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For the Love of the Vine

Kristofer B. WakefieldWine and Noses
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

There is a new wine adventure just waiting for you up in the foothills of Nevada County. It is amazing how much there is to explore and appreciate about the glorious grape and Nevada County is a great place to either start or reinvigorate your interest.

Unlike those other predictable areas, your experience here can take on many varied forms, all with a personal touch. Nevada County is the antithesis of the Big Commercial Wine Scene. Its smaller scale favors a more intimate, genuine and personal attitude. You get a sense that you are sharing your wine curiosity with people who are more interested in growing, drinking and learning about wine than seeing how many T-shirts they can sell. A casual, relaxed atmosphere prevails – one that often allows you to talk directly with owners and wine makers on a one-to-one basis. This creates a wine experience free of the inhibitions associated with the pretentious “wine mystique.”

The Sierra Foothills are bursting with attention from the wine industry and fast becoming a recognized producer of great wines. Nevada County is an exciting part of this phenomona, as well as a terrific place to enjoy tasting wines from near and far. The particular characteristic of wines produced here is a result of the special soils and micro climates that prevail in the foothills. Wine grapes have been grown and wine made here since the 1850s. More than nine varieties of red grapes and five white varietals flourish here. Many of the resulting varietals have gone on to gain national and international honors and Gold Medal awards.



A quick and simple wine adventure can be experienced by just walking the three main streets of the charming Victorian Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Sprinkled among the many shops, restaurants, galleries and museums are three fantastic tasting rooms. Each has its own unique and friendly style.

A good starting point is the Indian Springs Vineyards Tasting Room on Broad Street in the center of town. On weekends you will probably be hosted by Neil Vreeland, a fixture of the local wine business for years. Neil has an awe-inspiring knowledge of wine and probably has one of the best wine tasting palates in the county. Yet with all his knowledge there is no hint of pretentiousness. He truly feels wine tasting is a personal experience. We would suggest trying the Chardonnay and the Sangovese, as well as the Syrah Port. It is the only Port wine being produced in Nevada County.




While you are sipping you can enjoy the charming, well-appointed tasting room that is full of art work by many local artists. In addition to its local wines, Nevada City is known as an artist’s colony, just as it was during the Gold Rush.

Just one street west of Broad is Spring Street, where the Nevada City Winery is located. It is second only to Indian Springs as the largest wine producer in the county. The winery and tasting room are unique in that it is a working winery right in the heart of town. You could be there on a day when they are delivering grapes or you may watch from the sunny balcony overlooking the historic Miners Foundry as grapes are being crushed.

The recently remodeled tasting room is an expansive, airy and welcoming space with a sitting room, deck and a wine library all for your relaxing enjoyment. The evervescent host, Jo Names, will take good care of you or you may be surprised by speaking to Marketing Director Rod Byers or the winemaker himself, Mark Foster – they all come through the tasting room at times. All three have a wealth of knowledge to share with the curious. Be sure to sample their trademark wine, Cabernet Franc, as well as their Petite Syrah. They have some excellent value-priced wines that are good “everyday wines.” Both wines are blends, so check out the Victorian White and the Rough and Ready Red.

Both tasting rooms have brochures and information on the eight Nevada County commercial wineries. You will find the wine tasting list is quite extensive at both Indian Springs and Nevada City wineries and neither charges for tasting. This is a refreshing change from Napa Valley!

After kicking back on the deck of the Nevada City Winery, you might want to poke around some of the trendy shops or have a bite to eat before heading over to your last stop – Carrington’s Fine Wines tasting room and wine shop on quaint Commercial Street. It is owned by long time local wine aficionado Cal Carrington. As an independent purveyor of wines, Cal’s tasting room is full of wines from all over the world. Cal is very knowledgeable and a great resource if you’re looking for a “special occasion” wine or something perfect to pair with a special meal. His tasting board changes weekly with a new varietal to sample each week. Carrington’s is a good source for some imported value wines and a great place to hang out and chat. Bring a few friends and make an event out of it!

If you want to pair wine and food, there are a couple restaurants in Nevada City with extensive wine lists that have garnered the Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence: Friar Tuck’s and Citronee Bistro and Wine Bar. Also nearby is Kirby’s Creekside restaurant, which also offers an excellent wine list. More importantly, however, the first and third Thursday evenings of each month, Kirby’s has wine tasting with appetizers paired to the wines. There is a different wine broker each time with a variety of wines to sample. It makes for a fun evening frequented by the locals.

A good example of a local Nevada County working winery is the Sierra Star Winery in Grass Valley. It is open on weekends, but call for directions because finding the place is an adventure on its own.

This quaint family-run vineyard is hand nurtured by Phil and Anne Starr and is the epitome of the small foothill winery style, where quality is more important than quantity and creativity more important than formula consistency. Typical of this area, you will be hosted by the owners themselves and you are welcome to walk the vineyard, experience their wine cave and ask questions. We recommend their Old Clone Zinfandel and the Wider Ranch Chardonnay.

If you venture up to the foothills of Nevada County you may push your wine curiosity and taste buds to new heights. Happy tasting!


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