Each year at this time Fine Wines of Stockton hosts a bus trip to taste wine. In previous years the trips have always been to the Napa Valley. This year, however they decided to go somewhere different, the Sierra foothills, specifically Calaveras County. In recent years the number of wineries have been increasing and the quality of the wines has been improving. George and Gail had taken an earlier trip to scout out the various wineries and chose three for us to visit. We ended up with eighteen on the bus along with George and Gail. That makes for a nice sized group without overcrowding the wineries.
Since we went to three wineries we will write three separate posts so they all get good coverage and to keep the articles to a manageable size. The first post will be Twisted Oak, then Brice Station and finally Metate Hill. All three wineries have different styles of wines. Twisted Oak does Rhone and Spanish varietals, Brice Station does the Bordeaux varietals and Metate Hill specializes in Spanish varietals. Because of the geographic nature of Calaveras County there are dozens of micro climates which allow all of these varietals to be grown the area with good results.
Our first stop was Twisted Oak Winery, an eclectic place with two entrances. You may go up the gravel road with rubber chickens hanging from the trees or, when in a bus, take the paved and more sane road. Having wines with names like River of Skulls, Ol’ Chumbucket and *%#&@! you can see the sense of humor the winery owner has. There are also pirates hanging from the buildings and a sculpture of a huge Fricken (frog/chicken) at the tasting room entrance.
We were met my Brett Keller, the current winemaker. Brett is a really fun guy and extremely knowledgable. He started us off with their Viognier and then their Rubens Blend (Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne). After he spent some time talking about the winery and the wines they make he took us on a tour of the winery.
The wine making process is mostly gravity fed. The grapes need to be taken up to the hopper but everything else is downhill. This saves them a lot of money because they don’t have buy pumps or the electricity to run them. It is also supposed to be gentler on the juice and oxygenate it less. Also, everything is computerized. Brett will be notified on his phone if the temperature in a tank goes beyond certain limits or the cave temperature or CO2 level, etc., get out of whack. He can control the cave ventilation remotely, too.
Brett showed us the hydraulic punchdown machine they invented. What an energy saver (for people), he let us all try it and it works pretty good.
He also, let us try some wine that had recently been crushed and was still undergoing fermentation. It was a Picpoul Blanc which is a white wine sometimes used in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Still cloudy and with a little effervescence, it tasted like a fizzy fruit drink.
Did I say cave? Yes, they have a cave where the barrels are stored while the wines age. If you take a tour at Twisted Oak, look at the ceiling of the cave and you will see one spot where it is higher than the rest. I’ll leave it to you to ask the tour guide why.
After the tour and a barrel tasting in the cave we went back inside and started on the red wines. The varietals and style are definitely Rhone and the ripeness levels have been held in check. Often in California we have some pretty hot weather and grapes get very ripe. Up in the foothills they are a little cooler and they cool down a lot at night, too.
All of the wines were very nice and there was a long line to purchase wine when we were ready to leave. Twisted Oak also has a tasting room in the town of Murphys if you don’t want to drive the extra distance up the hill.