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Rod Byers: There’s something happening here …

(From left to right) Chris DeSena, Chad Wingo, and brewer Mike Sutherland teamed up about three years ago to create the Grass Valley Brewery. They have 12 beers on tap featuring traditional and classic lagers and ales with a Grass Valley twist.
Photo by Rod Byers

Take a short walk in downtown Grass Valley and it won’t take you long to notice, something is happening. There is a buzz going on around town.

There is always change occurring on Mill Street. Businesses come and go. But the current crop seems younger, hipper, fresher.

More than just different, it feels like change.

If you are hungry or thirsty, Grass Valley will be the place to go. A casual count of businesses offering adult beverages and/or food easily hits 30, with half of those either being new businesses or under new ownership.

Places to wet your whistle

We’re all sad to see the closure of Cousin Jack’s Pasties, a true Grass Valley icon. But hey, roll over Beethoven, there’s a new vegan raw bar in town. Café Tara specializes in both cooked and raw offerings of plant-based foods made from scratch.

At the other end of Mill Street, MeZé will specialize in middle eastern-inspired foods and flavors. Around the corner on Main Street, Local Culture Live Foods will feature locally-sourced fermented foods.

Meanwhile the recent additions of the craft beer hub Thirsty Barrel, Alloro Ristorante, Azora Sushi and Wild Eye Pub add new flavors to the broth.

We’re all anxiously waiting to see what two other historic landmarks, The Holbrooke and Watershed Restaurant (formerly The Owl) are going to do. Mix in existing favorites like Tofanelli’s, Kane’s, Sergio’s, Diego’s, Cirino’s, Kaido’s or Maria’s and you have what can only be described as a restaurant-rich town offering a riot of flavors and choices.

Everyone who reads this column knows about Grass Valley’s wine tasting rooms including Sierra Starr, Lucchesi and Avanguardia. Those of us missing the Smith Winery Tasting Room on Mill Street can rejoice in the opening of Cork 49 at the same location.

Owner Bob Thompson worked at Smith and couldn’t bear to see it close, so he’s keeping it open as a wine bar and bottle shop.

Cork 49 specializes in wines from around the world, offering a combination of wines you may know and others you have never heard of. In addition to wines by the glass, bottle or take-out, Cork 49 offers flights of wine, three two-ounce pours that allow you to experiment.

Thompson is constantly changing the menu so there is always something new to try. Not being a restaurant, Thompson is happy for you to bring in food from any of Grass Valley’s restaurants to enjoy with your wine.

The Pour House, located across from the Holbrooke on Main Street, is opening in October.

Owners Teresa and Ryan Thomas met while working in the hospitality industry and now, after raising a family, have decided to dive back in. A small wine and beer bar seemed perfect. They intend to split their attention equally, with 15 craft beer handles and 15 wines offering selections for everyone. They have a cold kitchen and will serve a variety of house-made small plates and recipes of their own creation.

Any review of Grass Valley would be incomplete without mentioning the newly opened Grass Valley Brewery.

Co-owners Chris DeSena, Tom Rogers, Matt Kinney and Chad Wingo were pals who brewed beer together. It was good beer. After a while they started thinking, should we, or shouldn’t we?

They recognized that sooner or later someone was going to start a brewery in Grass Valley. About three years ago, they started thinking, why not us? And now it is.

They have 12 tap handles offering traditional and classic ales and lagers with a Grass Valley twist. The folks from Jernigan’s in Nevada City, Nathan Key and Sean Cox, will open Roost featuring American Fusion cuisine right inside the brewery.

Local roots

One thing all three places have in common is that they are owned and operated by people who have lived in and around Grass Valley for years. That is different from somebody coming from out of town. Not only do they know and understand Grass Valley, both for what it has to offer and what it needs to offer, they represent Grass Valley’s changing demographics. They are their customers.

All three are capitalizing on the coffeehouse-with-alcohol trend offering open, airy, well-lit spaces where everyone from millennials to boomers can meet for a drink, without having to go to a bar.

When asked if this is too much alcoholic saturation for one small town, they all said no. They are looking forward to networking together, supporting each other and promoting Grass Valley.

Perhaps Teresa Thomas said it best, “We want Grass Valley to become a destination. Not just for great daytime shopping but for an active and interesting night life as well.”

Upcoming event

If you’re looking for a good spot to sample some of these great wines then the Sierra Vintner’s Wine Trail on Sept. 22 may be the place for you.

Enjoy wine, food and music while touring local wineries during the midst of harvest.

Located throughout South Nevada County and North Auburn, participating wineries include Naggiar, Sierra Knolls, Fawnridge, Vina Castellano, Lone Buffalo, Mt. Vernon, Bonitata and Bear River.

Visit sierravintners.com for tickets and information.

Remembering Dennis Ball

We are saddened to report the passing of Dennis Ball, founder of Indian Springs Vineyards in Penn Valley. Ball helped to pioneer the wine industry in Nevada County.

Indian Springs was by far the biggest vineyard in the county as well as our best wine ambassador. Through his grapes Ball introduced Nevada County to wineries throughout the north coast.

As a winery, Ball introduced Nevada County to wine drinkers across the country. He will be long-remembered and deeply missed.

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 reach him at rodbyers@pinehillwineworks.com and he can be reached at 530-802-7172.


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