyard and winery.

Jacques and wife Andrea bought their property in Grass Valley in 2001: 15 acres with a house, barn, a 3 acre vineyard in place and another 7 acres that could be planted to vines. “We decided to name our winery Solune, which is a combination of the French words for sun (soleil) ad moon (lune),” explained Jacques.

At 2600 foot elevations where many of his vines grow, he knows that every little valley has its own microclimate. Initially, Jacques planted 24 varieties and at the end of his first decade, he has 11 reliable varieties.

Jacques’ winemaking style is very hands-on. He has an East Coast palate, and fine tunes every wine he makes. “I pay careful attention to the acidity,” he says. “I think that a lot of California wine is too flabby. I make careful decisions about when to harvest; I pick my grapes to give my wines a smooth yet rich quality.”

At 1500 cases now, he wants to keep small in order to keep quality high. Jacques is looking forward to a 50/50 ratio of juice from his own estate vineyards and grapes that he buys in from selected Foothill growers. “If I don’t like my own wines, I’ll throw it out. I can’t hype anything. Solune will produce good wine, smooth wine, great food wine,” he said.

What to taste? Last season when I was tasting at Solune, I had a wonderful Port. I don’t see it for sale on their website now, but ask about it. Try these:

The 2008 Barbera, Sierra Foothills, has intense red berry flavors and aromas, great balance, silky texture, long finish, and this vintage is unoaked, with a hint of smokiness due to the 2008 forest fires. $25 the bottle.

The 2007 Fleur de Lune, Sierra Foothills, is an off-dry blend that combines Muscat Blanc, Orange Muscat and Gewurztraminer. I like the touch of sweetness, which Jacques notes is perfectly balanced by a vibrant acidity, providing a refreshing finish. $20 the bottle.

The 2006 Cinq Etoiles, Sierra Foothills, is a classic five-varietal Bordeaux blend. The website has a great description: Cabernet Sauvignon leads the flavor profile with black currant and plum, Petit Verdot adds color and structure, and the Merlot smooths the texture and brings spicy flavors and a hint of tobacco leaf. Cabernet Franc brightens the nose with a whiff of flowers and the Malbec helps to fill the mid-palate with a fruity lushness. $20 the bottle.

Solune is located at 16303 Jewett Lane (Colfax Hwy), Grass Valley. Open for tastings Saturday & Sunday from 12 to 5. If you want to visit during the week, call 530-271-0990 and perhaps they can arrange a time.

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