Visit Sierra Vintners: Taste among the barrels

SIERRA VINTNERS IS A CLUSTER of wineries in scenic Nevada County.

They are nestled in the foothills around historic Nevada City and Grass Valley, just north of I-80, between Reno and Sacramento. It’s a personal, unhurried wine tasting experience along “roads less traveled.”

Nevada County is a rising star in Northern California wine country. The county offers more activities, hotels, B&Bs and restaurants than some of the better known wine regions in the Gold Country, a big draw to summer visitors.

Sierra Vintners are winning more statewide accolades for their wines too. Napa and Sonoma wineries regularly buy their grapes.

Wine grapes were first planted here during the Gold Rush, thanks to an influx of Italians. The modern era was born in 1980 when Nevada City Winery opened.

Sierra Vintners features 15 wineries and up to 20 tasting rooms, offering a diverse wine experience, ranging from rural vineyards to downtown tasting rooms in historic Grass Valley and Nevada City.

The region has more than 60 miles of terrain between vineyards, and the grapes display a variety of styles. More than 45 varietals are planted, ranging from Chardonnay, Merlot, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon to Cabernet Franc, Barbera, Sangiovese and Tempranillo.

The wine tasting experiences are diverse too. Some examples:

Naggiar Vineyards’ Mediterranean-style wine tasting room is set amid 60 acres of family-owned vineyards.

It is a pleasant ride along a bucolic road, studded with oak trees on rolling hillsides. Coveys of quail are visible and there’s an eccentric touch—a herd of buffalo as you approach the winery.

In Penn Valley, Pilot Peak’s flowering terraces offer commanding views of the surrounding hillsides. Bent Metal Winery has sweeping views of the Sierra.

Avanguardia’s flagship white wine, Cristallo, features a grape from Georgia in Eastern Europe. It is dry, crisp and relatively full bodied — ideal for summer.

Montoliva’s Sierra Bellais a Tuscan blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Teroldego and Barbera, and it won “best of class” in the 2012 San Francisco Chronicle wine competition. Naggiar’s Le Grand Pere, a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre, has won gold medals.

Smith Vineyard produces a delightful Estate Chardonnay. Wine Club members can watch the crush in fall at the winery’s big-red barn and taste the wine the next year at Smith’s downtown tasting room—an exceptional, “full circle” experience.

Solune winemaker Jacques Mercier judges international wine competitions in France and makes award-winning wines, such as Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Malbec.

The wineries’ tasting rooms are located in gold-rush era buildings in downtown Grass Valley and Nevada City. There’s local art, live music and appetizers to enjoy too. (Smith now offers artisan antipasto platters from the Back Porch Market).

The Grass Valley tasting rooms include Avanguardia, Lucchesi, Sierra Starr, Smith and the Grass Valley Wine Co. (Bent Metal, Pilot Peak and Solune in a tasting-room co-op). The Nevada City tasting rooms are Indian Springs, Nevada City Winery, Szabo Vineyards and Clavey Wines. For more information and directions, visit

The California State Fair has released the winners of its winery competition, and several Sierra Vintners wineries won “gold”: Nevada City Winery, Double Gold for ‘09 Zinfandel; Pilot Peak Winery, Gold for ‘09 Syrah; Sierra Starr Winery, Gold for ‘09 Zinfandel.

Avanguardia, Bent Metal, Coufos Cellars, Double Oak Vineyards, Lucchesi Vineyards, Solune Winegrowers, Sierra Knolls Winery, Smith Vineyard, Szabo Vineyards also were among the “silver” or “bronze” medal winners.

Where To Stay
The Broad Street Inn
517 W. Broad St.
Nevada City

Grass Valley Courtyard Suites
210 N. Auburn St.
Grass Valley

Gold Miners Inn Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites
121 Bank St.
Grass Valley

(photo credit: Kial James and Dan Senkbeil)

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