Rod Byers: Future of Sierra Foothills wine scene — wine174 | TheUnion.com

Rod Byers: Future of Sierra Foothills wine scene — wine174

The year 2015 is seeing two significant trends in our local wine world.

Yet, at first glance, they appear to be moving in opposite directions.

The first significant development was when the Sierra Vintners, our local winery association, voted to include wineries from adjacent counties.

Originally founded as the Nevada County Winery Association in 1999, it had morphed through a few name changes, into the Sierra Vintners.

At this time last year, there were 12 Nevada County winery members in the Sierra Vintners.

There were seven other Nevada County Wineries that were not members.

Now, a year later, there are 21 Sierra Vintner members.

New members include six wineries from Placer County, one winery from Yuba County, and two from Nevada County.

Of the almost 50 wineries in the tri-county area, a little less than half are now members of Sierra Vintner.

When it comes to regional recognition within the Sierra Foothills, El Dorado and Amador Counties get most of the attention.

Nevada County continues to struggle.

Sierra Vintners, by enlarging their sphere of influence, is hoping to forge a bigger awareness of the Northern Sierra Foothills, basically the region of the foothills north of the American River.

That leads to the other significant trend.

While Sierra Vintners is succeeding by expanding, the Northern Sierra Foothills region ultimately will become famous by playing "small ball," by developing smaller, viniculture-rich pockets within the larger area.

The most successful Sierra Vintners initiative this year was the introduction of their mini-wine tours.

They recognized that a massive, weekend-long, county-wide, wine trail was too unwieldy.

Instead, they divided their expanded territory into three mini-trails, one in May, in July and in September.

Each included about six wineries.

Look for those again next year.

Wine174 is the newest example of this "small ball" trend.

Three wineries — Montoliva, Katoa Cellars, and Solune, — are all within four miles of each other in the Peardale/Chicago Park area of Highway 174 and together formed wine174.

To kick-start wine174, they are holding an inaugural — and free — wine trail this Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m.

"Chicago Park now has three highly regarded wineries, and approximately 30 acres of mature vineyards, with more on the way. It's time for our official unveiling," said Mark Henry of Montoliva.

Jacques Mercier of Solune agrees.

"To create a destination area, three wineries is a good start," Mercier said.

While Solune opened in 2006 and Montoliva in 2008, it was the opening of Katoa Cellars, located halfway between the two that made the difference.

Wine174 ties into a larger dynamic.

As wineries, they are resurrecting an historic wine region.

Chicago Park has been one of the centers of grape growing in Nevada County since the Gold Rush. The 49ers started it and the wave of Italian and German immigrants at the end of the 19th century fueled it for generations.

The region even survived prohibition. Adolfo Locatelli opened his winery on Orchard Springs Road in 1934.

More than just a wine road, wine174's goal is to bond with agro and other businesses showcasing the beauty and bounty of the Highway 174 corridor.

"With the inclusion of the other related agro-businesses in Chicago Park, perhaps a more apt comparison would be to what Apple Hill was perhaps 20 years ago," said Henry.

He envisions wine174 as a coalition of wineries, eateries, orchards and fruit stands along a picturesque, historic road as a destination draw for people from all over the region.

Beyond the development of a wine road lies the bigger prize of an AVA.

American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs, are federally recognized grape growing zones with special attributes.

Some are very large, like North Coast or Sierra Foothills. Some are tiny, like North Yuba around Oregon House in Yuba County.

Henry explained that the TTB regulating agency looks at whether an area is unique in geography, climate and history or culture.

He recognizes achieving AVA status is an arduous task, but ultimately thinks it doable.

Curiously, the TTB seems to care less, he says, about the amount of grape acreage or number of wineries in the designated area. There was one winery in North Yuba when they became an AVA.

Don't wait for that.

See what wine174 is up to this Saturday.

Each winery will have new wines to release, and a food to pair with the wine.

Montoliva will pair meatballs in marinara sauce with their 2012 Barbera.

Katoa is offering a pork slider and yin-yang tasting of two styles of Chardonnay.

Solune will have Port chocolate cake and releases of three new blends including Cinq Etoiles, Petite Cab, and Pandora #3.

In a very cool outreach, a member of the Nevada County Historical Society will be at each location to chat about "back in the day."

Don't forget Bierwagon's pumpkin patch.

Other winery events in October include Bent Metal and Nevada City Winery, both of whom are having Harvest Parties Oct. 17.

Fall is a great time of year in Nevada County.

Get out there. Go visit a local winery.

Rod Byers, CWE, is a Certified Wine Educator and wine writer as well as a California State Certified Wine Judge. He is the host of the local television show Wine Talk. You can find information about his Sierra College Wine Classes at http://www.pinehillwineworks.com and he can be reached at 530-802-7172.