Gray Pine Vineyard and Winery, where Cab is king |

Gray Pine Vineyard and Winery, where Cab is king

Rod Byers
Special to The Union
The Union photo/John Hart
John R. Hart | The Union

Tasting notes

Gray Pine Vineyard & Winery is a new, tiny winery in Penn Valley specializing in Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux-based varietals. Although I have been following their story for a while, I just recently tasted the wines for the first time.

There are several things making Gray Pine interesting. The first is that it is all estate fruit. It is always fun to have a new winery but one growing their own fruit here in Nevada County is a double bonus. We need more vineyards.

That leads to the other point. Gray Pine is a Cab-based vineyard. All the vineyard buzz lately has been about Italian, Rhone, or Spanish varietals. Nobody is talking about Cabernet. It will be very interesting to see how a winery focusing solely on Cabernet and Bordeaux reds does.

Well, I can tell you, so far so good. They currently have four wines from 2011 available.

The 2011 Red Wine ($12) is a blend of 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 percent Merlot, and 15 percent Cabernet Franc and may well be the best value of any wine made in the county.

It’s full of mocha, spice, and vanillin-oak flavors without being either cooked or jammy.

The 2011 Petit Verdot ($16) is a big, full-bodied mouthful of plums and cherries with noticeable but not overwhelming tannins.

The 2011 Malbec ($19) offers intriguing and complex aromas and flavors of blackberries, plums, green olive, and oak.

The 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon ($16) supplies floral notes of violets, spice, and cherry-vanilla, framed by oak.

Overall, what united the wines was their style: lower in alcohol, balanced but firm acidity, fruit-focused, but without being overripe, jammy or tannic.

Overall, it is a very promising start and I certainly will be watching to see where it goes in the future.

Longtime readers of this column might remember a story concerning Guy Lauterbach, from March 2008, about planting a vineyard. Guy was in the middle of creating his own two-acre vineyard in Penn Valley and gave us a detailed blow-by-blow account of the process.

At the time we talked, he was in that in between phase of having completed all the vineyard work but the vines were not yet producing any grapes. What to do next was the looming question.

Guy is a retired engineer from the computer industry and a self-described lifelong wine aficionado. While living in the Bay Area in the 1990s, he purchased acreage in Penn Valley, ultimately moving here in 2001.

Even back then when he was first looking for property, he had thoughts of a vineyard in mind.

“I didn’t know anything about it, but I knew I wanted to grow some grapes,” he said at the time.

After relocating, building a house, and settling in, by 2006 it was time to think seriously about the vineyard. He joined the Sierra Wine and Grape Growers to meet people who knew more about the process than he did.

One of the most repeated pieces of advice he heard was the need to have a plan for the grapes. Either know in advance, whom you intend to sell them to, or start planning to turn them into wine yourself. Not having anyone in mind, he decided he best learn how to make wine.

He had decided early in the planning phase to base his vineyard on Cabernet Sauvignon. What to plant is never an easy decision, especially if you don’t know where your grapes are going.

“Plant what you like” was most common advice he received. “At least that way you can drink it.”

As a wine drinker, Guy was always partial to Cabernet Sauvignon and was happy to hear it should do reasonably well at his site.

As he delved deeper into it, he learned that Cabernet was often co-planted in the vineyard and blended in the winery with the other Bordeaux-based varietals including Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.

He decided that Cab would dominate his field blend but planted enough of each of the others to offer multiple winemaking options.

That is where the dilemma lay. When his vineyard reached full production, it would produce around 400 cases of wine a year. That is where we last left Guy Lauterbach, wondering exactly what to do with the pending arrival of almost 5,000 bottles of wine — every year.

As it turns out, he has been busy over the last six years. First, to get his feet on the ground, he started making wine as a home winemaker with purchased grapes while he waited for his vineyard to mature.

But he was also watching our local winery scene. There was a dramatic growth spurt of new local wineries occurring around that time.

The number of wineries in the county practically doubled. As he watched others become commercially bonded, he had increasing faith that he too could do it. He decided to go ahead.

First, in order to become bonded you have to have a place to bond so in 2009 he started construction of a winery building. He had already built a wine cave for barrel storage. Now he would have a place to crush, ferment and process his grapes into wine.

He started the bonding process in 2010 but could not get it completed in time for the harvest that year. Because grapes have to be crushed in a bonded facility in order to be able to sell them as wine, 2010 was his last year as a home winemaker but by now, he was using his own grapes.

Creating a winery requires satisfying a gauntlet of local, state and federal demands leaving a significant paperwork trail. It took about six months for Guy to wade through the process that he recalls as “mostly a lot of waiting around.”

Gray Pine Vineyard & Winery was bonded in 2011 with that year’s harvest becoming the first commercial vintage. Finally, in 2014 we get to see the results of all his efforts, as the 2011 vintage is now available for tasting and sale.

“It’s been a learning process every step of the way,” Lauterbach explained. “Selecting the varietals, establishing the vineyard, building the cave and the winery, it’s been wonderful. Now it’s time to take it out to see what the community thinks.”

He’s right. As huge as all those hurdles have been, perhaps the biggest one remains, selling the wines. Carving out shelf space in an overcrowded marketplace is not easy nor is it ever automatic but he has had some initial success.

Currently you can find Gray Pine wines at SPD in Nevada City, BriarPatch Co-op, and Holiday Market in Penn Valley, as well as on the wine lists at Friar Tucks, Trattoria Milano, and The Owl Restaurant.

He does have a small tasting room in the winery but so far, it is only open by appointment. You can reach Gray Pine at 530-432-7045 or online at

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 and he can be reached at 530-273-2856.

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