Sunday, June 05, 2011

Future Growth of Nevada County Wine Industry

By John M. Olney
Phone: 707-299-9548 Web: Email:

(You can click on the pictures to enlarge them.)

In the past year the wineries associated to the two towns of Grass Valley and Nevada City have undergone a phenomenal change and all for the better. The highlights of what I have witnessed are cited below.

Nevada City has gained two tasting rooms that are an extension of the tasting room they each have at their vineyard and winery site. This means that Nevada City now represents four (4) of the 15 wineries in close proximity to each other. They are Nevada City, Indian Springs, Clavey and Szabo. The latter two wineries opened their new tasting rooms in the second half of 2010.

Then there has been the addition of a very interesting new concept in wine retailing. It is called “B.Y.O.B Wine Seller” and is located in Nevada City. Here, you buy a BYOB bottle of wine and the concept is to reuse, not recycle, the bottle by returning to the shop and refilling the bottle at a discounted price.

Grass Valley has also made great gains in looking like a wine industry. Avangardia, Lucchesi, Smith and Sierra Starr continue their individual tasting room presence in the cities where they are now joined by two “collective” like tasting rooms. The Grass Valley Wine Company represents three wineries (Bent Medal, Pilot Peak and Solune). 151 Union Square, a retail wine licensed tasting room and events center offers four more of the outskirt wineries: Coufos, Double Oak, Montoliva, and Naggiar. Both of the latter collective-like tasting rooms opened during the second half of 2010.

Between the two cities of Grass Valley and Nevada City 15 of the 17 Nevada County wineries are represented in the downtown shopping and socializing areas.

The remaining two wineries are located a good distance from these two towns. In the far eastern corner of the county is the Truckee River winery which is just outside of downtown Truckee. Located along Hwy 49 near Lake of the Pines, the southern most populated community of the county, is the new second tasting room of Sierra Knolls winery which just opened in May 2011.The latter is named "Bear River Wine Tasting."

On Saturday and Sunday (May 28-29), of Memorial Day weekend the Sierra Vintners ( association (formerly known as Northern Sierra Wine Country) consisting of 15 of the 17 Nevada County wineries, conducted their annual Wine Trail event. Last year I attended this event on just Sunday but this year I went both days .Attendance this year was noticeably down from that I witnessed last year and it maybe that the cold and rainy weather both days this year kept many away from attending. It rained on and off both days and was cold ranging between the upper 30’s and low to mid 40’s.

Solune Winegrowers
On Saturday, I had my good friend Nanc Boyce with me who lives locally in the community of “You Bet,” located along Hwy 174 between Colfax and Grass Valley. The first winery we visited was Solune Winegrowers ( ), also located along Hwy 174. We tasted mostly reds but we were not long at this winery because we wanted to get to the next where we would be able to listen to live Blue Grass music.

Montoliva Vineyard and Winery
Our next stop was Montoliva Vineyard and Winery ( located in the old Italian farming community of Chicago Park. The one acre vineyard is shown to the left with livestock of the neighbor in the background. It is still a rather pleasant farming community atmosphere.

(You can click on the pictures to enlarge them.)

The owner/winemaker Mark Henry- shown to right explaining Italian varietals to attendees - has a beautiful black cat that absolutely demands that all visitors pay attention to it. After awhile the cat decided to survey the attendees from a height about eye level to them.

Notice the Owl (statue) to the right looking at the cat with a question as to why the cat is perched up there on the vine post!

Naggiar Vineyards
The next winery we visited was Naggiar Vineyards ( ) who is the largest grower among the 17 wineries with 60 acres of vineyards of which he sells 70%
of his crop to other wineries both in and outside of Nevada County, including both Napa and Sonoma Counties. The remaining 30% of crop is used for their own labels for the 4,000 cases they produce annually. The relatively new tasting room and event center is shown here.

(You can click on the pictures to enlarge them.)

Szabo Vineyards
The final winery we visited was Szabo Vineyards ( ) which is located northwest of Nevada City. Pictured to the left is the tree that Alex Szabo, owner/winemaker retained in the middle of the vineyard when he excavated the land and planted the vines. He loved the tree and just could not bring it down. His eye saw that it would make a great background for his labels.

Alex is also the President of the 15 member Sierra Vintners Association.

His winery and grounds have earned him a number of awards and honors for being environmentally friendly and energy efficient.

Overall, the attendance appeared to be quite a bit down from that I saw the year before. This winery had the most visitors at it of the four we visited on Saturday. It was cold all afternoon, hovering in the low 40’s and the rain really came down about 3:00 pm until 4 pm.

Kane’s Restaurant
Nanc and I then went out to dinner at both our favorite restaurant in downtown Grass Valley, “Kane’s “ ( ) where we shared a delicious steak dinner.

It was the same night as the Nevada High School Senior Ball so we got quite a fashion show as all the young ladies escorted by their gentleman wore their stunning evening gowns

(You can click on the pictures to enlarge them.)

Lucchesi Vineyards and Winery
The next day, Sunday, I visited wineries by myself as Nanc had other obligations she had to pack for and make arrangements to travel. My first stop was Lucchesi Vineyards and Winery ( ) which located on a very narrow backwoods dirt and gravel road that ends at the winery on a street appropriately named “ View Forever Lane,” Grass Valley . As you can see from these scenic pictures, the name is very accurate!

Owners, Mario and Linda Clough, created a great attraction at their event. As you might notice there are three boxes to the right of them filled with wine bottles. Each attendee had the opportunity to throw three wicker rings at these boxes. The closest box was marked 30% discount, the middle 40% and the furthest away 50%, I was lucky enough to ring a bottle worth a 40 % discount on any and everything I bought that day at the winery. I liked their Sauvignon Blanc very much so I bought a couple of bottles using my 40% discount to give me a great price on the wine.

They had an interesting presentation where they had Tahoe artist Red Regan, pictured here with his wife Julie, conducting real time art painting for all attendees to watch and enjoy.

Smith Vineyard
Next on my schedule is Smith Vineyard ( ) pictured to the left behind 2nd generation owners Gary and Chris Smith. The winery tasting area is show to the right. I also stopped by their downtown second tasting room which I will discuss later.

(You can click on the pictures to enlarge them.)

Sierra Starr Vineyard

The third winery I would visit is Sierra Starr Vineyard. ( Last year this was the busiest winery I visited (pictured to the left). But this year, there was less attendance (pictured to the right). The Starr’s have been undergoing expansion with planting new vineyards and constructing a new winery and barrel storage building.

Shown to the right is what the winery barrel cave looked like at last years’ Wine Trail. To the left is the new construction under-way at this time which is right on top of the old cave area.

Downtown Grass Valley
After this winery, I went into downtown Grass Valley and found that there was a street closure art display event along central Mill Street which is perpendicular to Main street. It ran on the same blocks where four of the downtown tasting rooms are located.

To the right is the traffic at the Grass Valley Wine Company
( collective like tasting room feature the three wineries of Bent Medal, Pilot Peak and Solune. To the left is the traffic at the Smith Vineyards ( ) tasting room.

(You can click on the pictures to enlarge them.)

Sierra Knolls Vineyard and Winery
The fourth winery I visited on Sunday was the new Sierra Knolls “Bear River Wine Tasting”( building that just opened in mid May 2011, It is located about a mile south of the Wolf/Combie road intersection at the entry to the southern most populated community, Lake of the Pines.

This site had the most people both in the tasting room and outside on the grounds. They were serving both drop-in traffic from people stopping as they drove by and saw the winery as well as serving those who bought the ticket to the Wine Trail event.

A Suggestion
On May 7 , 2011, I published my predictions ( ) about the near term future of the 17 Nevada County wineries. I mainly focused on the new tasting room constructed by Sierra Knolls Vineyard & Winery along Hwy 49 located only about a mile plus south of the Nevada County community of Lake of the Pines. I believe that this location, because its easily visible along a major highway route into Grass Valley and Nevada City, while cause the passing traffic to think much about wine and Nevada County.

I believe that this tasting room will become the wine country gateway site for all the wine outlets in the county because it will significantly raise the awareness of the public that Nevada County has wineries. This will be particularly true should the owners continue to think and then implement planting of a vineyard on the land surrounding the tasiting room property. These predictions were based on my observations over the past one year plus that I have been visiting, tasting the wines, talking to the winery owners and winemakers and attending events where I could roughly estimate attendance.

Coupling this new Hwy 49 roadside wine tasting room with the fact that the two downtowns of Grass Valley (11 wineries) and Nevada City (4 wineries) now have the wines of 15 of the county’s 17 wineries readily available to the wine consumer who does not need to travel 20-40 minutes along winding and narrow two lane backroads between wineries to taste the wines of Nevada County.

Now add the fact that travelers who come to these downtown cities for lodging, dining and shopping will suddenly discover themselves running into six (6) storefronts in Grass Valley serving the wines of 11 wineries while four (4) storefronts in Nevada City represent four more wineries of the county. Many of these visitors would not have even realized that Nevada County had this many wineries if it were not for the Hwy 49 location and the downtown tasting room locations.

I am aware that the Sierra Vintners have contracted a consultant to assist them in their branding marketing plan but I would still like to make a suggestion based on my operations analysis background. If the marketing firm has not already developed a plan for statistical analysis, I want to suggest that it try to convince the 17 wineries, Sierra Vintners, GVWC, 151 Union Square and BYOB Wine Sellars to participate is a questionnaire survey designed to assess where these entities are deriving their tasting room clientele. To encourage the consumer to complete the survey, the wineries might consider waiving the tasting fee for those who participate. The questionnaire needs to be simple so it does not scare off the participant but thorough enough to provide an accurate measure of the way consumers discover Wine Country Nevada County. The survey needs to be sure that it covers the many ways the consumer could have learned about the wineries of Nevada County.

I believe that the Nevada County Wine Industry is going to experience a rapid growth in interest and retail sales during the next two-three years that none of the 17 wineries would have thought might occur just a couple years ago.

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