Meet the Winemakers

QUALITY WINE IS CREATED IN THE VINEYARD by a farmer, crafted by an artist, and chemistry brings it all together. Though foothills’ winemakers come from all walks of life, they share in this experience.

Dozens of winemakers and winery owners are re-settling the foothills wine growing region, whose roots go back to the Gold Rush era. Meet some of them:

Jacques Mercier, Solune
Jacques and his wife, Andrea, own Solune Winegrowers. He is an experienced winemaker and judge at the prestigious Vinalies Internationales wine competition in Paris. “I like the whole cycle of winemaking—from planting the grapes, to making the wine, all the way to pouring a glass for our customers,” says Jacques, who has a Ph.D. and studied chemistry in college.

Rob Chrisman, Avanguardia
Rob and his wife, Marilyn, own Avanguardia Wines. Rob is a top-notch winemaker, focusing on blends and unique varietals. Italian, French, Georgian and Californian grape varieties all are grow in their estate vineyard. We like Rob’s Cristallo white table wine, “dry, crisp, taught and relatively full-bodied.” Rob’s winemaking skills have helped put the region on the map for blended wines.

Mike Naggiar, Naggiar
Mike retired early from Hewlett-Packard after a 32 year career. He and his wife Diane decided to turn their passion for their small Bay Area vineyard into a full-time business.

They planted 60 acres of vineyards in Grass Valley and family members now join them in running the winery. “It all comes down to about six weeks,” says Mike about the grape harvest, and predicts this year will be one of the best in years.

Mark Henry, Montoliva
Mark is the owner, vineyardist and winemaker at Montoliva Winery. His wife, Julienne’s official title is “wine muse.” Mark takes his cue from the wines of Tuscany. He has an effervescent personality and offers an educational tasting experience. “Part of what gravitated me toward Italian varietals is their complexity,” he says.

Jackson Starr, Sierra Starr
Jackson is one of the region’s “new generation” of winemakers, and his passion for the craft is readily apparent. The winery is a family-run operation that also includes his parents, Phil and Anne, and Jackson’s wife Molly. Jackson has been a judge at the California State Fair three times. On the Sierra Vintners Wine Trail, he greets guests at a “blending station” in the wine cave, where he helps them blend their own wine. His “Jack’s Blend” wine is a high-quality red table wine.

Mark Foster, Nevada City Winery
Mark Foster is the winemaker at Nevada City Winery. He joined the winery team in time for the ‘92 crush, qualifying him as a veteran. “Wine is the perfect blend of art and science,” he says. But like most winemakers, Mark enjoys a cold bear (Czechoslavakian pilsner) on a crush day. Mark has a master’s degree in Enology from UC Davis.

Lynn Wilson, Pilot Peak
Lynn is the winemaker at Pilot Peak Winery. Lynn, his wife Jacque and Len and Nancy Stevens are the owners. Complimentary “comparative” wine tasting is offered on its terraces—now year-round. After spending years in high tech, Lynn enjoys the face-to- face contact with customers. Pilot Peak won three Golds (Petite Sirah, Syrah and Tempranillo) in the 2012 San Francisco Chronicle wine competition. The winery opened in 2004.

Scott Brown, Bent Metal
Scott and his wife, Judy, own Bent Metal Winery. Scott began making wine in his late 30s, and Judy jumped in enthusiastically.

Scott has received wine training at UC Davis, and has won numerous wine-making awards. Visit their winery in Grass Valley and Scott will tell you about his winemaking. If the timing is right, he will invite you for some barrel tasting .

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