The Sierra Nevada Mountains don’t just make for beautiful vistas—their lower slopes also play host to some of the region’s best grapes. Winery by the Creek and Charles B. Mitchell Vineyards, nestled in the foothills, harvests the vines and transforms them into nuanced, award winning varietals, such as Black Muscat. The winery plays host to a slew of other regional wines as well, including Splashdown’s Zinfandels and Charles B. Mitchell’s award-winning grand reserve. As Dionysian evangelists, the winery’s staff hosts tasting events, many of which are held on the patio by the creek that overlooks the mountains. For a peek behind the scenes, you can spelunk into the onsite wine cave where the wines are aged. There, you can sip their way through candle-lit futures tastings, sampling up-and-coming wines right from the barrel.
Diners seated in what used to be the Frasinetti's east cellar sate themselves on handcrafted Italian lunch and dinner dishes, surrounded by huge vats evoking the 112-year-old winery’s storied past. Dinners commence with starters such as crostini slathered in grilled brie and red-pepper chutney ($10) or steamed clams in white-wine sauce ($9). Next, certified non-android servers bring out entrees such as seafood manicotti, a mix of salmon, scallops, and crab packed in pasta ($15). Pine-nut-gorgonzola butter adds a zesty twist to the 12-ounce center-cut prime rib ($25), and the regal Atlantic salmon rests on a bed of mushroom risotto ($19), like an eccentric rice baron.
The Scribner family has been a fixture of the Sacramento River Delta since 1893, when George Washington Scribner settled along the river bend that would eventually bear his name. Five generations since the fertile soil first beckoned the patriarch, the family is still putting the original barn to good use—now as a tasting room where the Scribners' award-winning wines get the attention and ambiance they deserve. The family’s alluring adult beverages reach their palate-pleasing potential thanks to the expertise of 50-year winemaker William Ghiglieri, who helps the Scribners maintain their century-old legacy. Visitors can rent out the vineyard for private events, lending a convivial elegance to such get-togethers as corporate parties, bridal showers, or pet goldfish funerals.
Wind tousles the broad leaves of vines above clusters of grapes the off-black blue of the dusk sky. Frank and Liz Vezér, owners of Vezér Family Vineyard, originally began growing the fruit to help fill the needs of wine producers including Ravenswood and Sin Zin. More than a decade ago, they also began producing their own wines. “One could call it beginner’s luck,” says Touring and Tasting Magazine, “but their award-winning streak has yet to be broken. Every single wine Vezér has produced has won a top award or superior rating. Of most recent note, the 2007 Vezér Cabernet Sauvignon won double gold at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition and a whopping 97 points at a blind tasting at Napa’s Bay Leaf Restaurant.”
The winery adjoins the original Pony Express offices, and one can still almost hear the sound of plodding hooves and hooves frustratedly trying to apply stamps. On a copper-roofed cupola, an equine weathervane twists to face the winds above a sweeping swath of grass that fills with chatter during weddings and other events.
Vezer Stock, the Vezér Family Vineyard's version of Woodstock, will be held at the Blue Victorian Winery on July 13th from 4p.m. to 10 p.m. Attendants are encourage to dress up in their most far out 1969 outfits while they enjoy tunes from the Used Blues Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute Band, and Rick Harris & Silverado.
Since breaking ground for Viña Castellano in 1999, the Mendez family has built an empire of Spanish wines complete with a treasure trove of gold and silver medals. Along with winery foreman Derek Irwin, the family specializes in the complex flavors of Tempranillo, Syrah, and Verdejo grapes. In the tasting room, visitors can sip new pressings and old favorites, and pick up a fine cigar to hilariously slip into a packet of exploding cigars.
What began as Mike Owen's small winemaking venture in a private basement in 1981 blossomed into a full-scale commercial operation by 2000. Under the name Crystal Basin Cellars, Mike and the team have continued to rely on the principles that helped them grow: they source all their grapes from local vineyards, and work with a team of part-time but dedicated wine enthusiasts. Their efforts have won them numerous accolades at the California State Fair, including a double-gold award for Best Syrah in 2013.
Just next door to the independent winery, unassumingly housed inside a former Chevron gas station, is Crystal Basin Bistro. Warm, earth-toned interiors surround patrons with quirky design elements such as a giant metal spoon, spatula, and whisk hung from the ceiling, and an outdoor patio lets them soak up the sun or practice bald-eagle calls. Internationally influenced shared plates such as carnitas tacos, Russian cheese bread, and Asian-style pork dumplings pair with the winery's renowned private-label and bistro wines, some with names inspired by jazz-age references in pop culture. Regularly, the bistro and winery explode with live-music events such as the summer concert series. From May to October, the lawn fills with music from local and nationally recognized acts such as Laurie Morvan, Ronnie Montrose Band Remembered, and the Styx tribute band Renegade Rocks.
Two friendly dogs, Bailey and Kali, are the first representatives of Amador Cellars that visitors might encounter. The canines often trot alongside guests from the winery's parking lot to the door of its tasting room. There, members of the Long family take over, pouring glasses of wine crafted from small crops of grapes and aged in oak barrels for up to 20 months. Selections range from a 2009 sangiovese that carries hints of chocolate and cherry to a 2010 barbera with notes of plum and coffee. However, the winery is best known for their annual zinfandel yield, which has earned them awards in the Best of the Bay's Zin Challenge.
The Longs also lead groups on tours of their winery, explaining the unique construction of its 2-foot-thick concrete-and-straw walls, built following blueprints from Edgar Allen Poe's “The Cask of Amontillado.” Intentionally rusted rooftops and views of rolling vineyards enhance the quaint Old-World aesthetic of the grounds.