Avanguardia, Montoliva, Coufos and Matteo’s Public featured in The Chronicle

“Six years ago I moved to Nevada County, a derringer-shaped piece of California (not Nevada!), whose handle runs northeast from Auburn and whose barrel climbs due east to Truckee,” writes freelancer Sarah Miller in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle.

“They do make wine here in this land of redneck hippies and hippie rednecks, but its principal crop is the green of pot rather than the red of wine. Still, I gamely tried local selections: raisiny, dull Cabs and sticky Chardonnays. So I drank good Nevada County coffee and beer, but decided any ‘shop local’ pressure around wine would be ignored.

“But one evening, at Matteo’s Public in downtown Nevada City, I ordered the house red. It was fruity but with a steadying dryness. Imagine my surprise upon discovering — not unlike George Knight discovering gold in these parts in 1850 — that it was the 2011 Sierra Bella from Montoliva Winery in the nearby hamlet of Chicago Park.

“Within days I was at Montoliva, drinking the 2012 Sierra Bella — a blend of Sangiovese, Teroldego, Barbera and Nebbiolo — with winemaker Mark Henry. Bald, with alert eyes, Henry is 55, looks a decade younger, and has a buzzing charm that gives his strong opinions factual appeal.

“’They make great Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays in Napa, so let’s leave them to that and their nice cooling fog,’ he says. ‘But if you’re willing to grow southern European varietals, which actually like this hotter, drier climate, you can make great wine here.’ He grows Sangiovese, Aglianico, Primitivo and Negroamaro, and sources more grapes from around the county.

“I shared Montoliva’s Aglianico with a friend, marveling that this excellent grape flourished in our county’s climate. She, in turn, busted out a bottle of Cristallo, a white from Nevada City’s Avanguardia Wines. It is bracingly dry but honey-scented, classic and surprising, and it merited a visit to the vineyard and its owner and winemaker, Rob Chrisman.

“Chrisman quit his job at engineering firm Bechtel in 1977, but at 70 he still wears the square glasses of an original computer guy. He’s been making wine for over 30 years but started Avanguardia in 2000. The boutique winery produces 23 varietals on 31/2 mountain-lion prowled acres. His passion is unusual varietals — Cristallo’s principal ingredient is the Georgian grape Rkatsiteli — and unorthodox blends.

“I like all Chrisman’s wines. My favorite white is the 2009 Due Fiori, a combination of Semillon and Flora, a UC Davis cross of Semillon and Gewurztraminer, which Chrisman ferments completely dry so it emerges a bit contrary to some tasters’ expectations of these varieties. My favorite red is the 2010 Premiato, a 60-40 split of Barbera and Dolcetto. It’s silky and balanced, something I’d hoard at a party.

“Lest you imagine all Nevada County winemakers as Kansas fans, there are younger participants in its wine evolution. At Coufos Cellars, which has grown Rhine varietals in the town of Rough and Ready since 2004, Henry Coufos and Janet Wheeling have hired winemaker Michael Zollo, 32.

The full article is here.

(Photo: Mark Henry of Montoliva in SierraCulture.com)

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