Sierra Knolls Vineyard, Winery and Bear River Tasting Room is what co-owner John Chase calls “a hobby that’s grown out of control.”
“Personally, I’ll never retire,” Chase said. “I love the vineyard. Wine is a lifestyle.”
It’s clear that Chase, who spent 40 years working as a computer engineer, shares his passion for wine with three other co-owners: his wife, Linda, and Brenda and Steve Taylor, all of whom were high school friends in Ventura, Calif. The two couples have been friends for more than four decades.
When the Chases moved to the area in 1983, the Taylors often visited to camp, ski and taste wine with their old friends. When they stumbled upon 45 acres of beautiful land for sale, the foursome decided to buy it together.
“We thought we’d split the lot and build houses,” said Chase. “But we eventually decided it was too far away off the grid.”
In 1997, local friend Phil Starr — owner of Sierra Starr Vineyard & Winery — encouraged the Taylors and Chases to plant a vineyard on their 45 acres, and they’ve never looked back.
Their first home wine, a 1998 zinfandel, was a hit — friends who sampled it wanted to buy it.
That encouraged the owners to become licensed and bonded. In 2000, the solely solar-powered Sierra Knolls Vineyard & Winery became the eighth Nevada County winery.
“We began selling so much wine we were under the gun to produce,” said John Chase. “This year we’ve sold about 1,600 cases. Next year we hope for 2,000. I’d say 3,000 is about our maximum to run through our facility. We don’t sell our wine in stores. It’s all through the tasting room and wine club.”
In June of 2011, Sierra Knolls opened the more centrally located Bear River Wine Tasting on Highway 49 at Linnet Lane just north of the Bear River in south county. The converted 1,200-square-foot craftsman-style tasting room on six acres boasts a 30-foot bar and cozy cafe tables. Outside are a koi pond, stream, gazebo, picnic grounds and wrap-around porch. The recent addition of an outdoor oak-fired pizza oven has made the tasting room a dinner stop as well.
Winemaker Chase and assistant winemaker Scott Taylor create their wines from estate-grown merlot and zinfandel, as well as chardonnay, pinot gris, sauvignon blanc, sangiovese, barbera, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc from local vintners. The wines are aged in French and American oak barrels in their 50-foot barrel cave.
“It’s been wonderful to watch the business grow,” said Bob Krogman, who is the marketing and sales director. “About eight to 10 people a day are first-timers. Most leave with at least one bottle of wine. Our wine club has tripled since we opened.”
Chase says his vision for the tasting room property, which now includes a gift shop, is slowly becoming a reality. He’s hoping to expand the gourmet food section, host outdoor barbecue events, plant an on-site vineyard, develop the pond up the hill for picnickers and expand the seasonal farmers market, which already sets up stands on weekends.
“The southern part of the county has been neglected,” said Chase. “In our county, I believe tourism is the key to our balanced budget. When I plant those vineyards out in front of the tasting room, I want people entering the county to say, ‘Wow, this is wine country.’”
To contact staff writer Cory Fisher email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4203.
“In our county, I believe tourism is the key to our balanced budget. ... I want people entering the county to say, ‘Wow — this is wine country.’”
— John Chase