The sign on the Leoni Farms tasting room said closed, but I decided to call anyway. I had stayed in Sutter Creek overnight after some winery appointments. Having 24 hours off before getting back to family life was a huge treat. I hadn't been to Sutter Creek or the Gold County foothills since I was a child. Those memories were filled with my parents driving from one vintage-antique store to the next. It was hot and I was bored. I didn't get it.
This visit was a chance to see the area through my adult eyes. Now I get why my folks liked driving
around the winding, sloping roads. It's beautiful. Their interest in vintage-antique shops now makes
sense to me. But today, it was raining. More like pouring. Temperatures were in the 40s, not the high 90s, but it was glorious. Sometimes I need to get out of the Bay Area to be reminded it's a big world out there. And being in this small, quaint town was a good reminder of that.
Back to the call.
Leoni Farms owner and winemaker, Jon Campbell, answered his phone--on his day off--and offered to come down and open the tasting room. But Jon's done this for others. He said once he ran into a local resident at the post office who wanted to pick up their club wines and Jon opened up the tasting room for him. He also opens up the tasting room on Wednesday afternoons for a group of gals who come in for their weekly book club meeting, drink Leoni wine, and to stock up on their weekly case of wine.
Really, if you want to taste Leoni Farms wines, you have a good shot at it!
Jon is 5th generation local, and his wife's family is 6th generation. Located on Main Street, the tasting room is housed in a building that's been continuously owned by one family since 1858. Inside, you'll notice the high ceilings, the long, narrow room, the low lighting and historic feel to the space.
His winemaking philosophy...Don't over-barrel. Let the fruit and wine be. Don't over-handle. He echos the sentiments of many winemakers I meet. Go for lower alcohol, less oak, and more acid in the wines. His wines are definitely more acidic. Maybe more acid than I go for. But I can respect his goal, and found wines to my liking.
He shared that over-alcoholed wines can't hold well or age, and are too heavy to serve with food: giving the example of how Port is served for dessert, and not with a meal. His sentiment is wine is something to enjoy together with others, and with food.
More about Leoni Farms wines:
For the tastings...
Jon takes a lot of pride in his wines, particularly his blends. He can do whatever he wants with them!
And he's decided to make foothill wines focusing on Italian varietals,
as well as budget friendly every-day wines.
The red blend was sold out so I didn't get a chance to try it.
I think his white blend is one of the best I've had, especially in that price range.
In fact his blends are so popular, many of the locals come in and buy a case of wine each week.
In the Bay Area, we can eat almost any kind of cuisine there is.
But trying new wines also stretches the palate and can remind us it's a big would out there.
Even in a small town like Sutter Creek.
Here's to your tastings,
For a look at a small but excellent winery, check out my visit to Rexford Winery, Santa Cruz.
The 1850 line of wines is a convergence of historical California and a new outlook on wine. The yellow old-town building is representative of the area's historic past. The 1850 label is iconic Californian and hip at the same time.
1850 Wines is one of the diverse brands under the Goldline Brand of wines. Mark Wooldridge, Chief Operations Officer talked with me about Goldline. He said they “like to over deliver in the bottle.” CEO Paul Haley has a background in international food and wine distribution, international operations, consulting in agriculture and beyond. The group commissioned someone in the industry to research all of the California AVA's to see which area can produce world class wines.
After initiating a research project that took into consideration many factors such as soil, fallow land vs. land currently producing grapes, production sites, land values, ease of access and transportation, which varietals grow best and where, and even cost of bottles and materials... well, the conclusion on all quality parameters was the El Dorado County region!
The soils, climate, and terrain are conducive to Rhone and Bordeaux varietals. Amador and El Dorado County get plenty of daytime heat. The evenings cool off enough to keep the grapes from over ripening, as compared to the Sonora area which tends to stay warmer and produces wines that may be sweeter, heavier, and higher in alcohol. Which wines you gravitate towards, all depends on your style preference.
Mark said, “You can grow great fruit up here if you really pay attention. And with a great winemaker, you can make terrific wines.” With that vision, Goldline hired Mica Raas from Santa Cruz as VP of Production and Winemaking. They moved him up to the region two years ago after extending to him an offer many winemakers dream of...You make the wine and we, Goldline, will oversee the distribution, marketing, the tasting rooms and guests services.
Now Mica makes all the wines for Goldline. He oversees the vineyard development and the quality of grapes. The new 16,000' winemaking facility and lab in Diamond Springs is exclusively for production. Mica can truly focus on the quality and consistency of the wines and do what he does best: produce amazing wines.
Goldline Brand offers different brands of wines for tasters, and each line is unique.
The goal of the 1850 brand is to showcase California winemaking at its best,
with wines made from local El Dorado and Amador County fruit.
It's a big state, but there's a great value-to-product to this region.
When visiting, one can't help notice a tremendous momentum in the wine industry.
There's a passion and desire to highlight the Amador and El Dorado County regions
as premier wine destinations.
That seems to be the theme of many people in the wine industry up here,
and I think they're onto something!
Whether you're tasting wines from new winemakers on the scene,
or historic wineries, here's to your jaunt.
For another look at Gold Country wines, here's a read on the El Dorado region.
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