Sippin’ in the Sierra: Nevada County Wineries

The winery is deep-rooted in the historic downtown shown on its label. It is Nevada County’s oldest and largest winery and has been buying grapes from local growers to produce its award-winning wines since 1980.

Its structure rests nestled between the same brick buildings and Victorian houses laid down by hopeful miners in the gold rush of 1849.

Besides a storied past, Nevada City Winery has won hundreds of awards for its wines. Its winemaker Mark Foster has been at the winery for nearly 30 years, and he’s a pioneering winemaker in the region.

The winery offers about 25 different wines, including red, white, rosé and dessert wines. It has won recent awards for its caber- net franc, syrah, zinfandel, pinot noir, merlot, chardonnay, and grenache, among others.

Nevada City is part of the state-designated Cultural District, and the winery has helped the town achieve that honor. It has its own art gallery that hosts and promotes a different local artist each month. An opening art reception is held from 5-7 p.m. on the first Friday of every month.

In May, the winery’s artist is oil painter Jill Mahanna. In June, it is landscape painter Heather deViveiros.

The winery’s tasting room offers $1 off glasses of wines between 3-5 p.m. daily.

Pilot Peak Winery in Penn Valley, with sweeping views from its terraced gardens, is one of the most pleasant settings in the foothills for wine, food and music. On May 25, June 29, July 27, August 31, and September 28, the winery offers an evening of entertainment at its monthly Sunset at the Peak.

Bring your friends and your family to share in a bottle of wine, local music and dancing. Wine is available for purchase, along with tasty food truck options.

On June 8, July 13, August 10 and Sept. 14, from noon to 4 p.m., Pilot Peak offers its wines paired with lobster rolls, lobster or shrimp tacos, New England clam chowder and other dishes from Cousins Maine Lobster, Drewski’s food truck, and music. In May, Pilot Peak also is releasing its first cabernet sauvignon. We are eager to taste it.

The Starr family has been producing award-winning wines in the foothills since 1996. Spring and summer are the time for visiting the Starr’s state-of-the-art winery and estate vineyard in Grass Valley.

On June 8, Sierra Starr hosts an open house and wine club release at its winery. Wine connoisseurs can enjoy the family’s estate vineyard and underground, “gravity flow” winery (a gentler approach to winemaking). They also can sample Sierra Starr’s wines paired with a few bites.

Vertical tasting of select wines will be available, along with new releases, such as a sangiovese rosé.

Sierra Starr’s 2018 fumé blanc received 92 points and its 2018 Solstice sauvignon blanc earned 91 points from Wine Enthusiast. Sierra Starr also has a tasting room in downtown Grass Valley.

The winery’s owner and winemaker Mark Henry’s first love in wine was sangiovese. “This grape was my impetus for trading in my beer hat for the traditional farmer’s cappello,” he reminded us in his recent newsletter.

In 1999, however, he met Ben Zeitman of Amador Foothill Winery, who introduced him to aglianico, Southern Italy’s most prestigious grape. (It shares a lot in common with barolo— rustic, full-bodied, ages well — but it more reasonable). “I was sold,” Mark said, and he planted aglianico alongside his sangiovese.

The grape is well suited to the foothills, and Montoliva’s aglianico is superb. (We like to pair it with a Tuscan-style grilled steak cooked to medium-rare and served with rosemary roasted potatoes). In May, Mark released his 2015 Aglianico. His 2014 version won “Best of Class” in the 2018 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Buon Appetito!

Alex Szabo founded his winery in 2003, planting 20 acres of wine grapes in the foothills about 10 miles west of Nevada City.

Szabo has won local honors as a “Conservationist of the Year” for his sustainable viticulture practices. (His winery is built into the hillside, making it naturally cool.)

Alex apprenticed with several wineries, and his family owned vineyards and a winery in Hungary, giving him an appreciation for European winemaking. We enjoy visiting Alex when he’s “holding court” in Szabo’s handsome tasting room in downtown Nevada City.

Szabo’s wines include Rhône varietals, petite syrah, syrah, primitivo, grenache, zinfandel, sauvignon blanc and two blends. “I am perhaps known more for what was once called Voila and is now called V exponential sz,” he explains.

The Rhône-style wine is a blend of grenache, syrah, petite syrah and zinfandel. “This is my nod to a Châteauneuf-du-Pape,” he said. The other blend is called Vizir, a full-bodied blend of syrah and petite syrah.

“We do not use the more common varietals much, such as cabernet, zinfandel or chardon- nay,” according to the foothills’ winemaker. “Our flagship white wine, Cristallo, features a grape from the former Soviet Republic of Georgia in Eastern Europe. Our newest blend, “Tre T,” after the three international varieties used (teroldego, tempranillo, and tannat) is a wine of deep color and great substance.”

Robert Christman is an imaginative and experienced winemaker. When we visit, he is excited to show us something new.

The winery’s tasting room in the heart of downtown Grass Valley — in a renovated Gold Rush-era building — is ideal for an afternoon or pre-dinner outing. It also is a lively gathering place during the town’s Thursday Night Market this spring and summer.

Lucchesi’s 20 acres of grapes— named the “view forever vineyard” on View Forever Lane—is a must-see when it is open, such as for the Sierra Vintners fall wine trail on October 12-13. Visiting the winery on a gorgeous summer afternoon is one of our first and most vivid memories of our introduction to the Sierra Vintners more than a decade ago.

Lucchesi owners Mario and Linda Clough are welcoming hosts. Their first vines were planted in 1999. Lucchesi wines have been consistent winners, in competitions such as the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. We enjoy the cabernet franc, made from estate-grown grapes and a signature Sierra Vintners wine.

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