Rod Byers
Special to The Union

Commentary: Visitors Center helps promote Sierra Foothill wineries

Thinking about going wine tasting for the day? Do you need a Nevada County wine map, directions or a list of which tasting rooms might be open?

The newly refurbished Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce located at 128 E. Main St. in Grass Valley is your one-stop shop to get all the information you need for a day of wine touring in Nevada County.

Keith and Robin Davies are the CEO and executive directors of the Grass Valley Chamber. Keith grew up in Nevada County and returned home two years ago.

It wasn’t long before he and Robin were deeply involved in community affairs. In a very short time, they have transformed the chamber office into a focal point for the arts, theater and wine in Nevada County.

Longtime readers of this column know that promoting wine tourism in Nevada County is a key interest of mine. It’s good for everybody involved. Visitors to wine regions eat in the local restaurants, shop in the stores, sometimes stay overnight and often return with friends, introducing them to the area.

Rural regions all across the country have experienced revitalized economies because of the growth of wine tourism dollars flowing through them.

For many years, I have felt that the Sierra foothills were among California’s significant yet mostly unrecognized wine regions. I recall sales trips to Southern California where the wine shop owners would look at me as if I had said Mars instead of the Sierra foothills.

Slowly the wines of the Sierra foothills are gathering buzz. Increasingly, winemakers from other regions are discovering the quality of the grapes produced here and are sourcing fruit from foothills vineyards. Wine Enthusiast magazine just awarded a Syrah from an El Dorado County winery a score of 97 points and eighth place overall in its annual Top 100 Cellar Selections of wines from around the world. That would have been unheard of just a few years ago.

The Sierra foothills stretch from Yosemite in the south to Yuba County in the north with an ever-growing number of wineries lining the route. I am the first to agree that the entire region deserves more recognition. There are wonderful wines coming out of all areas of the foothills.

When I look at all of the foothills counties and what they have to offer a prospective visitor, no county is better positioned to take advantage of growing wine tourism trends than Nevada County.

Nevada County offers a unique blend of rural charm, small but sophisticated urban life, a rich historical past, a highly developed cultural scene, charming lodging, great restaurants and about 20 wineries to visit. Considering it is only an hour’s drive from a large metropolitan area should put Nevada County at the top of the list for many people looking to visit the “wine country.”

Yet by most every measure, Nevada County is the least discovered of the major wine-producing foothills counties. On the face of it, it makes no sense.

There is no doubt that Shenandoah Valley in Amador County is pastoral with vines rolling over hillsides dotted with wineries producing delicious wines.

However, after a day of wine tasting, there are few restaurants, little lodging and even less to do after dark.

Contrast that with Nevada County, and then answer, as a wine tourist, where would you rather go?

It’s perplexing why it’s proving so challenging to create an identity as a wine tourism destination.

Many of the individual wineries are doing all right, but the region as a whole struggles for visibility.

Everyone was excited a few years ago when an out-of-the-area wine writer visited, only to be disappointed when he wrote more about the wineries’ dogs than the wineries’ wines.

Keith and Robin Davies are hoping to be instrumental in changing that. In their work at the chamber, they struck an early partnership with the local Sierra Vintners, working closely with association President Scott Brown of Bent Metal Winery and Lynn Wilson of Pilot Peak.

The next time you’re in Grass Valley, stop in to see what they’ve created.

They have devoted half of the front section of the building to the Vintners’ Association with an attractive display of oak barrel tops each displaying the name of a winery.

In addition to offering individual as well as association brochures, they have a TV monitor running video clips of the wineries.

In the short time they have been at it, the Davies’ have developed relationships with several important cultural organizations and are looking for mutually beneficial ways for different groups to interact.

For example, they are revitalizing the Grass Valley Art Walk in a collaborative effort between wine tasting rooms, artists and galleries.

They support the downtown tasting rooms because it brings people to Grass Valley, but they also want to promote visitors getting out in the countryside to see the wineries on site.

They are looking into all kinds of plans, including organized Jeep tours and even hot air balloon rides hop-scotching from one winery to another.

Will everything they dream up work? Who knows? But more importantly, they are creating a central point for wine tourism in the county and offer a welcome invitation to anybody with an idea to come in to talk about it.

I think Scott Brown summed it up well when he said, “I’m supportive of anyone who is trying to attempt new ideas that will help promote wine in our region.” Cheers to that!

Rod Byers is a Certified Wine Educator and wine writer as well as a California State Certified Wine Judge. You can find information about this fall’s upcoming Sierra College Kaleidoscope Wine Classes at www.pinehillwineworks.com and he can be reached at 530-913-3703.


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The Union Updated Nov 7, 2013 01:38PM Published Nov 7, 2013 11:41AM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.