When enrolling in U.C. Davis's renowned Winemaker's Certificate Program in 2004, Karyl Wilhelm only knew how to drink wine, not make it. But her experience as a biomedical engineer helped her with the chemistry required to complete the program, and soon enough, she received her certificate and opened her very own vineyard. Spread out on 20 acres of fertile land—with traits comparable to Rioja in Spain, France's Rhone region, and Saturn's seventh ring—Wilhelm Family Vineyards yields an assortment of grapes that produce wines such as the tempranillo-based Kevin's Choice, an award-winning blend named after Karyl's pilot husband. Each bottle of wine is vegan-friendly and leaves the grounds with a stamp of approval in the form of Karyl's signature, which is written directly on the bottle in eye-catching metallic ink. She also employes eco-friendly practices, most notably running the winery's water on its own septic system. This allows the H20 to be recycled for watering the vines.
Guests who enter the tasting room enjoy a warm welcome from a 95-pound weimaraner named Chancellor, who muses over the earthy notes of his rawhide bone while patrons sample the winery's selection of red, white, semisweet, dessert, and seasonal wines. As veterans of the first Gulf War, Karyl and Kevin celebrate each Veterans Day by hosting a Patriot Salute Festival, whose proceeds go to support the Wounded Warrior Project. They further contribute to the community by manning their own bike and triathlon team, the Wilhelm Winers, which races to benefit a wide range of causes, from autism to breast cancer.