Wine Touring in the Sierra Foothills: Avanguardia, Nevada City: "Hedonic Wines"

The winding road to Avanguardia – Bitney Springs Road, bridge over Deer Creek, Newtown Road, to Jones Bar Road, look for the sign – takes you to an in-winery tasting room that is charmingly set in the midst of cases of wine, bottling machines and winemaking equipment. The sign that finally points in the direction of this purpose-built winery near Nevada City could say “varietal-free zone ahead” and that would tip you off that you are in for an other-worldly wine tasting experience.

Rob Chrisman is dedicated to making wines that provide a maximum sensory pleasure to the wine drinker. He refers to his style of winemaking as “hedonic blending”. Rob has a healthy disregard for the traditional California approach to winemaking, and is carving out a brave new world with his wines. His scrumptious wines have fanciful names, and are handcrafted with an avant-garde flair, You are in for a new taste experience!

Rob’s path to his winemaking philosophy began when he was a computer programmer in Los Angeles. Like many of us, he began his wine drinking career by trying to get bottles of wine on the cheap, and he refined his palate that way. In 1977, he visited the Foundation Plant Materials Service group at University of California – Davis. This independent arm of the university protects, preserves and distributes disease-free plant material, particularly grapes. From the list of 60 or 80 wine varieties available, Rob selected 29 varieties for his experimental vineyard in Tulare.

After many years as a grape grower of the experimental kind, and an avid home winemaker, Rob moved his family to Nevada County in 1990. He had a hunch he could grow grapes quite well on his site at 2500-foot elevation.

“I believed that Sierra Foothill wines could be as good as those from any area, and we planted vines in 2000 and 2001 on 3 ½ acres here.” Now, Avanguardia Wines blends over twenty Italian, Russian, French and University of California-created crosses grown in its estate vineyards. “Many of the grape varieties have been imported by the University especially for us and are available nowhere else, outside of Europe.” To his own estate-grown grapes, he adds other Sierra Foothills fruit. He started to produce cutting-edge blends, and they’ve found a loyal following.

“I call my winery a varietal-free zone because we don’t produce traditional chardonnay, zinfandel and so on. Although several of my wines could be considered varietals because they contain enough of one varietal to be termed that, instead we chose to give them fanciful names,” he said.

Rob sincerely believes that blending is the way to go to get the best quality, tastiest wines. “I do non-traditional blending, what I call “hedonic blending”, because I am looking for the maximum sensory pleasure out of the wine. I want to produce wines that are extremely food friendly.” His wines are not high alcohol, nor are they fruit-bombs. Subtle oak and good acidity are key. He produces 1000 cases of wine each year, and 90% of the grapes in those wines come from his estate vineyards in Nevada County.

A chat about the names of his wines is informative and entertaining. Premiato means “prizewinner”. Sanginet is a 14th century archaic name for Sangiovese. Ampio means ample, generous; Cristallo means crystal. Selvatico is actually an adjective about an Italian wine characteristic that is used to describe a wild berry or undomesticated flavor. Due Fiori…two flowers.

Looking for a daytrip to Sierra Foothill wine county? Head to Avanguardia’s winery at 13028 Jones Bar Road, Nevada City, CA 95959, open Saturday and Sunday 12-5. There’s also a tasting room in Grass Valley at 209 W. Main Street that’s open daily 12-5. More information?

Copyright 2011 Barbara Keck

Barbara Keck is now working on iPhone and Droid apps on Wineries of the Sierra Foothills

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