Wednesday Jun 03 2009
Wine buffs turn pro with dream acreage
By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
Couple will open their 3,600-square-foot ‘Bellagio of tasting rooms’ next week
When Mike and Diane Naggiar purchased acreage for a vineyard near the Placer-Nevada county line, their dream was to grow and sell wine grapes. Ten years later, they are not only selling the grapes but creating award-winning wines. And they’re opening a 3,600-square-foot, $1.5 million tasting room next week. The Naggiars started with a one-acre hobby vineyard in the Bay Area, during Mike’s career with Hewlett Packard. “We loved doing that,” he said this week. “We love the outdoors and loved the idea of growing grapes.” As he neared retirement, they spent several years looking for just the right piece of land to expand that interest. They purchased 135 acres near Lake of the Pines in 1998 and since then have turned 60 acres into vines. In preparation for becoming a professional grower, Naggiar took some courses at University of California, Davis, “so I knew the right questions to ask,” he said. Then he called in the experts. “We’re at 1,300 feet. A lot of people plant what they like, but that is a mistake,” he said. “It might not be what’s best for conditions.” Under the guidance of consultant Larry Bradley, a UC Davis graduate, he chose varieties that do well in southern Europe — sangiovese, barbera, zinfandel and the Rhones. “We sell 80 percent of our yield to other wineries,” he said. The remaining 20 percent goes into the Naggiar vintages. Working with winemaker Derek Irwin, who also consults internationally, they produce 14 wines — including syrah, sangiovese, cabernet franc and five blends — with total case production of 2,000, mostly sold direct to consumers. Mike Naggiar concentrates on the growing the grapes and making the wine. Diane Naggiar handles marketing and sales. Previously, the Naggiars offered tastings in the winery and in the vineyard. But with the success of the business, a tasting room was the next logical step. Two years in the planning, the originally modest undertaking grew substantially. “The more we thought about it, the family felt we had to do it right,” Mike Naggiar said. “We had to put in (a tasting room) large enough that it will last us, hopefully, a long time.” Situated at the bottom of a treed hillside and in view of a pond, the facility actually has two tasting rooms — a public/retail sales section and private/events center. The centerpiece is a covered patio featuring a large fireplace. There’s also a commercial kitchen “so we can serve finger foods with the wines,” Naggiar said. Future plans include an outdoor grill/pizza oven and outdoor seating, according to a press release. For the Naggiars, it is about more than growing and selling a product. “It really is a lifestyle,” Naggiar said. “We wanted to live in the country, out of the rat race. Life in the vineyard follows the seasons. It doesn’t care if you want to hurry things up and it lends itself to family life. We all live in the vineyard. The grandkids are 300 yards away.” Mike and Diane Naggiar’s son, Shawn, lives on the estate with his wife, Mary, and their two children. Nephew Tony Tibshirani and his family have a home there, too. At Auburn’s Carpe Vino, owner Gary Moffat has been eagerly anticipating completion of the Naggiar tasting room, which he says will be a healthy boost for the local wine-producing industry, good for local business and a true wine destination in Northern California. With the tasting room, it completes the entire picture, he said. “Right now, they’re arguably the largest family-grown vineyard in Placer and Nevada counties,” he said. “One thing I like about the winery is that all of the wines they make are made from estate grapes. They don’t use anybody else’s grapes. You don’t often see that anymore.” The wines range in price from $19 a bottle for the Viognier to $46 for the 2006 Le Grand Pere. “I’m calling this the Bellagio of tasting rooms,” Moffat said, referring to the iconic Las Vegas hotel. “It could be the standard setter for the foothills. They’ve done a beautiful job with it.” The grand opening and ribbon cutting June 13 and 14 will feature tastings of selected Naggiar wines, appetizers, live music, tours and a live remote broadcast on KAHI 950AM. The Journal’s Gloria Young can be reached at or comment at Auburnjournal.com.