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Vintners open showcase for award-winning wines V

By: Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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Longtime wine enthusiasts Stewart and Stephanie Perry turned their hobby into a business four years ago with the opening of Fawnridge Winery in Auburn. They released their first wines — a Syrah, Merlot and a Chardonnay — in 2004. “When we first started, we went around to a lot of local restaurants,” Stewart Perry said this week. “There’s a Web site and word of mouth. We poured wine at any event we could attend to get the word out about Fawnridge Winery.” Now the couple has taken the next step, opening a wine tasting room in Downtown Auburn. The venture, which for the present handles exclusively Fawnridge wines, appealed to the Perrys for several reasons. “In all honesty, there’s been a bit of conflict over tasting rooms at winery locations,” Perry explained. “Because of the location next to the clocktower, when that property became available, we decided to jump on it. We thought there’d be enough interest in the wine tasting at a downtown location.” Visitors to the tasting room have their choice of several award-winning vintages. “Two weeks ago, we won a silver for our 2005 Barbera and a silver for our 2005 Chardonnay at the Orange County Fair,” Perry said. The port also has been on a winning streak. “That particular port has won a medal in each of the competitions we’ve entered over the last two years,” he said. The Sangiovese has garnered two medals and an Old Vine Zinfandel received a silver. “We’re 10 for 12 in wine competitions,” Perry said. The offerings may expand eventually. The couple is in discussion with a Nevada County vintner who recently purchased Iron Mountain winery, to carry his wines as well. The Perrys purchased their five acres in the late 1980s, at first raising sheep on the land. When they decided to start a vineyard, they did a lot of research and preparation. “We probably took two years to investigate and talk to a lot of people about growing grapes,” Perry said. “We did soil tests on the land.” He also took viticulture classes at the University of California, Davis. After putting in the vineyard, they focused on wine-making classes and even did some home winemaking before going on to build a commercial winery. “When we added the winery, we decided from the very beginning to do it the old-fashioned way,” Perry said. “It is right there on the land. We harvest the grapes and process it on our location there.” Although the Perrys’ wines are a reflection of fruit grown on their property, they purchase some grapes — mainly zinfandel and chardonnay — from area growers. The Fawnridge label showcases the location and landscape. “We’re up on Fawnridge Road and we have an awful lot of deer there,” Perry said. “The label combines the deer image and hillside vineyards we have.” With summer’s hot weather, the Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are popular choices right now, as well as the Barbera, which goes well with barbecued meats, he said. The port also is doing well. “People enjoy port,” Perry said. “They still go out on the patio and enjoy a dessert wine.” Foresthill resident Linda Luis has been acquainted with Fawnridge wines for about three years. “I really like their Old Vine Zinfandel,” she said. “That’s my favorite currently.” Luis attributes her enthusiasm for the wine to several factors. “I enjoy every one of their wines,” she said. “It’s locally produced and it’s nice to support local business, too. But I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t exceptional wine and at a good value, too. Stewart does a fantastic job with his winemaking, I think I’ve tried everything they’ve produced. Family friend Linda Alpert agrees. “I go wine tasting all over,” said Alpert, who occasionally helps out in the tasting room. “(The Perrys) have such excellent wines — better than any (other) small wineries I’ve visited. And with big wineries, they’re competitive. You could put them up against a large winery and you’ll find people loving their wine.” Perry, who is retired from a career with Placer County, teaches psychology courses at Sierra College and American River College. Stephanie Perry manages the office for a local psychiatrist. For the Perrys, being in the wine business is about much more than growing and pressing grapes. “It’s about the people. That’s what drew us to the industry,” Stewart Perry said. “My wife and I both enjoy the people who come in and ask questions about the industry and enjoy the wine. It gives you a sense of accomplishment and when you win awards, it makes you feel like you’ve contributed to the local wine industry.” The Journal’s Gloria Young can be reached at gloriay @goldcountrymedia.com or comment at Auburn-journal.com.