Placer County winemakers take home the hardware

Locals have strong showing at San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition
By: Paul Cambra, Features Editor
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While it doesn’t hold the pedigree of Napa or the popularity of Sonoma, Placer County held its own at the largest competition of American wines in the world, the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
Nine wineries on the Placer County Wine Trail took home a total of 45 medals, including 11 gold and double gold. The big winner was Lincoln’s Wise Villa Winery with 15, followed by Mt. Vernon Winery with eight.
We spoke with most of the winemakers, but good luck trying to get them to pick their favorite. Most likened it to choosing your favorite child. Others said it’s the one they are currently drinking. Regardless, it would be hard to go wrong with any of the victorious vintages.
Here is a rundown of the winning wines, listed alphabetically by the winery.

Casque Wines
Where: 9280 Horseshoe Bar Road, Loomis
Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday
Phone: (916) 652-2250
And the winners are …
2011 White varietal “Roussanne”
Bronze: 2011 Viognier
"Our Roussanne has been great in the past, but the 2011, I felt like it had great vintage and our winemaking has been dialed in on that varietal,” said Kevin Stevenson, owner and winemaker. “We really figured out exactly how we want to make the wine. It’s my favorite white we have ever done.  We had a pretty steady growing season and a nice harvest season, those two grapes happened to ripen really well. You always have a pretty good idea at harvest, but you can never confirm until you get the wine into the tank and barrel.”

Ciotti Cellars
Where: 3750 Taylor Road, Loomis
Hours: Noon to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday
Phone: (916) 534-8780
And the winners are …
2011 Cabernet Franc
Bronze: 2010 Malbec
Bronze: 2010 Red Dessert
 “The fruit this year was exceptional,” said Joe Ciotti, owner and winemaker. “The grapes, grown in Granite Bay, are very well taken care of. It’s exceptional the quality of fruit this county is producing.”

Fawnridge Winery
5560 Fawnridge Road, Auburn
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
Tuesday through Thursday by appointment.
Phone: (530) 887-9522
And the winners are …
Red Dessert, no vintage
Bronze: White Dessert, no vintage
Bronze: 2008 Syrah ($30-$40)
“Our dessert wines are rare, we use California grown traditional Portuguese grapes,” said Stewart Perry, owner and winemaker. “The white dessert wine was an experiment, we released it last May prior to Mother's Day, thought it would be nice for that weekend. Usually our first indication something is going to be special is our patrons give us dramatic feedback at a barrel tasting. We go two to three years on average in the barrel aging process.”

Lone Buffalo Vineyards
7505 Wise Road, Auburn
Hours: Noon to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday
Phone: (530) 823-1159
And the winners are …
2010 “Thunder Beast” Zinfandel ($25-$30)
Silver: 2010 Tempranillo “Tatonka”
Silver: 2011 “Bison Blanc” Viognier
Bronze: 2010 Rhone Blend “Where the Buffalo Roam”
Bronze: 2010 “Noble Beast” Cabernet Sauvignon ($25-$30)
“The 2010 vintage across the board in Northern California and particularly in the foothills is of outstanding quality that doesn’t happen every year,” said Phil Maddux, owner and winemaker. “The growing season was a little cooler than we normally get, we had cooler temperatures during harvest time and that’s very conducive to quality in terms of winemaking, you get longer hang time, they ripen gradually.”

Mt. Vernon Winery
Where: 10850 Mt. Vernon Road, Auburn
Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday
Phone: (530) 823-1111
And the winners are …
2008 Cabernet Sauvignon ($35-$40)
Gold: 2010 Cabernet Franc
Gold: Alicante Bouschet
Bronze: 2009 Port
Bronze: 2010 White Port
Bronze: 2009 Syrah ($25-$30)
Bronze: 2011 Cuvee Blanc (White blends, over $15)
Bronze: 2010 Mourvedre
“We always do well at the competitions, but we are the oldest in town,” said owner Linda Taylor. “We’ve won Auburn Journal’s Best of the Best nine years in a row. We make 19 different wines so the winners vary from year to year.”

PaZa Vineyard and Winery
Where: 3357 Ayres Holmes Road, Auburn
Hours: Noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; Fridays by appointment
Phone: (916) 834-0565
And the winners are …
2011 Primitivo
Bronze: 2011 Petite Sirah ($20 and up)
“Seems like a different star shows up each year. This year it’s the Primitivo,” said Zane Dobson, owner and winemaker. “It’s very elegant, easy drinking, kind of feels like a Pinot almost. I could tell after about six months in the barrel it was going to be great. That’s based on my wife’s pallet.”

Popie Wines
Where: 3750 Taylor Road, Loomis
Hours: Noon to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday
Phone: (916) 768-7643
And the winners are …
2009 “Dolce di Barbera” Port
Bronze: 2010 Syrah/Shiraz ($25- $30)
"The Barbera is our estate wine, I grow the grapes myself,” said Michael Duarte, owner, winemaker and grower. “The flavors are even and balanced. It has a hint of sweetness, wood-age brandy fortified, with a cherry and blueberry profile. In the barrel it actually had a nice integrated acid and tannin development. It was a consistent growing year. We use 90-plus percent locally grown grapes.”

Vina Castellano Vineyard and Winery
Where: 4590 Bell Road, Auburn
Hours: Noon to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday
Phone: (530) 889-2855
And the winners are …
Gold: 2008 Tempranillo
Silver: 2009 Tempranillo
Bronze: 2008 “Abuelito” Red blend ($15-$25)
Bronze: 2008 Syrah/Shiraz ($30-$40)
Bronze: 2009 Mourvedre

Wise Villa Winery
Where: 4100 Wise Road, Lincoln
Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday
Phone: (916) 543-0323
And the winners are …
Double Gold: 2011 Syrah ($25-$30)
Double Gold: 2012 Dry Rose, Pinot Noir
Gold: 2011 “Wisdom of Wise” Bordeaux blend ($20-$30)
Gold: 2011 Tempranillo
Gold: 2011 Petite Sirah ($20 and up)
Silver: 2011 Sangiovese
Silver: 2011 Pinot Noir ($25-$30)
Silver: 2010 “Wisdom of Wise” red blend ($25-$35)
Silver: “Eclipse” red dessert wine, no vintage
Silver: 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon ($30-$35)
Silver: 2012 “Torrontes” varietal
Bronze: 2012 Pinot Gris ($15 and up)
Bronze: 2011 “Touriga Nacional” red varietal
Bronze: 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon “Winemaker’s Reserve” ($35-$40)
Bronze: 2011 Zinfandel ($25-$30)
“It was the only Syrah to win double gold,” said Sergio Abeijon, wine events host at Wise Villa Winery. “We’ve earned 53 medals in two years in the three largest competitions: California State Fair, Orange County Fair and the Chronicle Competition.”
Abeijon credits their success to the “meticulous maintenance of our vines, the care we put in, we end up knocking a lot of fruit off to keep the quality up, we taste test and hand pick. Our goal is to get full quality berries into our wine, nothing more. We are always hoping for gold, always striving to get better.”

So raise a glass to those craftsmen who are helping Placer County continue its tradition of agricultural excellence. The term “wine destination” is gaining a foothold in the foothills.