County wines come into their own |

County wines come into their own

There is a quiet revival fomenting across this land; its full impact may not be felt for another generation, perhaps sooner, but it’s coming nevertheless. Nevada County, you see, is in the process of becoming a winegrowing region to be recognized.

This is a good time to be a fan of Nevada County wines – make that a great time.

As I write this, I am amazed and inspired by how many good wines our county produces. Indian Springs Vineyards, the largest winery, wins awards year after year in some of this country’s most prestigious wine competitions.

But I want to talk about more than Indian Springs Vineyards.

We are in a truly remarkable time and place. As wine historians likely will tell you, it’s unusual that so many good things could come together in one region from out of the past so quickly. There are a total of more than 400 acres in production – 63 percent red and 37 percent white. This last year, the county crushed 678 tons of red and 404 tons of white, and new vineyard planting in the last three years has been between 50 to 100 acres each year.

In more famous wine regions such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone and California, bad things can happen to grapes including rains, hail, phylloxera and diseases such as Pearce’s disease, which is driving the valley growers of California wild because the louse sucks the roots dry and the vine dies.

But as bad as things happen elsewhere, Nevada County is blessed by being above the fog, and resists Pearce’s disease and other calamities of nature with consistent straight years of good weather all year long for an exceptional harvest, which leads to streaks of fortune in the region’s winemaking history.

With the abundance of good weather, the county growers and winemakers are learning how to get the most from the vines. The most vivid examples are growers who are pushing the envelope of viticulture by doing everything they can from spring to fall to ensure their wines are expressions of the grape – an intensely aromatic flavor that is Nevada County’s own.

Site selection is another major reason for success. In the California wine industry’s fledgling years, little thought was put into what grapes went where. Today, older vineyards’ success is largely a result of chance and hard work. We’ve discovered great places to grow grapes: the many-sloped area throughout the county with a few surprisingly fascinating microclimatic valleys that provide the ideal conditions, rather then the norm found elsewhere.

And, oh the winemakers we have!

We’ve been blessed over the past 20 years with a number of outstanding winemakers: Tony Norskhog of the Nevada County Wine Guild; Bob Hilsman, Double Oak Vineyard and Winery; Jed Steele and Greg Graziano, Indian Springs Vineyards and Winery; Joseph Damiano, Smith Vineyards and Winery; Phil Starr, Sierra Starr Vineyard and Winery; Mark Foster, Nevada City Winery; John Chase, Sierra Knolls Vineyard and Winery; and Russ Jones, Truckee River Winery. The talent pool today is deep. A journey along the back roads of the county reveals many tiny producers of grapes.

And, if big, jammy reds are your thing, the county is laden with wineries making “hugh” cabernets, merlots and syrahs.

But we’d be foolish to limit ourselves to the glittering stars of the wineries alone, because the county also has the Sierra Grape Growers Association, a select bunch of wine lovers and growers who take pride in the land and produce grapes of great complexity.

These qualified grape producers provide the grapes for many of the eight existing wineries. But besides making wines for their own families’ use, they sell grapes to home winemakers.

The county is emerging as a well-known wine region and has been able to do in one generation what it took the rest of California and Europe much longer to accomplish, thanks primarily to the decades, sometimes centuries, of work and experimentations by wine producers and grape growers in those regions.

The heart of Nevada County today is agriculture, the land and its people. This is the advantage and selling point for those in the know – in seeking the ultimate goals of the chosen country lifestyle and its camaraderie at the dining table.

So let’s take advantage of our riches and learn about the down-to-earth goodness of the county – and the way to do it is with our wines and its people!

Enjoy the great cabernets, merlots, syrahs and more. Take advantage of the hospitality of the Sierra Grape Growers Association ( and become a member. Support the small grower/producer/winemaker and marvel at what the larger county producers are able to accomplish.

Let’s toast the grape and those who nurture it in Nevada County, from the soil to the glass.

Norman E. Gates is a Lake of the Pines wine connoisseur. He can be reached at

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