CALAVERAS UNCORKED – Cool Trends in Wine and Calaveras

At the beginning of each new year, we are inundated with New Year’s resolutions and trend reports from paint colors to hemlines. Even wine has its trends, and surprisingly enough, I found quite a few predictions for 2017 online from the top wine sales report sites. Here are just a few of the highlights I found relevant to Calaveras.

• Grenache is gold. Grenache is a red grape used in many parts of the world primarily as a blending grape, but in regions like Spain, Grenache is the most-planted grape in the country. In the hot dry Gold Country climate (yes, the heat will arrive soon!) Grenache does extremely well. Grenache can be a fickle varietal to tame, but when controlled by the capable hands of Calaveras winemakers who still make wine the old-fashioned way with very little industrialization, it shines. The single varietal bottle of Grenache can be an outstanding drinking wine or accompaniment to food. In the past six years, Grenache has maintained a steady increase in American sales with the past two years offering the largest jump in popularity. Grenache is the fifth most-produced red worldwide and many of the top sites list it as one to watch, followed by Pinot Noir.

Twisted Oak Winery offers Torcido Grenache as a party in a bottle with floral aromas of raspberry and cherry, a little spicy peppermint and higher alcohol content than most wines. Of course, that’s what Twisted Oak is known for, always bringing the fun factor. Visit the Vallecito winery just off of Highway 4 between Angels Camp and Murphys and you’ll discover more humor than you ever thought possible at a winery. But don’t let the fun factor fool you; these folks are serious about producing bold, feisty, crowd-pleasing wines and you always have a story to tell when you pull out one of the winery’s bottles to share with friends, like the “Potty Mouth” or “The Spaniard.” In the coming months, Twisted Oak will announce its Twisted Folk Music Series, where you can enjoy folk music under the majestic “twisted oak” focal point of the winery gazing over the beautiful valley and sunset.

One of my favorite Calaveras Grenaches comes from Allegorie Winery on Main Street in Murphys. Lavender Ridge Vineyards, known for its French style of winemaking, makes a lovely Grenache Rose, which is bright, crisp and cold-fermented in stainless steel. Lavender Ridges’ highly anticipated 2016 Grenache Rose is coming early March, known after it won Best of Show for white wines at the Calaveras County Fair. The winery also makes a nice oak-aged Grenache.

Metate Hill Vineyards produces Garnacha – aka Grenache – that’s light but full-bodied and well-balanced. Metate Hill is in the drier region of Calaveras in the Bar XX subdivision, a great climate for this hearty berry. By the way, wine aficionados reading this are gasping right now at the mention of grapes as “berries” but, folks, let’s be clear, that’s what they are and why it’s even more astounding that they can be perfected into God’s elixir. Metate Hill Vineyards recently opened a new tasting room in Angels Camp, a welcome addition to historic Main Street. Visitors to Angels Camp can now discover some of Calaveras’ finest wines downtown.

Metate Hill presents live music on Monday evenings fronted by the astounding talent of Nicholas Lefler, who is joined weekly by various musicians and singers. On Saturday nights, the winery offers an open mic night with myriad local talent sharing their songs and music. Metate used to be in downtown Murphys, where it became known for uniquely curated offerings of live music after hours and I hear the folks there plan to do the same in Angels Camp.

• The Donald governs the juice. Recent wine economic reports predict an increase in the cost of wine. If President Trump delivers on his promise to raise taxes on imported goods, you might see an increase on imported wines, and if his deportation agenda affects migrant workers here on temporary work visas who wine producers rely on during harvest season, the shortage of labor could also affect the price of the juice. However, the one predictor I think we all can expect is the popularity of buying local and buying American. Consumer trends have pointed for quite some time to a rise in support for small businesses and today’s wine-loving Americans are looking for authentic, up-close-and-personal wine experiences. Calaveras County’s wine region has seen a tremendous growth in visitors recently from the Bay Area, the Central Valley, Sacramento and Nevada, as more people venture out looking to connect to wine regions or wineries. Our small-town hospitality and homegrown varietals are exactly what folks are thirsty for. The charming Calaveras wine community still produces wines the old-fashioned way, by hand, often with the whole family involved, and there is still very little automation or technology, which provides more authentic and wholesome products.

One of the best ways to discover our charming wine region is by participating in the Calaveras Winegrape Alliance’s 21st annual Presidents’ Day Wine Weekend on Feb. 18 and 19. With the purchase of a $25 commemorative wineglass, you can visit more than 22 wineries and tasting rooms from Copperopolis to Angels Camp to Murphys and beyond over the course of two days. Many of the wineries offer light bites to enjoy with your wine, live entertainment and special offers on wine purchases. You will often find the winemakers or owners behind the bars, at the barbecue or hosting tours of their facilities during this highly anticipated wine weekend. Glasses can be purchased the day of the event at various locations; visit calaveraswines.org.

• Box wines are a trend. I’m going to go out on a limb and say this trend is being pushed by the box wine industry itself. For years, sellers have told us that box wine is going to be the next great thing, but it’s still not; and whether packaged like a purse with a shoulder strap or in a fancy flocked black box with gold accents, wine in a box is never going to be trendy. Pulling back the tab on a Hamm’s beer is always going to be much cooler.

• Wine slushies are in. Now this is a trend I can get behind. Last summer, one of the hottest pinned categories on Pinterest was the wine slushy, and predictions are we will see even more in 2017. All it takes is a little fresh or frozen fruit and ice (or snow if you’re in Arnold and want to start slushing early). Add your favorite cool, crisp wine then swirl and crush it all in a blender. Check out our recommended recipes on the GoCalaveras Pinterest page and add a few of your own this summer.

• The beauty is in the blend. Most winemakers would say there is no place they would rather be than in the vineyard, but the second most favorite would be at their blending tables. Blending can be the secret to perfecting a well-balanced wine and can offer more complexity to a single wine varietal. Back in the day, single varietals were equated with quality, but more recently, blends have taken on new meaning to consumers and are appreciated for being more handcrafted products. Blending is art created in a glass and we have many outstanding blends here in Calaveras. Ayrael Vieux offers a red blend of Sangiovese, Zinfandel and Montepulciano and you can really taste the complexities and characteristics from each varietal. Venture up the mountain to Brice Station Vineyards this spring and check out the new hoop house on the property and taste the High Country Red, a blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. For something more exotic, visit Hatcher Winery and ask about its Parcel 17. This exceptional wine is a blend of Mazuela, Monastrell and Graciano that’s barrel-aged in French oak. You’ll find layers of tart fruit and cola in your glass. The unique graffiti label on this wine is equally artistic and certainly a conversation piece when you pull this out at your next barbecue.

The real beauty of blends is how well they pair with food; oftentimes the flavor profile of a blend will evolve right in the glass and every taste can offer something different on the palate. The next time you’re tasting wine, don’t steer clear of the wines labeled “Red Wine” or “Table White.”

Most importantly, get out this year and support local and discover “trendy” Calaveras wines. And in the words of Oscar Wilde, I leave you with this toast: “Take everything in moderation, including moderation!”