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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Vineyards are sprouting up all over El Dorado County

Vineyards are sprouting up all over El Dorado County and today's SacBee had a nice article about some of our newest players in the El Dorado Wine region. It is really great for us as there are so many good ones for us to try and pass on to our guests at the bed and breakfast.

"Dunne on Wine: El Dorado wineries are sprouting like vines
By Mike Dunne

Aside from wine enthusiasts, no one may be happier with the growing number of wineries in El Dorado County than the guy who prints the map for the El Dorado Winery Association.

Every time a new winemaker joins the group, the printer must get a work order to run off a new batch of maps.

And new vintners look to be showing up in El Dorado County at the rate of one every couple of months.

We recently took advantage of the association's 17th annual Passport Weekend to catch up with a few of them.

Iverson Vineyards & Winery
Pedigree: Eight years ago, Mike and Melodie Iverson were living in El Dorado Hills and working in the power business, he with Pacific Gas & Electric Co., she with the California Independent System Operator.

She's still on the grid, but he's now working full time in their vineyard and cellar, on a ridge along Perry Creek Road in the Fair Play area of southwestern El Dorado County.

They bought the property in 2000, and today tend 8 acres of grapes, all for such red wines as primitivo, sangiovese, zinfandel and barbera.

They planted malbec, too, but won't be making any wine from that plot in the near future. "Raccoons ate all the malbec this year," says Mike.

The Iversons opened their winery a year ago. Their winemaker is Rich Gilpin, formerly of nearby Windwalker Vineyard, now with his own winery, Lavender Ridge, in Calaveras County.

Why El Dorado: On wine-tasting treks into the Sierra foothills, the Iversons became especially keen on Windwalker wines.

On one of their visits they noticed a "for sale" sign on a 32-acre spread that included a house and a barn, the latter of which they've replaced with the structure that now houses their tasting room.

Focus: "We want very drinkable wines. You can take any of our bottles and drink it on the patio; you don't have to have anything with it," says Mike Iverson. "Nothing we have is big, thick and chalky. You don't need a steak to enjoy them."

Don't miss: With its alluring strawberry smell, note of pomegranate in the flavor and austere structure, the Iverson 2007 Sierra Foothills Grenache Rosé ($18) is suitable for patio sipping as well as pairing with shellfish. The Iverson 2006 El Dorado Barbera ($22) has been in the bottle less than two months and starts off tight, but with a little time in the glass it blossoms into a zesty representative of the varietal. Also check out the Iverson 2005 El Dorado Merlot ($19) and the Iverson 2005 El Dorado Syrah ($22).

Particulars: Iverson, 8061 Perry Creek Road, Fair Play, is open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday through Sunday and by appointment; (530) 620-7474.

Sierra Oaks Estates
Pedigree: Jim and Toshi Brown's infatuation with wine began innocently enough with a home winemaking kit they bought some 30 years ago.

"We liked it, and went on from there," says Jim, at the time living in Marin County and working as a manager with Pac Bell.

By 1994 they'd bought a 40-acre parcel of bare land in the Fair Play area and had begun to plant what now amounts to a 10-acre vineyard, doing all the work themselves.

They were content to sell their grapes, but when Jim became convinced that the merlot he was making as a self-taught winemaker was better than the merlot that a Napa Valley winery was making with his fruit, he decided to start his own operation.

That was 2001. Because of a "private-road issue," the couple's winery isn't open to the public. As a consequence, five years ago he opened a tasting room at the junction of Fair Play and Mt. Aukum roads.

Why El Dorado: While living in the Bay Area, the Browns belonged to a wine-tasting club that spent one weekend a year in the foothills, customarily Calaveras County.

"We went to Amador County one year and liked it pretty well, but we couldn't find a parcel the size we wanted," says Jim.

Their continued exploration brought them across the Cosumnes River into the Mount Aukum and Fair Play area, where they found the sort of spread they envisioned.

Focus: Full-bodied wines without the gritty tannins. "We work real hard to get ripe fruit without harsh tannins," he says. "I grew up liking cherries and berries. I like to see that in wines."

he couple, now assisted by consulting winemaker John Montero of Napa Valley, makes only red wines.

"I have no passion for whites," says Jim.

Don't miss: The couple's signature wine goes by the proprietary name Zinzabar ($19). It's a slightly smoky, slightly spicy and youthful blend of zinfandel and barbera. The current release is a mix of zinfandel from the 2005 harvest and barbera from 2006, a decision Jim made when he couldn't find any 2005 barbera that he liked. We also liked the Sierra Oaks 2002 Fair Play Zinfandel and the Sierra Oaks 2002 Fair Play Merlot, but they're sold out.

Particulars: The tasting room of Sierra Oaks Estates, 6713 Mt. Aukum Road, Fair Play, is open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday; (530) 620-7079.

Busby Cellars
Pedigree: Elliot and Sherrie Graham were working in Sacramento and living in Rocklin – he was in sales, she was in advertising – when in 1999 they bought a 34-acre chunk of the landmark Meyers Ranch along Grizzly Flat Road just east of Somerset.

A sagging barn dating from the 1930s dominates the site, but now it's flanked by 14 acres of wine grapes. It's a diverse vineyard, planted to 15 varieties, though zinfandel forms the single largest block, 8 acres.

"We do everything ourselves," says Elliot, who learned home winemaking under his father's tutelage. "It's a hobby gone wild."

Since building the winery in 2003, he's been making about 2,000 cases a year, almost all of which is sold directly out of their tasting room, though at times the Sacramento restaurant The Waterboy has stocked Busby wines. "Busby," incidentally, is Sherrie's family name.

Why El Dorado: The couple spent three years scouting the foothills for suitable vineyard property.

Focus: "We're definitely into small-lot batches," Elliot says. "We make too many varietals, but I like so many types of wine.

"Our focus, however, is zinfandel; why fight it?" he added, referring to the region's long-standing reputation for zinfandel.

Stylistically, he's aiming for "well-rounded, fruit-forward wines with backbone." Their vineyards tend to give wines a spiciness suggestive of pepper and clove.

Don't miss: The Busby 2005 Fair Play Zinfandel ($18) carries its high alcohol (15.6 percent) well, the heat not at all intruding on its blackberry, licorice and peppery highlights, though its sturdy tannins suggest it be laid down for a few years. Also check out the Busby 2005 El Dorado Tempranillo ($16); the Busby 2005 El Dorado Petite Sirah ($16); and the nonvintage Busby El Dorado Apparition, a Bordeaux-style blend based largely on cabernet sauvignon ($18).

Particulars: Busby, 6375 Grizzly Flat Road, Somerset, is open 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday; (530) 344-9119.

Miraflores Winery
Pedigree: For three years, Yuma pathologist Victor Alvarez and his wife Cheryl scouted Arizona for potential vineyard land before they happened upon the Pleasant Valley area of El Dorado County.

That was in 1992. They liked the look and feel of the area and ended up piecing together a total of 254 acres, which they started to plant to vines nine years ago.

Today, they're cultivating nearly 40 acres of grapes, much of it syrah, zinfandel and petite sirah, but including cabernet sauvignon, viognier and muscat canelli.

In 2005 they created the brand Miraflores, at first making wine in leased quarters. A year ago they opened their own monumental facility, rising like a Tuscan villa amid poison oak and throw rugs of daffodils 2,000 feet up the Sierra.

Why El Dorado: "We didn't come here to build a winery. This place is so beautiful. It was meant to be a retirement place," says Alvarez.

One thing led to another, with their small vineyard expanding and their growing confidence in the quality of their grapes.

When local consulting winemaker Marco Cappelli urged the couple to hold on to their fruit and use it to start making their own wine, they began to stake out a site for the winery.

Focus: To Alvarez, Miraflores clearly is meant to be a "New World" winery, turning out big and brassy wines. He wants them packed with rich fruit, and he isn't leery of saturated color and high levels of alcohol, though he also wants his wines refreshing.

"We are an American-style winery, with wines with lots of flavor and fruit," he says.

Don't miss: Marco Cappelli, the former winemaker at Swanson Vineyards in Napa Valley, is recognized for crafting wines of clarity, balance and elegance, which at Miraflores is shown especially in the 2006 El Dorado Syrah Rosé ($15), the 2006 El Dorado Viognier ($18), the 2005 El Dorado Zinfandel ($20), the 2004 El Dorado Syrah ($30), and the 2005 El Dorado Petite Sirah ($22).

Particulars: Miraflores, 2120 Four Springs Trail, Placerville, is open 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. daily; (530) 647-8505."

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