Sunday, May 02, 2010


The Past Meets the Present

PART ONE of a three-part series:
An Introduction to the
Northern Sierra Foothills Wineries

By John Olney
(All photos by John Olney unless otherwise so stipulated)
Web site:  / E-mail:  
Phone: 707-299-9548

Copyright, all rights reserved by Wine Country Marketing and Promotions,
1370 Trancas St., #409, Napa, CA 94558 Phone: 707-299-9548

April 28, 2010
The day started with dark skies looming over the northern Sierra Foothills along a backroad residential community, named “You Bet.” The area is nestled in the typical rolling hills mix of dirt and gravel roads occasionally connected by short segments of privately paved sections.

This area is located about three miles plus east of historic Grass Valley, California and mile from the famous Empire Gold Mine. It is situated along Highway 174 which connects Colfax and Grass Valley. Colfax is the heart of the first discovery of gold by John Marshall in the stream of the lumber mill of John Sutter and Grass Valley represents the once largest gold producing mine in California. Its second owner was the William Bower Bourn family of San Francisco. William, the Second, brought the mine to its highest production before it was purchased by North Star Gold Mines.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the very beginning.

What brought my attention to this area is an interesting story that started with my decision to attend for the first time my San Leandro High School anniversary event scheduled for September of this year. Signing up for this function gave everybody my e-mail address and sure enough it wasn’t very long before some class members started contacting me. In particular was Nancy (“Nanc”) Boyce. She was my dream girl in my senior year and when we both moved on to College of the Pacific -- now the liberal arts college of the University of the Pacific, Stockton, California. But, a romantic relationship just was not going to happen.

After way more years than either of wish to mention, we re-contacted back in January and agreed to a meeting at which we spent a fabulous four hour lunch in Walunt Creek getting reacquainted. Then in April, Nanc and I decided to get together again. We both enjoy wine and Nanc had experience in the tasting room and private events at Arrowhead Winery of Sonoma while unbeknown to both of us, while I was working in Napa wineries (Mumm, Silverado and Andretti). I wanted to get away from the north Bay Area wine country so I suggested that I come up her way and we go to a couple of the local 15 wineries of the Northern Sierra Wine Country Association (Click here: ). She was fine with my recommendation, so I began looking up each winery on the Internet. I quickly found out that these wineries operated at different hours that I was used to back in the Napa-Sonoma wine counties. I was looking at mostly a Saturday and Sunday tasting room opening schedule and most did not open until noon. As I was interested in also doing an article on the couple of wineries we would visit, I would not be able to complete an interview on their busiest consumer days so I set about to schedule visits by appointment. I e-mailed them all and happily I received many favorable responses. I found myself now going to the northern Sierra Foothills to visit more than just a couple of wineries. Click here to see the participating wineries,and visit their web sites:

The Past - A little historical Commonality Between Napa and Nevada Counties

In looking up the wineries and the major towns which they surround, Grass Valley and Nevada City, I could not avoid reading about the gold rush days which created these towns. This brought to my attention a number of characters who had simultaneous ties to Napa County.

The gold country area was familiar with a very important Mormon gentleman named Sam Brannan. It was Brannan who ran around spreading the word about the discovery of gold at Sutter’s mill but only after he established three mercantile stores between San Francisco and Gold Country from which his inflated product prices made him one of the early wealthiest men in California. Brannan took a consort by the name of Lola Montez who would eventually leave him. She was famous/infamous in Grass valley as well. This was happening during the 1860’s when Brannan was founding the northern most city of Napa County, Calistoga, where his dream of soda springs resort fizzled out..

There were the names of William Bower Bourn, the First and Second, who purchased the Empire Gold Mine and developed it into the largest, deepest and most productive gold mine of California. It was in Grass Valley that William, the 2nd pushed for electrical power for his mines and forced the convergence of smaller power companies into what would become Pacific Gas and Electric (PG and E), founded in Grass Valley. The Langley and Bourn Mine just south of St. Helena, Napa County was rich in iron ore in the 1870’s. Important to Nevada County is the fact that simultaneous with gold mining in Nevada County, the largest mining production of cinnabar from which mercury is produced, was in Napa County.

In the mid 1870’s Bourn, the 2nd, was producing wine just south of St. Helena, in Napa County. Then in the early 1880’s, Bourn also built the great stone winery in north St. Helena across from the Charles Krug winery, known as Greystone," that now houses the Culinary Institute of America with its California Vintners Hall Of Fame. This was the first building in Napa County to have electrical power.

Back to the Present - The Wineries of Nevada County

As of this writing, we have visited nine of the wineries either at downtown tasting rooms and/or the actual winery/vineyard site.  The natural beauty of the foothills cannot be avoided. Everywhere we went and looked there were just beautiful views and settings.

Five wineries on Wednesday the 28th of April and four more on the 29th. I’ve got to tell you, I certainly should have figured out before I started driving to the wineries that I was dealing with country roads. Naively, I measured distance on a map between two points - BIG MISTAKE! All day long, except for the first winery on the days list, I was apologizing profusely for being late. Each winery in sequence totally accepted my being late and told me that they thought it was going to happen when they saw my schedule published to all. I say “my being late” because none of it was the fault of Nanc - it was all my doing. We’d finally arrive, I would apologize like crazy and they would just invite us on in with great big open arms as if we were right on time! Winery after winery we only experienced the most gracious of hosts so willing to share their wine and stories with us.

On Wednesday, Nanc had suggested that she might make some sandwiches for us to eat along the way between winery visits. But no, I had it all planned out and we would catch lunch at a restaurant as we went along our visits - BIG MISTAKE, AGAIN! We were running so late between visits that lunch was skipped. She wouldn’t leave her house on Thursday without bringing along sandwiches she made for us -Smart Girl!

In between the winery visits on Wednesday we were frequently caught in heavy rain downpours and even hail storms. We must of looked like two drown mice! The skies were dark but beautiful.

On the next morning, Thursday, I awoke to a beautiful, but thin layer of snow on the decks of the house, grounds and clinging to tree branches surrounding the home. This day gave us some sunny breaks mixed again with rain and hail then back to sunshine. It did not matter that we were at the very end of April and had anticipated the weather to be blue skies and warm. Over the two day period we got a little bit of it all!

PART TWO of three: 
My next article will be about the wines we tasted, but I want to wait until we have completed our tasting with as many of the wineries who will participate in our little project.  Wednesday, May 5 we visit four more and I hope to talk the last two into joining us this coming week.

Vineyards and Wineries of the Northern Sierra Foothills


* These wineries will be leasing space under the landlord, “Grass Valley Wine Company.”

Lucchesi Vineyards and  Winery - Click here:  

Downtown Tasting Room - open daily from 11:00am-6:00pm Phone: 530.274.2164
Address: 167 Mill St, Grass Valley, CA 95945
Winery/Vineyard - 19698 View Forever Ln, Grass Valley, CA 95945 By Appointment Only

Pictured below is Tasting Room representative, Megan McCreary.

Naggiar Vineyards - Click here:  

Address: 18125 Rosemary Ln., Grass Valley, CA 95949
Winery Tasting Room: Friday- Sunday: 11am to 5pm and Monday - Thursday: By appointment only. Phone: 530.268.9059 E-mail:

Below are pictured owner Mike Naggiar and his niece Alyssa

* Pilot Peak Vineyard and Winery - Click here:
-Located Winery Downtown Grass Valley Tasting Room Coming Soon at 151 Mill Street, Grass Valley
Winery and Vineyard Adress: 12888 Spenceville Rd, Penn Valley, CA 95946 Phone: 530.432.3321 E-mail:  
Winery Tasting Room open Saturday and Sunday noon to 5 pm. Other days by appointment only Complimentary tastings

This is owner/winermaker, Lynn Wilson

Sierra Starr Vineyard - Click here: 
Downtown Tasting Room : Open everyday, 12-5pm. Phone: 530.477.8282 E-mail:
124 W. Main Str., Grass Valley, CA 95945
Winery and Vineyards: By Appointment Only : 11179 Gibson Dr., Grass Valley, CA 95945 Phone: 530.477.8277
Mailing address: 203 Prospect Street, Nevada City, CA 95959

Photo below is Phil Starr (right) and son Jack.

Smith Vineyard - Click here:
Downtown Tasting Room Mill Street- Weekdays: 12-6 pm, Weekends: 12-7 PM Closed Tuesdays
Phone: (530) 272-7032 E-mail: christina@smithvineyard.com142 Mill St., Grass Valley, CA 95945
Winery and Vineyards: By Appointment Only. Call for time and location

One of the family owners, Christina Smith, is shown below


Coufos Cellars - Web site is under construction and they hope to have it up and running within a week
Address: 10065 Rough & Ready Road, Rough and Ready, CA 95975
Winery Open for Tasting: Saturday and; Sunday, 12-5pm only. Or call for appt other days
Phone: 530-274-2923 E-mail:

Owner/grower,  Henry Coufos, starts to pour us tasting samples

* Montoliva Vineyard and Winery - Click here: 
Co-Located Winery Downtown Grass Valley Tasting Room Coming Soon at 151 Mill Street, Grass Valley
Address: 15629 Mount Olive Road, Chicago Park, CA 95712
Open Saturdays and Sundays, 12-4pm. Phone: 530-346-6577 E-mail:

Photo below:  Mark Henry describing winemaking process to Nanc

Sierra Knolls Vineyards and Winery Click here:
Highway 49/Colfax Tasting Room Coming Soon
Address: 19635 Kingswood Ct, Grass Valley, CA 95949 Phone: 530.268.9225 E-mail:
Winery and Vineyard Tasting Room open Saturday & Sunday, 12 -5pm. Weekdays by appointment.

Owners Brenda Taylor and John Chase serving us their wine and guiding us around the grounds.

Szabo Vineyards - Click here:
Address area: Gold Fork Rd., Nevada City
Winery Tastings by appointment only. Phone: (415) 328-5611

Owner, winemaker, and hands on site construction laborer, Alex Szabo , presents his wine to us.


Avanguardia Wines - Click here:
Downtown Tasting Room, Grass Valley
Address: 13028 Jones Bar Road. Nevada City, CA 95959
Open weekends, 12-5pm Free tasting. Or call for appt other days at 530-274-9482.

* Bent Metal Winery - Click here:  
Co-Located Winery Downtown Grass Valley Tasting Room Coming Soon at 151 Mill Street, Grass Valley
Winery and Vineyard Address: 14364 McCourtney Road, Grass Valley, California, 95945
Phone 530-559-9533 E-mail:
Mailing address: PO Box 2508, Grass Valley, CA 95945-2508

Double Oak Vineyards and Winery - Click here
Address: 14510 Blind Shady Rd., Nevada City, CA 95959
Winery Tasting Room: Open Saturdays only  11 to 5, Mid-February through December. Open by appointment all year. Phone: 530.292.3235 E-mail:

* Solune Winegrowers - Click here:
Co-Located Winery Downtown Grass Valley Tasting Room Coming Soon at 151 Mill Street, Grass Valley
Winery and; Vineyard Address:16303 Jewett Lane, Grass Valley, CA 95945
Complimentary tasting at the winery, weekends 12-5 pm or by appointment during the week.
Phone: 530-271-0990 E-mail:



Indian Springs Vineyards - Click here:
Address: 303 Broad Street, Nevada City, CA 95959
Downtown Tasting Room - Open daily 11am to 5pm. Phone: 800.375.9311

Nevada City Winery - Click here:
Address: 321 Spring Street, Nevada City, CA 95959
Downtown Tasting Room: Open daily. Tours Saturdays at 11:30. Phone: 530.265.9463 / 800.203.9463